A Big Part of A Bigger Puzzle: Self-Esteem in Chassidus

Malka Bracha Heidingsfeld, St. Monica, California
Essays 2019 / Self Esteem

The Balance of Self Esteem and Bittul

A very prevalent issue many people struggle with nowadays is a low self-esteem. Children these days are brought up in a way that will hopefully boost their confidence and help them later in life. It all starts when we are very young. As toddlers we are complimented on our nice pictures. As school-age students we are praised for the littlest action like cleaning up our rooms nicely to a great accomplishment, like getting good marks on a report card. We get prizes for positive actions and have multiple “sticker charts” made for us by parents, teachers, counselors or any other adult. All this is in order to raise and nurture our self-esteem.

However, when we get older, we are constantly told, “You have to think of yourself as a nothing, don’t let your greatness get to your head.” As the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes in Sefer Hazichronos, in the olden days there were great Talmidei Chachamim, who knew that they were great and what their strengths and talents were, but they were also extremely haughty. So, what is the proper way that Chassidus teaches us? How can we find the balance of knowing our strengths and goodness, while not being egotistical?

As we know, Chassidus quote very often what Chazal say in Masechta Sanhedrin(1), “Bshvili Nivra Haolam”, every person is obligated to think of themselves that the world was created for them. But does this mean that we should walk around with “our nose in the air” stepping over everyone and thinking we’re the greatest? Or is the opposite better, where, as Avraham Avinu says(1), “Va’anochi Ofor Va’eifer(2)”, that I am but dust and ashes? But that also doesn’t seem like a very good way to think of ourselves, as lowlifes! We are also told we need to have Bitul. Bitul is usually translated as self-nullification. However, having real Bitul means being part of something greater. You aren’t nullifying and putting yourself down, but rather, realizing that you are part of and helping out a greater purpose.

With these questions and the real definition of Bitul in mind, we are now ready to solve the selfesteem conundrum. An easy way to do so is with four steps; different questions we must ask ourselves and then act upon. The first question is: My purpose. Ask yourself, “Why am I here? What is my purpose in this world? What do I need to be here to do?” Number two: My talents and strengths. Once I know my purpose, I need to look at myself. What are my strengths? What about my talents? I need to establish my strong points and develop them so I can do the next step which is: Step 3, Utilizing My Capabilities. Now that I established what my special talents are, how can I utilize them to serve the purpose I am here for? Finally, there is the last, reflective step, which is analyzing My Feeling Now. After I figure out how to, and then ultimately utilize my talents to fill a unique role in this large world, comes Step Four: how do I feel? Did I figure out the correct balance? Is my self-esteem better now?

We will now go in to greater detail and explain how to do the four-step “program”.

Step one is finding My Purpose in the World. So, we need to understand. What really is a Jew’s purpose in the world? The goal for every Jew is to work together and make a dwelling place for Hashem here on Earth(3), a place where he can be comfortable. This is Hashem’s greatest desire. We do this by elevating the sparks of G-dliness hidden in this world. That is really what B’Shvili Nivra HaOlam means. It doesn’t mean the world was created for me, in a haughty way, but rather by taking a closer look at the quote,” Bshvili Nivra HaOlam, we see that HaOlam (the world) comes from the same root word as Helem(4), which means Hidden. The quote can now be read as, “For me was created the hidden”. What are the hidden things and how were they created for each person? There sparks of G-dliness hidden within our physical world that need to be transform to holiness. it is each and every person’s job, based upon their mission in this world to elevate them. This is our purpose.

Step two is recognizing our talents. We need to know we can personally elevate these sparks. In the Hayom Yom of 25 Nissan it reads, “The individual’s Avoda must be commensurate with his character and innate qualities. There may be one who can drill pearls or polish gems but works at baking bread. Though baking bread is a most necessary craft and occupation, this person is considered to have committed a “sin.”

This Hayom Yom teaches that we need to look at ourselves as an individual and see what our qualities are. Are we good at speaking publicly? Perhaps at writing nicely? Each and every person has gifts given by G-d, specifically to them, for their mission. We also need to do what is right for us, not just following very person on the street, because it is the “in” thing. We need to have confidence that we are doing what we must do. Which brings us to step number three:

The third step to having a good self-esteem is Utilizing my Talents for the Purpose. We need to do our work in this world based on our talents and abilities. As the Hayom Yom of 2 Adar I says, “Rabeinu Haggadol, the Alter Rebbe, set forth a program for Chassidim of striving (Avoda) with the mind and seeking truth, to critically examine one’s every move to be certain it conforms strictly with truth and comes through effort. This Avoda does not imply – as some think, altogether erroneously – that one must pulverize mountains and shatter boulders, turn the world upside down. The absolute truth is that any Avoda, any act, whatever it may be, is perfectly satisfactory when performed with true Kavana, intent: A B’racha pronounced with Kavana; a word of Davening as it should be, with a prepared heart and an awareness of “before Whom you stand”; a passage in Chumash said with an awareness that it is the word of G-d; a verse of Tehillim; a beneficent trait of character expressed in befriending another with affection and love. The truth of the matter is, that to achieve this calls for great and intense effort, meaning simply to study a great deal of Torah and to comprehend it – each according to his ability – and then G-d will help him be what truth demands.

In summary, the Alter Rebbe proves how the truth is, for example if someone is good at writing, it isn’t necessary to plaster yourself all over the media and newspaper writing hundreds of persuasive articles about Judaism to convince people how great it is. Rather, by doing something smaller, like creating a powerful speech to say at an event, you may actually find yourself influencing more people. This can help to have a good self-esteem. When we don’t constantly need to be like everyone else, but can take a step back and think about our self and our deeds, we end up realizing how great we are and how big we can become.

Step Four, the final step, is My Feeling Now. So, you worked hard, accomplished a lot, but how do you feel? Reflect on this for a moment and ask yourself this question. If your feeling is “I am better than everyone, I accomplished so much, I am the best and everyone else is less than me,” then we did not succeed in anything. We shouldn’t need to put people down in order to rise our self higher. Rather, we should feel like a small, but important piece in a big puzzle. This means, know yourself as an important part of the world, like a puzzle which needs every piece to be complete and perfect, but then, you are only one small piece. There are many other people besides for you that also helped to do this great job.

An example of a person who embodied both things is Moshe Rabeinu. He is called “anav meod(5) – Extremely Humble. Moshe, our great leader, was the humblest of all men. The question is asked, how could he have been so humble, with all his accomplishments? Did he not know how great he really was The answer is: Of course Moshe knew how great he was and how much he accomplished. However, he didn’t dwell on the fact that he did everything and that made him great. On the contrary, everything he did was only for the purpose of being a good leader for the Jews and doing his mission in this world. He had the perfect balance that we should all strive for and a great self-esteem.

When we do this and are able to complete our mission properly, we will merit the ultimate Revelation of Hashem, and see how our efforts of making a dwelling place for Hashem paid off, with the coming of Moshiach Now, may it happen speedily in our days. Amen!

1. Sanhedrin Chapter 4, Mishnayos
2. Bereishis 18:27
3. Tanya Chapter 36
4. See Sefer HamMaamorim Kuntresim, Volume 2, Page 738
5. Bamidbar 12:3