You have the world’s greatest cup of coffee, freshly roasted and ground from costly coffee beans. You like it with milk, so you open a container and pour some in. A layer of white curds forms at the top of your cup.
Do you wonder, “Hey, where’d that curdled milk come from?” No. If the milk in your cup is sour, you know that the milk in the container is sour. Whether sweet or sour, things flow from their source.
Ilana had to admit she was jealous of her cousin Sara. Sara ran a successful dress shop. She made loads of money. She was slim, pretty, and of course, impeccably dressed. Even though she was always perfectly warm and friendly to Ilana, Ilana could not help feel that there was some pity and snobbery in her sweetness.
Whenever Sara’s name came up, Ilana ended up throwing some subtly negative comment into the conversation. The last time was on the phone with her mother.
“Did you invite Sara’s family to the Chanukah party?” her mother asked. Ilana loved to host the party. Even though her house was not the largest among the family members, she always managed to squeeze in a few more children or a new spouse.
“Sure. And wouldn’t you know she tried to move it to her house. She tells me, ‘I have so much more space and I have full-time help. I’ll have it catered so no one has to bother cooking. It’ll be so much easier here.’ Maybe it’s getting hard for her to sit in my little house and eat my home-made food.”
“Well, I hope she comes,” her mother responded. “And what about cousin Ruthi?”
“Yeah, I spoke to her,” Ilana said warmly. “She’s just getting back from Israel that morning, but she’s coming. Can you believe her? Driving three hours with eight kids after a long trip! She’s got so much energy.”
Ilana wonders why she’s driven to say unkind things about Sara. But she doesn’t have to wonder; she can just sniff the container from which her words are drawn. It’s full of sour middos like envy and insulted pride. By the same token, her kind words about Ruthi come from a wholesome container filled with admiration, humility and love.
So if you want to keep your life from curdling, before you pour out your words, take a quick sniff of the container from which they are coming.