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Jewish Self Esteem

Wednesday, 5 March, 2014 - 11:21 am

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If you do a search on Amazon under books with the key words ‘self esteem’, you’ll find some 110,000 results, pretty much telling the readers how to increase their self esteem or that of those around them.

For decades now the importance of a healthy self esteem in achieving successhas been believed to be a most integral component. For parents of little ones phrases such as ‘good girl’ were replaced by ‘good job’. Parents of teenagers are taught to criticize an action, never a person. College students are told that they can be at the top of anything they choose, and job hunters are taught that they will succeed when they project high levels of self confidence. All of these messages are intended to help us succeed.

Recently however, this theory is being questioned as to its possible correlation with the alarming rates of nearly 50% in the US suffering from anxiety and depression. How real is that sense of self that we are creating? Are we really all capable of tremendous success bordering on, dare I say, perfection? Or is our preoccupation with self esteem actually undermining our success in the long run?

When the Alter Rebbe (author of the Tanya and Code of Jewish Law) sent his grandson to school for the first time, he instructed the boy’s teacher to begin his lessons with the Torah portion of Vayikra (this week’s portion), instead of the obvious first choice of Bereishit, Genesis. When the little boy came home, he presented his grandfather with a question. “Why is the letter alef in the word vayikra smaller than all the other letters?”

Apparently, this was what his grandfather had been hoping he would ask and after moments of meditation he explained to him that there are three sizes of letters in the Torah, medium, large and small. Most of the Torah is written in the medium font to teach us that the Torah is written to instruct us to strive to become the ‘intermediate’ person referred to in Tanya. The large font, which is used in the alef of Adam’s name, represents an inflated ego that led to downfall. And the small font, used in the word vayikra, refers to Moses’ incredible sense of humility that led to his greatness.

It might seem a little strange to think that Moses thought of himself with humility as he was, after all, chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. G-d appeared to Moses face to face, so it wouldn’t take much for him to think that he must have done something right in his life. Was his humility simply an attempt to appear pious? Was it false?

True character, as it says in the Hayom Yom, is to make an honest assessment of one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.

Moses knew what he was doing right, but he also knew that he had been granted a very lofty soul, that he was the son of a righteous man and that he was the seventh generation from Abraham. He believed that if someone else had been granted all the gifts he had, surely they would have done better and been better than he, Moses.

Feeling confident about our abilities helps propel us to accomplish more, but the key to our success is knowing that those strengths are a gift from above and if given to someone else, they might have done better than us. Honest self-awareness and humility is what will lead to true greatness.

Have a wonderful and rejuvenating break,

~Nechama~

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