We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Make the effort to do one thing to make a difference to someone around you or for your community.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
A Good Eye
עין טובAyin Tov
Perek Bais, Mishna Yud Gimmel Part 1
Story: (based on a true story)
She has my life, the life I wanted, the one I felt I was supposed to have.
When I looked ahead as a high school and seminary girl, I always saw myself in my kitchen, making simple but large meals to feed the many guests my husband and I would have. I would set large platters of schnitzel in front of my husband as he spoke to yeshiva boys or the many people who need a place to eat Shabbos meals. And, I would have a fulfilling job, where I could feel I was making a difference with my particular talents and skills, incorporating my love and talent for music and using it to help the world.
My life looks nothing like that now. It’s a good life. We have enough to eat and wear and a decent apartment to live in. I go to my office job every day and do quality work. On Shabbos my husband, children and I gather around our small dining table and talk about the parsha on each child’s level. There are no guests. I’m not sure we could afford them regularly, and my husband has come to prefer not being overwhelmed by lots of people and feels that at Shabbos meals we need to focus on our kids above all else. Plus, one of my kids is terrified of strangers.
Usually, I’m fine. But every so often I get together with my best friend Shifra from high school, the one with whom I used to sing and write songs until 2 o’clock in the morning. She’s a music therapist now, working a combination of jobs that includes being an elementary school music teacher and working with Alzheimer’s patients in a hospital. Lately she’s beginning to think about putting out an album of her own original work, and having one of her Alzheimer’s patients who has a great voice sing one of the songs. Oh, and she has family after family of company, almost every week. She’s constantly getting called to host people for simchos and just because.
Sometimes I almost hate her.
I don’t want to, but I do. Shifra’s doing so much that I wish I were doing. What’s ironic is that in high school I was the go-getter and she was always the quieter one who often tagged along. People would always say to me, “You’re going places! I’ll look you up in ten years and see all the things you’re doing!” And now, that’s her.
It’s not that I don’t want her to be successful and to use the beautiful music I spent most of high school convincing her she had. I don’t want to begrudge her all her guests and the spectacular combination of timing, husband, kids and circumstance that make it possible for her. I wish it could be both of us doing all of this, but it’s not. And seeing her and hearing about her life makes me feel small and incompetent.
A few months after Shifra told me about the album, my husband noticed that I was avoiding her. I confessed the pain it caused me knowing this step she was taking in using her music, and how I didn’t want to feel negatively toward her, but, I did.
“So don’t,” he said simply, in that husband way. Not so easy, but he seemed to think it was, or at least that it was that important. “You really need to figure out how not to feel so negatively toward her; ayin hara is real and can affect her life, which I know you don’t want. It’s your mishegas, not hers, right? So go do something with your music.” I was annoyed to hear it, but I knew he was right.
My husband knew how badly we needed the salary from my office job, so I know he didn’t mean a new career. What should I do and how should I stop feeling so negative towards Shifra?
It turns out they were connected. Out of worry for the damage I could do to Shifra’s life, I signed up for a mussar program where a chavrusa and I went through a series of lessons on emuna. I learned about believing that each of us is given the circumstances for the life we are meant to live, whether it’s within our plans or not. And I learned about living that life to its best, using every tool HaShem has given me, because that is my purpose. I learned that focusing on Shifra’s and others’ lives and what I didn’t have was bad for me, and kept me from being me and using my strengths.
With my chavrusa, I figured out ways to integrate the lessons into my life. If I couldn’t host Shabbos guests, I could make a dish each week for an organization that provides Shabbos food to those who need. Feeding people on Shabbos takes many forms. And I began singing with my children every day. My oldest would say, “Ma, stop!” but then I would hear him quietly singing along. I sang when I was stressed, which helped me calm down and brought up my mood. And each night before bed I sang to myself, “Tov l’hodos…u’lezamer l’shimcha elyon; l’hagid baboker chasdecha ve’emunas’cha balailos;” I need to thank HaShem and sing to Him, every day, and have emuna when thing are hard. Then I would think about my life, and thank HaShem for something in it, and pat myself on the back for the way I handled something that day.
After building up my emuna in HaShem and in myself, I was feeling more positive about life in general and not looking at the world negatively. It was time to call Shifra. She updated me on her progress with the album, and I listened, focusing on being happy for her and being supportive. I even offered to help in any way I could. She asked if she could bounce some song lyrics off me, and we spent the rest of the week emailing back and forth perfecting a couple of her songs. I was nervous, but in the end I didn’t even wish I had my own album; I was happy to contribute to hers and use the rest of my time and energy towards important goals in my life.
On the surface, I did so little: I still work in a repetitive office job, still have no Shabbos guests, and am still doing nothing obviously “big” that anyone can point to. But I have done something big. I changed the way I look at the world. I am using an ayin tov, looking positively at others and at myself. It allows me to help and appreciate others instead of resenting them, and to be more present for my family and for myself. I find ways to use what I have, and trust HaShem to know what He’s doing.
"אמר להם: ..צאו וראו איזו היא דרך טובה שידבק בה האדם. רבי אליעזר אומר: עין טובה."...
Omar lahem: Tz’u u’r’u aizo hi derech tova sheyidbak bah ha’adam. Rabi Eliezer omer, ayin tova..."
He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them (his students): “Go out and see which is the proper path to which a person should cling. Rabi Eliezer says, “A good eye…”." (Perek Bais, Yud Gimmel).
What is a good eye? A number of the early commentators write that it is the trait of finding satisfaction even if one has little. Moreover, a person with a good eye is happy to see the happiness and well-being of others.
The Maggid of Koznitz interprets this phrase as a plea against jealousy, noting that kin’a, jealousy, is actually a subtle form of kefira, heresy. One who truly believes that his entire fortune comes from HaShem will never envy another’s fortune; he will be content knowing that HaShem has provided him with all his needs.
Other early commentators explain “a good eye” to refer to a generous desire to help others. The P’nay Menachem, the Rebbe of Gur, was once visited by an ophthalmologist who was going to attend an international conference where the latest developments would be discussed. The rebbe told him, “When it is your turn to speak, please begin by saying that there is a rabbi in the land of Israel who wants you to tell the professors in the audience while they are healing other people’s eyes, they should be sure that their own eyes are good.”
Accordingly, at the conference he delivered the Gerrer Rebbe’s message. The man slated to speak next was a doctor who had invented a medical technique to deal with a particular ocular illness. However, he guarded his technique jealously, leaving others unable to replicate it. When this doctor spoke, he began by saying, “I had no intention of sharing the details of my patent with others. However, the words of the rabbi from Jerusalem have impressed me deeply. I see there us much truth in them, and thus I will explain my new approach to you.”
The Imrai Emes reasoned as follows: If an ayin ra, an evil eye--in the sense of viewing the world with mistrust and jealousy--can harm the innocent, then certainly displaying an ayin tov, a good and generous eye, can help even those who are unknown and unrelated to us since we know that the capacity to do good is far greater than the capacity to do evil.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are the dangers of looking at things negatively, with an ayin ra? What are the positives of using an ayin tov?
How does jealousy harm others and us?
What methods and tools can we use to shift ourselves to a more positive focus?
Stretch of the Week:
Catch yourself thinking negatively about a situation and try to shift to a more positive outlook.