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Jewish World Review
Isn't humbleness just low self-esteem?
Rabbi David Aaron
Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
Was Moses, indeed, humble? The man who courageously challenged the mighty Pharaoh the King of Egypt, who led an entire people out of slavery, the man who after seeing the golden calf smashed the very tablets written by the finger of G-d.
Judaism teaches that no character trait is absolutely negative, everything has a role. All we have to do is look at each trait with an open mind and determine its pluses and the minuses. When it comes to pride there is an aspect of it that comes from the godly grandeur of our soul and is therefore, truly humbleness and the source of powerful sacred self esteem. But there is an aspect of pride that comes from our ego which is haughtiness and self destructive; alienating us from our true inner self.
This type of pride focuses on petty concerns and social status; it embodies a desire for honor and one-upmanship. This type of pride confuses us to think that as an individual we stand independent and apart from the greater community. However, according to Jewish mysticism our individual soul is really an aspect of the collective soul of the community. An individual is not an isolated being floating in outer space; disconnected from a greater context. Rather an individual is actually an individualistic expression of the national soul of his people. We find personal meaning and fulfillment only to the extent that we daily serve in our own unique way the betterment of our community and ultimately the world.
I think this is one of the common epiphanies for Jews when they visit Israel their destined homeland. I recall the first time I toured the borders of Israel and heard heroic stories about young Israel soldiers who valiantly defended their country from invading enemies and sacrificed their lives for the Jewish People. These selfless soldiers gave up their individual life so that their nation could live on. I wondered Is there such a reality called national life? Does a nation have a collective soul that encompasses our individual souls?
Jewish mysticism teaches that a nation is not simply the sum total of many individuals. Rather the nation is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, each soul is actually an individual expression of the whole nation born out of the collective soul of the nation. Therefore, even though each of us is an individual we are personally meaningful only because we are members of the national soul; shareholders in its national destiny.
Jewish mysticism also teaches that the national soul is a unique expression of the Universal soul which is G-d. Therefore, an individual soul is also an individualistic expression of the Universal soul G-d. This is the deeper meaning of the belief that each of us is created in the image of G-d. Each of us is a unique expression and manifestation of G-d. G-d becomes manifest through the unique vantage points of every nation and every individual soul. Therefore there is no such thing as an individual soul that exists separate and independent of its nation's soul and the Universal Soul G-d.
Self-actualization is generally understood to mean that I actualize myself; I take care of myself, become fully me, use my talents to their utmost and succeed in my evolution towards individuality. My personal fulfillment does not necessarily have anything to do with anybody else. This definition of self-actualization does not require any national responsibility or commitment to G-d. But in truth there is no such thing as an individual soul existing independent and apart from the collective national soul or the collective universal soul. Therefore, true self-actualization can only be accomplished when it is concerned with facilitating the actualization of my nation's destiny, helping to improve the world and serving to fulfill G-d's purpose.
For example, if I, David Aaron, perceive myself as an independent entity; existing apart and separate of the Jewish people, Humanity and G-d then I am actually alienating myself from my true self. Since my true self is an individual expression of the collective soul of the Jewish People, the world and G-d then when I neglect the needs of my people, the needs of the world and the will of G-d I neglect myself. If I really care about myself, then I would really care about my people, humanity and G-d. Therefore, selflessly and powerfully serving your people, the humanity and G-d is the only true way to self actualization. To be selfless is truly selfish and to be selfish is to lose your self.
We need to probe our inner psyche and determine whether the prideful thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves are coming from our ego or from our soul. If they are coming from the ego then they are haughty and self destructive alienating us from our true self as it interfaces with our national self, international self and the ultimate self-G-d. But when these prideful feelings come from our soul then they are an expression of true humbleness; powerful assertions of who we are really are. They verify our connection to the collective soul of our people, the world and the universal soul-G-d. These apparently prideful feelings are actually humble confirmation that our spiritual self is an expression of the power and beauty of our people, the world and G-d. A spiritually healthy person intuits that s/he is radiant, powerful, significant and great. If a person does not deeply intuit this then s/he has become disconnected from G-d. Since the soul is an aspect and expression of G-d how can we think of ourselves as anything less than awesome. When people are spiritually healthy they intuit their godly greatness and are driven to do great acts for their community, the world and G-d.
Scientifically, we are not even one-billionth of a speck of dust relative to the universe. How then, is it possible, that anybody could ever think that their existence is significant? And yet, not only do people think they are really something, some even think they are everything, the be all and end all of existence. Where would they get such a ridiculous idea? They could get it from their soul which is unique manifestation of the be all and end all G-d.
Sometime our prideful thoughts are really an expression of the true grandeur of our soul as an expression of the eternal grandeur of G-d. We must, however, remind ourselves when we feel our own personal grandeur that it is not our grandeur that we sense inside but rather it is G-d's. When prideful thoughts and feelings erupt within us we should not deny them and quickly put them down. We must clarify whether they are coming from our soul or from our ego. And even when we ascertain that they are coming from our soul we must, nonetheless, be careful that our ego does not take these precious prideful thoughts and feelings and use them to lead us away from their true source and meaning. The ego could use them to confuse us into thinking that our greatness comes from our selves independent of anyone beyond us. Our ego appropriate these holy sparks of self esteem and lead us to self destruction; alienating us from true self rooted in our people, humanity and G-d.
WHAT'S YOUR GOAL? EGO OR SOUL?
How can you know when prideful thoughts are coming from your ego or your soul?
Many times a person feels self confident and passionately driven to accomplish great things and initially this all appears to be just inflated ego but after clarification it may be that her strength of mind and heart derives from the divine light shining in her soul radiating the grandeur of G-d. I struggle with this often.
I remember a dialogue with a colleague. I shared with him that I feel this passion to reach people worldwide and help them improve the spiritual quality of their lives. But where is all this coming from? Is it a profound inner sense of my calling and destiny? Is G-d speaking to me through the restless stirrings of my soul? Or perhaps this is just my petty ego seeking the limelight; a desire for self aggrandizement. Is this my ego and self serving interests or a deep sense of my soul's destiny? My friend said, "You decide. If you use your drives to do good, help people and improve the world, then it is the holiest self service you could do. It will then be obviously your soul."
In other words, there is nothing wrong with thinking you are talented and feeling passionate, as long as you use it to do great things for others and G-d. Only when you feel good about yourself will you do good for others, and only when you do good for others will you feel good about yourself. Is your drive for success derived from the grandeur of your soul? Is it coming from a sense of your spiritual mission and desire to serve humanity and G-d? Or is it just ego? It simply depends on whether you desire to be good or simply look good.
Sometimes people take the wind out of their own sails and undermine the good that they could do by questioning the sincerity of their intentions, thinking 'Hmm, look at me, who do I think I am, how egotistical of me to think this way about myself. To be humble I should step out of the spotlight; I should hide myself in a corner.' Not only is there nothing wrong with confidently acknowledging our talents and strengths, but on the contrary there is something very wrong when we don't acknowledge our talents and strength. If, for example, you have a talent for public speaking, then realize that your 'gift of gab' is a gift from G-d and you have a responsibility to humanity and G-d to use it. If you don't use your G-d given talents then you are an ingrate. In fact, not using your talents is a sign that you actually think they are yours and not G-d's. This attitude is actually a very subtle form of ego and haughtiness.
On the other hand, it would be self destructive if you use your talents and forget that they are G-d given gifts and mistakenly pride yourself thinking 'This is my strength, my power.' This kind of pride alienates you from the true source of your strength-G-d and the true purpose of your strength to serve G-d by materializing in this world divine values and ideals.
If we reject the holy self esteem that stirs within us, we will not only fail to achieve any good for ourselves and others, but we will eventually become depressed and angry. We are simply gagging and ultimately strangling our soul. If you have been given the ability to be a brilliant businessman, a skilled surgeon or an awesome composer, and you question 'who am I, how haughty, what will people think?' then you are confused. You need to understand the difference between the ego which separates you from G-d and the truth sense of mission and grandeur which places you in humble serve of G-d. G-d may want to reveal His wisdom, creativity, kindness, justice, compassion, peace, beauty through you and improve the world. Your drive and determination may be the grandeur of G-d that is seeking to become manifest in the world through you. So let your soul shine!
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron