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Character List

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Throughout the Talmud there are numerous lists of character traits that are good, bad and otherwise. While some of these lists appear to be simple assessments of what would now be called basic psychology, in each list there is something more to be learned about a person’s ability to connect with the Divine.

An excellent example is the statement by Rabbi Ila’i: “By three things may a person’s character be determined: By his cup, by his purse and by his anger” (Eruvin 65). This is a fairly simple statement to understand.

-People reveal their true inner character in how they behave when they drink. As we all know, there are happy drunks, angry drunks and foolish drunks.

-“By his pocket” infers that one can gain great insight into a person’s nature by observing whether they are generous or stingy, and, by extension, whether they are honest in their business dealings.

-The third qualification is anger. The ability to control one’s anger is one of the most difficult, and one of the most important, character traits a person can develop.

This list might seem to be an interesting psychological study, until one compares it to another Talmudic list: “Three [types of people] the Holy One, blessed be He, loves: he who does not display temper, he who does not become intoxicated, and he who does not insist on his [full] rights” (Pesachim 113b).

While the parallel might not be exact, the comparison of these two lists provides a powerful reminder that our relationship with the Divine is often a reflection of the ways we interact with our fellow human beings.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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