The Red String of Protection
Is it true that according to Kabbala or possibly the Zohar that a person who wears a red string will be protected from the evil eye or evil forces? When did all of this begin? What is the meaning of wearing a red string? What kind of a red string are they talking about? Why would the red string protect us from the evil eye? Is there any truth in this? Thank you.
There is no written mention in the Torah, Halacha or Kabbala about tying a red string around the wrist. However, it seems to be a custom that has been around for some time, and may be based on Torah or Kabbalistic ideas. If there is any validity to the custom, it would be considered a "segula" or protective type of act.
There are sources for such special properties of segulot. The Torah states, "The Lord your God has chosen you to be His Am Segula (treasured people) out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6). Why are the Jewish people called G-ds segula? Rabbi Chaim of Voloshzin says its on account of the Torah and mitzvoth that have a miraculous effect on them, enabling their prayers to be answered in a special way. In fact, the mitzvoth themselves are protective: Charity protects from natural death, sanctifying the new moon protects from unnatural death, the succah protects from exile, and so on.
Therefore a custom that is based on Torah ideas or mitzvoth may also have special segula properties on a smaller scale. Regarding the red string, the custom is to tie a long red thread around the burial site of Rachel, the wife of Jacob. Rachel selflessly agreed that her sister marry Jacob first, in order to spare Leah shame and embarrassment. Later, Rachel willingly returned her soul to G-d on the lonely way to Beit Lechem, in order to pray there for the desperate Jews that would pass by on their way to exile and captivity. Often, one acquires the red string when giving charity.
Perhaps for these reasons the red thread is considered a protective segula. It recalls the great merit of our matriarch Rachel, reminding us to emulate her modest ways of consideration, compassion, and selflessness for the benefit of others, while simultaneously giving charity to the poor and needy. It follows that this internal reflection that inspires good deeds, more than the string itself, would protect one from evil and harm.
One man I know jokingly said he keeps the red thread on as a segula against having to give money to the people selling red threads. However, a woman I know said she went to Rachels tomb and took upon herself to wear the red thread until she would find her soul-mate. On the day she met her husband, the thread miraculously fell off her wrist. Another woman said she took upon herself to wear the string until she would get married. It fell off a few years later before going to the mikve in preparation for her chuppa.
- Nefesh HaChaim
- Sefer HaBrit 4:82