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Q & A: Ayin Hara (Part VI)


We also take ayin hara into account when counting Jews for the purpose of ascertaining whether a minyan is present. We don’t count directly; rather, we count by reciting the verse (Psalms 28:9) “Hoshi’a et amecha u’varech et nachalatecha ure’em v’nas’em ad olom – Save Your nation, and bless Your inheritance, tend them and elevate them forever.” This verse (in Hebrew) contains 10 words and at the same time is a direct reference to salvation. Counting in this manner allays any fears of ayin hara that may arise when counting people directly.

The source for this concern is based on the census count in Prashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:12): “ve’lo yihyeh bahem negef bifkod otam – in order that there be no plague amongst them when they are counted.” Rashi explains that any counting of people evokes an ayin hara. Therefore, God asked Moshe top count the people via coins – a half shekel – that each qualified Jew was required to give as a gift to the sanctified domain. The people were thus counted via the coins rather than directly.

During the distribution of aliyot to the Torah reading, whether during the week, on the Sabbath or festivals, we also take the ayin hara’s potential damage into consideration. The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 141:6) states, “We may call two brothers one after the other or a son after his father. However [based on the Maharil], we do not do so because of ayin hara.” Rema (ad loc.) adds even if one person is called up for Shevi’i and the other for Maftir (on the Sabbath, in extenuating circumstances, there will be need to call one after the other) the second person should not be called up by name because of ayin hara.

The Mishnah Berurah makes numerous distinctions regarding this halacha (sk 20). The rule not to call the second person up by name applies even though Kaddish separates the two aliyot because they will be reading from the same sefer Torah. However if the maftir reads from a different sefer (such as on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, the four parshiyot, or on a festival), they may be called up one after the other. The same is true in places that have the custom of not calling up people by name (e.g. “ya’amod maftir”). He says they can be called up one after the other even if the two aliyot are shevi’i and maftir but shishi and shevi’I, for example. The reason for not calling two brothers or a son after his father is to avoid ayin hara.

Another situation where we take ayin hara into account is at the chuppah when we break a glass. This is usually done at the conclusion of the sheva berachot that are recited under the chuppah by the chattan. A glass is wrapped in a cloth and the chattan stomps on it and breaks it to the cheers and mazel tov wishes of the wedding guests. (At some weddings a purposeful pause for a song about Jerusalem is added after the breaking of the glass before the exclamations.)

With the breaking of the glass we are also remembering that our joy is not complete as long as Jerusalem is not restored to its former glory, as the verse (Psalms 137:6) states: “Tidbak l’shoni l’chiki im lo ezkereichi im lo a’aleh et yerushalayim al rosh simchati – Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” The newly wedded couple now find themselves in what is surely the most joyous of occasions but nevertheless must never forget the desolation of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Yet the Gemara (Berachot 31a) cites two incidents at weddings where a cup was broken for a different reason. The first was at the wedding of Mar bar Rav Ashi’s son, when he saw that the rabbis were overly engaged in frivolity. Mar bar Rav Ashi took an expensive goblet worth 400 zuz and broke it. Similarly, Rav Ashi, at his children’s wedding, saw too much frivolity, took a white glass goblet and broke it (Rashi explains that it was of a clear white glass – obviously of great value). Clearly these sages were concerned about ayin hara. Tosafot (ad loc 31b s.v. “ayti casa d’zugisa chiyurta”) says the practice to break a glass cup at a wedding stems from here.

(We actually have more than one breaking at many of our weddings. After the Tenaim is agreed upon and then publicly read, the two mothers [of the bride and the bridegroom] jointly break a plate. [Some do this at an earlier date at a separate engagement ceremony called Tenaim.])

The Shelah (Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Parsashat Shoftim) cites Rikanti who explains the matter. “This is done to assuage the midat hadin – the divine attribute of justice – for when one rises to heights of greatness, this stirs in Satan a sense of anger and provokes Satan to find fault with him/her. Indeed this is what our sages (Shabbos 130a) stated, ‘There is no Ketubah [i.e., wedding or other joyous occasion] that is free of strife.’ ” So we break the cup to pacify Satan not to find fault with us, ensuring that we do not arouse an ayin hara.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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