June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It has become trendy to post a picture of yourself receiving a COVID vaccine. This was particularly true in Israel, where people received vaccines earlier than those in America, but continues today as more and more people receive vaccines. Some vaccine sites even have selfie stations. I do not understand this practice. Some people do it to share their moment of joy, their freedom from fear and isolation. Others do it in order to help normalize COVID vaccination, since many in our community and beyond feel uncomfortable about vaccines in general and this new vaccine in particular. If people know that their friends are getting the vaccine, they might feel more comfortable doing likewise. Is a vaccine selfie the best way to encourage vaccination?

I. The Evil Eye

In a number of places, the Talmud discusses ayin hara, the evil eye. For example, someone who becomes wealthy must fulfill additional commandments in order to avoid ayin hara (Eruvin 64a-b in Rashi). Similarly, you are not allowed to stand at the edge of someone’s unfenced field and stare at it because you might damage it through ayin hara (Bava Batra 2b in Rashi). Some understand ayin hara as a mystical method of inflicting damage. Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, vol. 3 p. 314, vol. 4 p. 6) takes a non-mystical approach. He explains that ayin hara is the impact of causing someone else to experience jealousy. If you enjoy success publicly, others may wrongly be jealous of your good fortune. Causing their jealousy, even unintentionally, is in itself a religious failing that is punished with the damage of ayin hara.

Orchot Tzadikim (ch. 14) writes similarly: “The early sages would pray, ‘Do not let our jealousy be on others nor other people’s jealousy on us.’ Why would they pray about other people regarding this character trait and not others? This is the explanation: Many people cause others to be jealous and desire their fields. Therefore, people would pray about others, because maybe they were causing others to be jealous, and the Torah (Lev. 19:14) says, ‘Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.’”

Often, conspicuous behavior—driving a fancy car, making a lavish party—is intentionally designed to stir jealousy. Even when it is done for other reasons, the outcome is almost inevitable. If you cause someone else to become jealous, you are guilty of causing him to sin.

Orchot Tzadikim continues: “Therefore, it is proper behavior for a man—and his wife and children—not to wear clothes that are overly nice or fancy. The same applies to food and other similar items. This is to prevent others from being jealous of him.” Conspicuous consumption leads to unhappiness, jealousy, ayin hara. The Joneses, with whom everyone is trying to keep up, are religiously guilty of inspiring jealousy.

II. Appropriately Sharing

Presumably, the same applies to sharing pictures of our joyous occasions. If we cause other people jealousy, even unintentionally, we are guilty and risk the ayin hara consequences. However, stifling celebration is not the answer to other people’s loneliness.

Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18) writes that the mitzvah of the joyous Yom Tov meal includes inviting the poor and others who need you. If you just eat with your family and ignore other people, your joy is an embarrassment. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained this Rambam as implying that true joy must be shared, must overflow to your community and particularly those who need help. If you keep your joy to yourself, you are not experiencing it properly.

Sharing our joyous occasions is an essential part of our celebration. However, we must do it in a way that spreads joy and not pain. Posting pictures and lifecycle events to social media is not sharing but informing, internet lingo notwithstanding. When we Instagram our joyous occasions, we do not bring others into the celebration but merely show them that we are celebrating. Sharing is when people celebrate with us, enjoying themselves and enhancing the entire celebration. When we share modestly, within local standards of behavior without undue ostentation, we spread joy. When we inform, we risk upsetting others without sharing the joy.

III. Vaccines and Ayin Hara

I am not proud of this, but when I see pictures of people getting vaccines I feel a range of emotions. The first COVID vaccines were introduced in late December, but even now, in March, many people remain ineligible for vaccination. I am happy for anyone who receives a vaccine but also envious that they are free from figurative prison. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who feels envy. Some people became immune to COVID the hard way. Others achieved immunity with little to no symptoms. There are many people who do not have immunity and live with severe social limitations for fear of catching the virus. Those people posting their vaccine selfies become immune through their legitimate access to medicine. They did nothing wrong and yet they risk inspiring envy. Many of these people wear red bands and engage in other purported protections from ayin hara, yet unwittingly invoke the classical case of ayin hara on social media.

This is what it seems like to me, although perhaps I am missing something. I know of famous rabbis who allowed themselves to be photographed while taking the vaccine. Perhaps they have other
considerations that I do not know. I don’t think badly about anyone who posts a vaccine selfie but I suggest that those who wish to encourage vaccination find ways to do it without publicizing that they received the highly desired vaccine. Maybe take a selfie with vaccine workers, calling them heroes without identifying yourself as a recipient. Maybe simply state that you encourage your friends to take the vaccine and will do so likewise. People more creative than I can find ways to spread a message in a positive way, without causing envy and jealousy among those lower in the vaccine eligibility pool.


Rabbi Gil Student is editor of www.TorahMusings.com.

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