Complex People – Do you really know your friend?


We spend our lives with those around us, family, friends, acquaintances, business associates etc. knowing them but not really knowing them. You think you know your spouse, your child your friend, only to find out that they have skills you never knew, or alternatively, traits that you find less than desirable.

Is this who they always were, and I simply didn’t notice, or did they change? How could I have known someone so well only to learn of a new feature so many years later? Will the real you please stand up?

Even more common, is the dual personalities of someone in your orbit. One minute they are happy, the next minute they are sad. One minutes motivated and ready to conquer the world, a minute later they are negative and dark and lousy company. Well, which one is it? Who is the real you? Will the real you please stand up?

There is a great story in the Talmud of one particular sage – R. Gamliel –  who was very meticulous that all his student have “their insides match their outsides.”

Meaning, no duplicity, you either are one in mind, body, heart and soul or not. Either you are a good and dedicated person through and through in which case you are welcomed into my Yeshiva; If however you haven’t mastered this uniformity, you are not allowed in.

This was a very high bar, so high in fact that his yeshiva remained relatively small. When, in fact, he was dismissed from his position as Headmaster of that Yeshiva (due to rabbinic politics – an accusation that he did not afford another colleague – Rabbi Yehoshua – the correct honor) the sages debate if 400 or 700 benches of new student were brought into the school.

The story is very instructive, I believe, since while in a perfect world, we would all be clear and one minded and undivided internally. We’d be one with ourselves, and what you see would be exactly what you got.

In fact, however, we are layered. We are not one dimensional. We are made up of multiple shades and personalities. We are like the layers of an onion, and our environment, and external circumstances influence who and how we are and most importantly how we behave at any one given time.

We are not solely who we are at a given moment. We are the cumulation of all our different selves as influenced by both nature and nurture. And that is ok, because we are layered.

Yes, Rabbi Gamliel’s high standard of our “insides matching our outsides” – uniformity or thought, speech, action, mind and soul, is ideal, and a bar we ought to strive for, but in fact we are flawed human beings. Imperfect and journeying.

Having this awareness not only helps us be more understanding of those around us, but allows us the ability to be more at peace with our own fractured selves.

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The epilogue of the Rabbi Gamliel story was that he was eventually reinstalled as Headmaster (after the internal politics has been resolved) but his replacement – Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria – was not fired, rather he was now associate Headmaster.

To me this means, that the real goal is to struggle with finding this very balance. R. Gamliel’s high minded goal has value. It can’t take you to a point where you censure those who disagree with you (his crime for which he temporarily lost his job) , but it does have merit. Thus he was reinstalled to his position.

On one hand we need to aspire to higher, aspire to internal and external uniformity, on the other hand we need to accept that we are fractured and struggling souls. These to components as illogical as it may seem, CAN co-exist. This is actually called life. Layered life, but life.

Happy journeying!


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