Good and bad are a matter of perspective

What is the difference between the students of Abraham and the students of Bilam? And what are the three levels of having a 'good eye?'

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Guy Taib

There are two ways to view everything in life: to see the good in every situation or to see the bad. Or in other words, we can be from the disciples of Bilam or the sons of Abraham. "How was your vacation?" I asked a friend. "Horrible," he answered. "I'm really annoyed. At breakfast there weren’t enough yogurts!"

"And other than that, how was it?" I probed. "It was so special to get together with the whole family, the walking trails were amazing, the scenery was breathe-taking, and the food at the hotel was gourmet, but the yogurts ... " he answered.

The Mishna in Avot (Fathers) lists the differences between Abraham's disciples and those of the evil Bilam. The first difference is that the students of Abraham had a "good eye" while Bilam's disciples had a "bad eye."

We find that there are three levels of having a "good eye." The first and simplest level is a scenario which contains both good and bad. A "good eye" will always look for the good in the situation while the "bad eye" will always look for the bad. In our opening story, for example, the good-eyed person will be happy with and enjoy the splendid vacation with his family while the bad-eyed person will be entirely preoccupied with the dearth of yogurts. He will complain to the management, possibly even sue the hotel, and in doing so, destroy the positive experience of his vacation as well as his peace of mind. All because he focuses on one particular bad point.

Unfortunately, such behavior is very common. Our lives are full of good but sometimes because of one small thing that doesn't go our way, we feel that everything in our lives is bad. Having a bad eye hurts ourselves, our families, and all those around us. Nobody likes to be friends with a negative and pessimistic person who is constantly looking for and concentrating on the bad in life without seeing how good things really are.

A deeper point touches on the root of the difference between a good eye and a bad eye, and that is a person's overall attitude towards life in general. Someone with a bad eye will see life and reality as inherently negative. They will argue that people are essentially evil, that the world is just a matter of "survival of the fittest," and that lust and the desire of control are what drive all of humanity.

An attitude of negativity inevitably creates distrust, as the negative person feels that he cannot trust anyone and believes that everyone is guided solely by their own selfish interests. The advocates of this mentality will prove their point by pointing out that every day we hear more and more stories of corruption and abuse. People whom we thought were good are now revealed as bad.

On the other hand, those with a good eye perceive reality as positive and believe that humans are fundamentally good. They believe that "G-d created mankind as honest" and that the basic traits of humanity in general, and Jews in particular, are goodness and kindness, because man was created in G-d's image. They know that there is evil in the world but they see it just an external failing of someone inherently good. Therefore, the good-eyed person trusts and believes in others. They are aware that there is lust and desire in the world and are wary of the evil that is revealed in some, but it does not detract from their fundamental attitude to the world, which is optimistic and trusts in the good of humanity.

A child growing up with a "bad eye" is unfortunate, because his basic distrust of others will make it almost impossible to develop friends and relationships. He is suspicious of everyone: his rabbi, teachers, work colleagues, boss and even his spouse. On the other hand, a general "good eye," combined with taking necessary caution, is the key to good mental health, building friendships and creating a healthy environment.

The third point, which combines the two previous points, is faith. One with a bad eye does not believe that the Almighty G-d does good to the world. For them the world is just a dangerous jungle, without divine orchestration. On the contrary, the good-eyed are the disciples of Abraham who brought to the world belief in the Creator, who created the world in order to benefit mankind and bring the world to perfection. This is an essential point in our belief in G-d, which for the time being may be only partially revealed, but will be fully revealed with the coming of the redemption.