Pirke Avot 2:16

Rabbi Yehoshua says:

An evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of other people remove a person from the world.

An evil eye.  This term has covered a lot of territory in rabbinic tradition.  It can mean a “cynical” eye that looks at everything in the world with scepticism and finds, instead of goodness, only bad intentions and self-interest.  It can mean an eye toward others that wishes them ill fortune.

What do we see when we look out over our world?


The evil inclination.   In rabbinic tradition this refers to our human and innate tendency to do wrong, to turn from God at the least provocation.  In our Catholic tradition we refer to this same phenomena as “original sin”.  St. Paul said in one of his letters “I do the things I would rather not do” and refers to this same tendency or inclination.   It is capable of being controlled with God’s help and our own commitment and love for God. but we cannot, as long as we live, completely eradicate it.

Hatred of other people.  This is sort of self-explanatory.  Hatred, of course, comes in all sorts of degrees and manifestations –  from being indifferent to the suffering of others to actively hurting them.  However the hatred may show itself, the results are the same.

What do these three evil things do?  They remove a person from the world.  The early rabbis suggest they cause an early death.  Literally.  But they also cause an early death figuratively – they separate us from the community around us which causes a certain kind of “living death” in which we appear to be living but aren’t really.  A life preoccupied with making money and accumulating stuff is not a real life as we are meant to be living it.  A life in which we are separated from others, and therefore from the joy and pain of life,  is not how we were created to live.  Our scripture tells us and Simon and Garfunkel sang about it – no man is an island.

Some things to think about this week:

  1. Do I have a habit of cynicism and scepticism towards others?  Am I seeing the good in the world?
  2. What parts of my life and my self are a bit out of control?  Where do I need to be doing a better job of things?
  3. Is there some sort of hatred of others within me?  Where?  What can I do to overcome it?  Am I as forgiving of others as I expect them to be of me?  Am I a force for separation or a force for reconciliation?