The Honor of Your Presence Is Requested…
Essays 2019 / Self Esteem
Who are you? A very simple question that elicits a myriad of answers. Yaakov Cohen. Miriam Goldberg. A mother. A student. A rabbi. A lawyer. We often answer this question with either our name or our profession, but is that who we truly are?
In this essay, we will try to discover who we truly are at our essence. In doing so, we will explore the secular view vs. the Chassidic view of personal worth which will shed light on a very common and stifling modern-day problem: low self-esteem. The secular view will be mostly based on Influence: Science and Practice by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, and the Chassidic view on the Tanya and the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Maamarim and Sichos. Consequently, we will come to the realization that if we change our secular-influenced mindset to that of a Torah viewpoint as illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus, we will not only boost our self-esteem, but also recognize our essential worth, and instead of squandering our beautiful gift of life in misery and lack of motivation, utilize it to serve our Creator and accomplish our raison d’être in this world.
The Secular View
As unfair as it is, in the secular world people who are beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, tall, successful, and famous are the role models people talk about and admire1. Regardless of the fact that most of these attributes are genetic, temporary, and superficial, people still attach personal worth to them, while attributing little or no importance to personal improvement of character and growth, cultivating a relationship with G-d, and investments in things of an eternal nature, such as deeds of goodness and kindness.
This attitude has created a host of first-world ills, such as anorexia nervosa, a disease in which the quest to be model-thin causes in some people predisposed to it to have a distorted body image in which they see themselves as fat and restrict nutrition intake when in fact they are skeletal. In the U.S. alone, at least 30 million people of all ages suffer from an eating disorder2, with many more tens of millions world-wide. Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder3.
The desire to be on the Forbes Billionaire List and other such lists glorifying wealth or the quest for success at any cost has caused a number of business people to do less than savory deals in order to pad their bottom line, many of which have been publicized in recent years, such as the Madoff scandal, the collapse of Long-Term Capital hedge fund, and the Spanish royal family fiasco. Similarly, people spend fortunes and sometimes turn to unethical avenues in order to help their children get into prestigious Ivy League colleges. Billionaires, actors, singers, sports figures, models, and royalty are the most Googled names instead of religious leaders, scientists, and people who seek to bring lasting goodness to the world instead of self-aggrandizement and fleeting pleasure.
In other words, the secular viewpoint of rewarding the superficial and vain has created a culture of self-centeredness and envy, in which people’s resulting lack of empathy is even affecting the way in which they view themselves, as never beautiful enough, wealthy enough, intelligent enough, tall enough, successful enough, and famous enough. This never-ending rat race in order to attempt to achieve these things depletes people physically, emotionally, financially, and socially, and is a direct contributor to the ever-increasing rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, divorce, lack of motivation, and aggression we see every day worldwide.
The Torah View
Every person, man or woman, is created in the image of G-d.4 G-d did not create anything, G-d forbid, that He does not need, and created everything and everyone exactly as they need to be in order to fulfill their Divine and unique mission in this world. There is no such thing as someone with no talents: Everyone has a mix of G-d-given talents that are especially suited to their mission, and it is their responsibility to recognize, appreciate, and develop them in a G-dly manner.
The Torah teaches that saving a single life is like saving the whole world5, and requires us to wage war against enemies and risk many lives rather than acquiesce to them if they ask that a single person be handed over to them and they will consequently spare the rest.6 Despite Moshe Rabbeinu’s many great qualities, the Sages teach us that it is only after G-d saw that he went out of his way to bring home a single, small, lost sheep that He chose him to be the Jewish People’s Redeemer. Only someone who recognized the value of a single individual—especially one that society might not see as strong and part of the elite—could be a leader entrusted with the care of G-d’s precious children.
The Modeh Ani prayer recited every morning after awakening concludes by mentioning the greatness of G-d’s Faithfulness in each one of us: G-d grants us a new lease on life every day despite our blunders the day before because He created us and knows more than anyone our vast potential, and has faith that we will not let Him down today… The Talmud teaches7 that no one can take away a single penny from the livelihood that G-d ordained that we make at a given time. We can learn through this that in every area of life, although of course we should defend ourselves if anyone infringes upon our rights or attempts to hurt us in any way, G-d forbid—and there are many Torah laws about this—in retrospect everything that happens to us is Divinely ordained for our own benefit and as part of our mission is this world.
Chassidus (Chassidic philosophy) sheds additional light on the above concepts. Tanya explains8 that there is an intrinsic spark of G-dliness in every part of creation, and a G-dly soul, a “Chelek Elokah Mima’al Mamosh”, “an actual part of G-d” inside every Jew. Pondering this alone should give any person a very high level of self-esteem and motivation to serve G-d with joy.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that even the trajectory of a single leaf blowing in the wind is planned by G-d; how much more so the details in the life of every Jew. When one meditates on this concept, he or she comes to the realization that everything G-d does in one’s life is for that person’s benefit, and even when it appears not to be good, in reality it is only hidden goodness.9 Even someone who suffered a horrible calamity, such as abuse, G-d forbid, should have this mindset, as difficult as it can be.10
Everyone should learn from the Tzaddik Reb Zushe of Anipoli, who once after having been sent a Chossid to learn from him how to be joyous despite living a difficult life, said he could not comprehend why the Rebbe had chosen him as he did not have experience with difficulties, despite Reb Zushe’s legendary poverty being extremely dire. Nevertheless, Reb Zushe’s focus was on serving Hashem and not on himself and his needs, and he was consequently always joyous…
It is well-known and recognized even in the secular world how by giving to others and focusing on making them happy, one thereby increases their own sense of purpose, fulfillment, self-esteem, and happiness.11 Even someone who made mistakes in life—even big mistakes—should view their blunders as stepping stones in the path towards G-d and a holy, wholesome life.12 Regarding present and future mistakes, one is required by Torah to exert all of his or her power to avoid them, but regarding past mistakes, they should not sadden or keep us back from reaching our true potential and life’s mission.13 The Talmud teaches, “In the place where baalei teshuvah (penitents) stand, even the completely righteous do not stand.”14 Past mistakes give one an exceptionally strong thirst for Torah and holiness that he or she would not possess had they not failed in the past, and as their past mistakes are the driving force for their current increased closeness to G-d, their heartfelt and sincere Teshuva (repentance) causes their past sins to be transformed into merits.15
The above concepts should encourage every person, no matter their background and past, to be energized to serve G-d as befits a Jew created in G-d’s Image as part of His beautiful world by fulfilling G-d’s desire of having a home in this lower world.16 Every Jew is a Mikdash Me’at, (miniature Sanctuary) in G-d’s world, and each person is necessary in elevating themselves and their piece of the world in order to create the beautiful mosaic of creation G-d desires to bring His world to completion. What an honor that G-d has chosen each one of us as His partner in creating a home for Him in this lower world! We should therefore be joyous and productive in utilizing each day to the best of our ability.17
As we can see from the above, each and every one of us is exactly made in the way he or she needs to be in order to accomplish his or her Divine mission in this world, and is also given just the right tools to carry out that mission successfully. Therefore, for example, if someone had been given blue eyes instead of brown eyes, grown an inch taller, given a “better” education, had a more lucrative job, or married a different spouse, it would on the contrary hinder their mission instead of facilitating it. Although this concept may be difficult to comprehend, it does not in any way detract from its truth and validity. It also does not preclude a person from trying their utmost in order to better their lives in a reasonable manner. For example, it is perfectly fine for people to seek to beautify themselves by regular means, but getting plastic surgeries that are totally unnecessary in a quest to constantly look younger and more beautiful crosses the line into the errors of the misguided secular culture views. Similarly, it is perfectly acceptable to try to make additional income in an ethical and honest manner, but one has to be careful not to cross the line into unethical and dishonest actions.
In order to cultivate our self-worth and align our lives with our G-dly purpose and Divine mission, it is helpful to reframe negative thoughts that are steeped in secular culture into ones that are based on Torah and Chassidus. Here are five examples:
- Despite my best efforts, I am still not able to afford my neighbor’s car and vacations; therefore, I am a failure. → My mission in life is not to make huge amounts of money. Money is the means to an end, not the end. What I make using my best efforts is exactly what I need to fulfill my mission, not a penny less nor a penny more. My neighbor has a different mission and is therefore given different tools, but all I need to focus on is my own.
- I am not as beautiful, thin, and tall as the people in the advertisements I see. → In addition to realizing that all these ads are Photoshopped and airbrushed, and that the people in them look totally more average in real life, I meditate on the fact that G-d created me in the exact manner that I need to be to fulfill the purpose He created me for.
- I only became religious later in life, and it is difficult for me to read Hebrew fast enough to keep up with the congregation; I feel inadequate because of my lack of Jewish education. → Hashem has a reason why I only became religious later in life. What I know is that I need to use the gifts from my past to catapult me into the best Jew I can be today, and if sometimes it is harder for me than for those who had a head start in Jewish education, Hashem values my efforts all the more and looks down proudly on me trying to read and do as best as I can. This also shows me the value of Jewish education for my own children and grandchildren, as well as gives me an additional incentive to help support the cause and encourage others to educate their children with a true Jewish education from the beginning.
- My husband or wife annoys me. Although I feel ashamed to admit it, sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off marrying someone else. → I am married to the person whose soul completes mine. Even if someone else appears to have been better, if I did not end up married to him or her, it is thanks to G-d Who arranged that I marry the other half of my soul, as that is the only person in the world who can complement me and bring out the best in me so that I can grow as a person and fulfill my purpose successfully.
- I have had a very hard life and lived through agonizing trauma. I feel G-d does not love me as much as He does others, probably because I am not worthy of His love. Therefore, there is no reason for me to fight on in life and accomplish much, especially as I have already wasted so much of my life anyway. → The ways of G-d are hidden, yet I am certain that every detail of my life, even the very painful ones, were orchestrated as part of my mission in this world. On the contrary, G-d loves me so much that He chose me to do a very difficult mission for Him. Certainly, if I am worthy of His great love, I should love myself as well, and accomplish everything I can for Him. If part of my life appears to have been wasted, in addition that it was all His plan for a greater purpose, I will make sure I do not waste another moment and start right now to learn about and fulfill my Divine mission. As the past acts as an extra engine to propel me forward, it is not only not wasted but also elevated by my present and future accomplishments which I would not have carried out with such vigor, enthusiasm, and sincerity had it not been for my past.
It is the author’s heartfelt wish that you, dear reader, come away from reading this essay excited to be the incredible person that you are, and realize that you have a unique and sacred contribution to make to our world—one that no other person could ever do in your stead—and that therefore there is absolutely no reason to base your worth on any external factor or on anyone else, but rather solely on the essential G-dliness and value that you possess as a child of Al-Mighty G-d that He desires and needs. In fact, every day when you wake up, it is G-d personably hand-delivering you an invitation to live another day and accomplish your unique purpose in His beautiful World that reads, “The Honor of Your Presence Is Requested…” May this realization invigorate and energize each and every one of us to accomplish our unique and sacred mission in this world to the best of our ability, and thereby bring the ultimate Redemption with Moshiach speedily in our days.
- Influence: Science and Practice by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini.
- Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348–358.
- Le Grange, D., Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2012). Eating disorder not otherwise specified presentation in the US population. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(5), 711-718.
- Bereishis 1:27.
- Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5.
- Talmud Yerushalmi 4:9; Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 37a.
- Talmud Bavli Yoma 38b.
- Tanya, Likutei Amarim, Chapter 2.
- Sichos Kodesh 5742, vol. 3, p. 1662.
- Likutei Sichos Vol. 14, p. 325.
- Maamar Tefillah L’Mosheh 5729.
- Sicha Vayishlach 5714: 2-6 and Sicha Shemos 5719: 3-4.
- Tanya, Likutei Amarim, Chapter 26.
- Talmud Bavli Berachos 34b.
- Talmud Bavli Yoma 86b.
- Tanya, Likutei Amarim, Chapter 33.
- Likutei Sichos Vol. 16, p. 273-274.