Most people recognize the necessity of good self esteem.
Without it, we find ourselves groping in the dark for proofs
to verify the validity of our existence. With it, we feel
the strength to face the challenges of life that come our
way on a daily basis. But the ability to acquire and/or
maintain good self esteem seems to elude us because the
knowledge of its necessity is not coupled with a deep
understanding of the subject.
What makes up a person's self esteem?
Your level of self esteem is based on how valuable you
perceive yourself to be. This perception is based on the
understanding of the mind, as well as the heart. Only a
correct definition of what makes a human life valuable can
bring the mind and the heart to agree that, "Yes, indeed, I
am a person of value," without any nagging feelings of
Frequently, the mind incorrectly defines what makes human
life valuable. Mistakenly, some people think that value
comes from any number of sources such as money, beauty,
fame, intelligence, wit, etc. These false measures are only
considered worthy in this world, for they are only of value
to humans. But often, the heart knows that since we do not
set up the real value system, our opinion of what is
valuable, and what is not, is irrelevant in all areas of
eternal, absolute importance. Hence, even if one were to
gain what he thought was valuable, like a million dollars,
he would eventually feel a gnawing sense that his newfound
wealth did not make him a better person, of more value.
The mistake in finding our value in money, beauty, fame,
intelligence, wit, etc. is easy to make because these things
indeed have a spiritual value, but only as tools to achieve
the proper end. They are not achievements we can add to our
eternal credit. They were given to us as temporary
accessories. If a person is successful at publishing an
article in a prestigious publication, for example [YATED],
he is no more valuable than before the article was even
written, let alone published. Hashem put the ideas in his
head; He gave him the computer to write in on, and He caused
the publishers to print it. G-d gives us everything we need
to achieve our purpose here on earth. As it is stated in
Pirkei Ovos 3:8, "R' Elozor of Bartosa says: Give Him
from His own, for you and your possessions are His. And so
has David said: For everything is from You, and from Your
own hand we have given You" (Divrei Hayomim I 29:14).
Our character traits, our intelligence, our computers --
along with all of our other tools that we have been given to
use -- do not define our value.
Just as a human being cannot define his own value by these
earthly standards, he cannot use them to define the value of
another. A person cannot give you value, nor can he take it
away. If someone approves of you or your actions, you are no
more valuable than before he bestowed his favor. Similarly,
if someone disapproves of you or your actions, even your
mistakes, your value is not decreased by his say-so.
To have value means that we possess something of worth, but
since Hashem is One, and there is nothing else, where is
there room for us to possess anything? The answer is that
He, in His infinite kindness, has made room for us to exist
and to achieve our value as He defines it -- all of which is
somehow separate from Him. So, we must be clear as to what
is ours and what is from Hashem as well as what He declares
valuable in order to know where we stand.
The Jewish definition of personal value is based on eternal
criteria. Part of your worth is a gift. You are valuable
because Hashem created you and gave you a spark of divinity.
Another part of your worth is an extension of the first:
because you exist, you have a purpose. Your success in
achieving your purpose inceases your value even more.
What, then, is your purpose? Everyone has the same purpose --
to get as close to Hashem as you possibly can in your
lifetime. The Ramchal defines man's duty in the world in
"It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards
the Creator, and that his every action, great or small, be
motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to
the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the
earthly elements and their concomitants) that stand between
him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the
Blessed One just as iron to a magnet... As it is stated
(Tehillim 63:9), `My soul clings to You; Your right
hand sustains me.' For a man enters the world only for this
purpose -- to achieve this closeness by rescuing his soul
from all the deterrents to it and from all that detracts
In every situation, we can break down this ultimate purpose
of coming closer to Hashem in order to find out its
practical meaning in that particular moment. What does
Hashem want from me personally? Right now? If we look to see
what it is, and then try to accomplish it, then we have
succeeded in fulfilling our purpose for that moment --
causing our value to go up.
Fulfillment of the purpose means one step closer to Hashem.
In every situation we have a moral choice to serve Hashem,
which brings us closer to Him, or we can choose the other
side (all the deterrents) which lead us away. Each person
makes this choice on his own level -- this is our free will.
Everything else is in the hands of Hashem. Hence, this
choice helps define our value because it, along with our
divine spark, are the only things we can claim as our
If we really want to do what Hashem wants from us, then
Hashem will make His will known to us. It is a promise. We
may have to ask advice. We definitely have to be honest with
ourselves. But, if we want to grow closer to Hashem and
thereby increase our value, we have to discover Hashem's
will and choose it.
It does not matter whether we are successful at whatever it
is that we are trying to do. Hashem knows if we were trying
to get closer to Him. It is the choice that matters. For
whatever reason that may be, only Hashem knows, He may cause
your efforts to succeed or fail. We must not base our value
on the tangible results.
After looking at your current situation and discovering what
you think Hashem wants from you, then know that it is the
most valuable thing you can do at that moment. It doesn't
matter if that thing is learning Talmud, engaging in
politics, or washing dishes -- the content of your life is
not the issue nor, necessarily, the reward for making a life
valuable. If we can muster the strength to carry out the
choice to do Hashem's will, even if we don't accomplish the
act (although we are not free from the obligation to try),
we have succeeded in harnessing the moment and putting it
into eternity -- to our credit.
If we are not accustomed to feeling our value through these
means, it might seem difficult to change, but what the mind
thinks repeatedly enough will eventually penetrate the
heart, with the help of Hashem. The Torah was meant to be
integrated through repeated learning. Through repetition of
the mitzvos, we integrate holiness into ourselves. We
can utilize the repetition technique to retrain our minds to
know our own true value. We can tell ourselves over and over
again, even in the grocery checkout line. "I have value
because I exist. I can earn more value by choosing to come
closer to Hashem through His mitzvos. Every moment
holds a chance to grab eternity and choose to serve Hashem."
We should practice feeling like "a million dollars" because
we chose to be considerate to our spouse, or our neighbor
etc. We should remind ourselves to feel good about ourselves
because we said the brocha with feeling. We should
count ourselves among the important people because we have a
relationship with Hashem.
If you are currently feeling of little worth, or worthy from
the wrong source, then you have the yetzer hora to
thank. Low self esteem and misguided self esteem are tests
provided by Hashem through the yetzer hora. But if
you try to overcome it and see your value correctly, then
you will have passed a test and your value will go up. Even
if this test repeats itself, or becomes increasingly more
difficult as the tests become harder, each moment you try to
serve Hashem goes to your credit.
The more we remember who we really are, what determines our
true value, the more likely we will be to pass our tests by
choosing the option that Hashem wants us to choose. Perhaps
we can use the repetition technique as an aid to remember
that we do have value and can increase it in every moment of
our lives by choosing to come closer to Hashem. Then, with
His help, our knowledge of our worth will influence our
hearts, and we will feel what we know to be true.
May we all merit to recognize, with both our minds and our
hearts, what counts as credit, and consider ourselves as
worthy human beings of great esteem -- along with everyone
else -- for we are all made in the image of Hashem.