Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
A Jewish Perspective on Self Esteem
by Sara Sacks

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 doubt.

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 Orchos Tzaddikim:

"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 from it."

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 own.

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.


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