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Judaism's Hack for Your Truest Nature



Our sages were always trying to find the shortest ways to describe complicated concepts. While there are 48 Ways to Wisdom (elucidated in Foundational Ethics / Pirkei Avot) there are numerous discussions of other sayings that attempt to distill concepts in as little as three (okay four) words. For example, what does the world rest upon [Pirkei Avot 1;2]? Answer? Torah, Avodah (Service) and Gemilut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness).


A favorite saying of mine is a three word answer, found in the Talmud, in Tractate Eruvin (65b) in answer to the question about how you know a person's character. Really, just three words! This phrase describes how, in different circumstances, your true character is revealed. The original saying (by our Sage Rabbi Elai) is: "In three matters a person’s true character is ascertained; in their cup, i.e., their behavior when they drink (or when they either have a full cup or one that's empty); in their pocket, i.e., their conduct relative to their financial situation and dealings with other people; and in their anger." (edited for gender and clarity)


The Hebrew offers a poetic play on words:

בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים אָדָם נִיכָּר: בְּכוֹסוֹ, וּבְכִיסוֹ וּבְכַעְסוֹ

B'shlosha devarim Adam nicar: B'koso, U'vkiso, U'vka'aso

"...in three ways a person is recognized: through one's cup, through one's pocket / wallet and through one's anger".


Has this been true for you? Have you revealed your true nature at these times? Do you know what circumstances prompt you to be your truest self? Or those situations which 'push your buttons' and cause you to behave in ways that you'd rather forget.....


When have been the times in your life when your truest character was revealed?


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, author of the foundational Mussar Text Mesillat Yesharim (11:143) refers to this Talmudic dictum when he describes the difference between an anger that is in your heart, and an anger that shows on your face. Anger that goes deep within you is not a productive anger. Anger is a trait that tends to take over one's personality, so much so, that our tradition in so many ways tells us how destructive it is.


We are told that "When a person keeps from getting angry, his enemies will have no control over him." (Sefer HaMiddot, Anger:1). For a better understanding, read this as: "when you keep yourself from getting angry, your ability to control yourself will increase, and your inclination to get angry (your enemy) will decrease and therefore lose power in controlling you".


In the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim, 113b) it says: 


"There are three people the Holy One loves: One who does not get angry. One who

does not get drunk. One who does not stand on ceremony."


I find the third statement the most interesting...."one who does not stand on ceremony".

Standing on ceremony is really about gaining stature by listening to our own egos. It gets in the way of us doing the right thing at the right time. Think about it, how many times do you want to be the first person to make peace, but you stubbornly hold your ground. How many times have you reached for your cell to call someone, only to tell yourself that they should be calling you. How often do we hold ourselves back from doing a kindness...thinking that (selfishly) we haven't been treated so fairly recently. How often does anger dominate our decisions?


When we learn to control anger, it loses power over us. It is hard work...the work of a lifetime. But, oh so very rewarding.