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Ask parents, educators and psychologists whether self-esteem is good and their unanimous answer will be "yes." In fact, in a recent study, when a group of mothers from diverse backgrounds were asked what they would most like to impart to their children, they almost all answered "high self-esteem." Having a positive self-image, the theory goes, is an important ingredient for successful living.
And yet, look up "self-esteem" in the thesaurus and you will find a list of words that have negative connotations, words like arrogance, cockiness, conceit, disdain, egotism, haughtiness, narcissism, vanity.
Without hair-splitting, a more correct way to describe that which parents hope they will be able to build in their children is self- assurance, synonymous with aplomb, confidence, poise, and presence.
This little discussion leaves us with two questions:
- How do we assure that we and our children have a healthy self-image
- Is there a way to insure that by building up the self-image we won't fall into the trap of egotism, etc.
In Jewish teachings, a positive self-image is established through recognizing one's standing in the world.
It is not for naught that the first person, Adam, was created alone, unlike the other creatures, which were created in pairs or multiples. The Mishna explains, "For this reason was Adam created as an individual in order to teach you that one person equals a whole world."
Chasidic philosophy expounds on this thought saying, "This indicates emphatically that one single individual has the capacity to bring the whole of creation to fulfillment, as was the case with the first person."
The Talmud takes the idea of a person being equal to the whole world a step further and declares that if one saves the life of another person, it is considered as if he saved the entire world.
However, concentrating on such eloquent Jewish teachings could possibly bring one to self-esteem and not self-assurance. Rather, it is important to temper these teachings, which is exactly what some of the Chasidic masters did in their own, succinct way.
Rabbi Noach of Lechovitch taught, "A person is, as is known, a small world. This means that if he is a world in his eyes, he is actually small. But if he is small in his eyes, then he is a world."
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa taught that, "A person should always have two teachings in his pockets. In one pocket there should be the verse, 'I am but dust and ashes.' In the other pocket should be the verse, 'The entire world was created for me.' "
Once, a Jewish mother was asked how she instilled such confidence and feelings of self-worth in her many children. She told the questioner about the age-old custom of lighting one Shabbat candle for each family member. "I tell each child," she explained simply, "When you were born I began lighting an additional Shabbat candle because your being in the world makes it a brighter place."
Of course, part of building up a positive self-image includes under standing who we are and who we are not.
Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli said, "If they will ask me in the World of Truth, 'Why weren't you like Moses?' I will know what to answer. But if they will ask me, 'Why weren't you Zushe?' I will not have an answer."
The Baal Shem Tov taught that every Jew is a cherished land. Just as the earth has precious stones and metals hidden within, so does every Jew have treasures hidden within him.
One of his disciples, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz expanded on this thought by adding that within every person there is something precious that is not found in any other person.
But, nothing could be a greater boost to one's sense of self-worth than knowing that one's existence in this world is for a purpose - to make the world a dwelling place for G-d.
In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, when Abraham was told by G-d that Isaac would be born, he already had Ishmael. Abraham said to G-d, "O, that Ishmael would live before You!"; Abraham would have been satisfied with just one son, if that son followed the ways of G-d.
G-d, however, explained that the Jewish people would be perpetuated through Isaac. G-d promised that eventually Abraham would have nachas (satisfaction), from Ishmael, but his true nachas would come from Isaac.
Ishmael's birth was a natural phenomenon, but Isaac's birth was a miracle. It was impossible for Abraham and Sara to have a child at such an advanced age. No one believed that such a miracle would occur. Yet, Isaac was born.
Another difference between Ishmael and Isaac was in their brit mila, the covenant that binds the Jew to G-d.
Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised. At the age of 13 a person's intellect is already well established. He is able to make rational decisions based on his understanding, which is why he becomes obligated in mitzvot. At 13, Ishmael agreed to connect himself to G-d.
The circumcision of Isaac, by contrast, was performed when he was only 8 days old. One cannot obtain an infant's permission and it is precisely then that this eternal bond with G-d that can never be erased was effected.
Ishmael's upbringing was likewise natural. Ishmael grew up under the watchful eyes of his parents, who helped him acquire the proper understanding to enable him to connect to G-d. Their efforts were rewarded when he made the rational decision to undergo brit mila at the age of 13.
Judaism, however, cannot be based solely on the foundations of human understanding. Judaism as predicated on the intellectual capacities of a 13-year-old boy is unstable. If, as a more mature individual, that person were to encounter a new set of circumstances or find himself in an unfamiliar situation, there is no predicting how he will react. The basis of his Judaism -- his own understanding -- is deficient.
For this reason G-d told Abraham that his true nachas would come from Isaac. Judaism is not based on the foundations of nature. The connection between the Jew and G-d transcends nature entirely; it is an eternal bond that endures forever. And the Judaism of a child whose connection with G-d is forged as an 8-day-old infant will be stable.
From this we derive an important lesson. Jewish education cannot be postponed until a child reaches the age of reason. From the moment of birth one must inculcate the infant with Judaism that transcends the bounds of nature. A child thus educated will bring his parents true nachas.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1
Rabbi Dovid Wichnin
by Shlomo Newfield
Dr. Newfield wrote this article in honor of the second yahrzeit of Rabbi Dovid Wichnin, who headed the Rabbinical College of America's Yeshiva Tiferes Bachurim in Morristown, NJ
Although Rabbi Dovid Wichnin and I were both previously residents of Brooklyn, we didn't meet until September, 1972, in Boston. At that time, I was entering medical school and he was the principal of the local Lubavitch Yeshiva. I had begun my transformation as a baal teshuva (returnee to Judaism) during my previous two years in college. On my second day in Boston, I went to a nearby Hillel House for dinner. Rabbi Wichnin was the guest speaker on the subject of teshuva (repentance) in preparation for Rosh Hashana. I was greatly impressed by his sincerity, clarity, and directness. This was a rabbi who spoke my language. It seemed his every word was meant for me. I sat quietly and listened. As the saying goes, "Words from the heart enter the heart." I had no idea when we would meet again, but as it turned out it wasn't long.
For the High Holidays, another medical student who knew Rabbi Wichnin urged me to go to Lubavitch. My friend reassured me, "Don't worry, you don't need a ticket for the services at the Lubavitch Yeshiva."
When I entered the study hall of the yeshiva, I felt at home. Rabbi Wichnin was in top form -- he led the prayers, read from the Torah, blew the shofar, and delivered the sermon. It was a moving experience and I decided to come back again. Several weeks later after Shabbat morning services, Rabbi Wichnin invited four or five college students to his home for the meal. He asked each of us about our background and current studies. We met his devoted wife Mala and enjoyed her delicious cooking and baking. But the clincher was Rabbi Wichnin's parting words, "Stanley, I want you to stay here every Shabbat!" I didn't quite get what he meant but it stayed in my mind all week. As Shabbat got closer I decided to call. "Bring your things over before Shabbat and sleep here as our guest," was the warm offer. Though still unsure, I decided to take up his hospitality, but just for that week.
That night, I was the only guest at the meal. I felt like an honored guest, but also a member of the family. And so it went from week to week, Shabbat and Yom Tov. I was the Wichnin's regular guest for two years. In time, I started wearing my yarmulke all the time. I attended classes at the yeshiva. I grew a beard. I became more and more involved with Lubavitch, visiting Crown Heights and attending Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah during my medical school breaks.
Once, I tried to express my gratitude to Rabbi Wichnin with a small gift, but he returned it to me saying that the Talmud teaches, "He who rejects gifts will live." In this as in all matters, his every action was l'shem shamayim -- for the sake of heaven. He always tried to help and encourage every Jew he met. Once, on Rosh Hashana, we walked downtown to blow the shofar for a patient at the hospital. I asked Rabbi Wichnin, "Did you see that boy wearing a yarmulke who just passed us?" But he had missed him and was upset. It actually hurt Rabbi Wichnin that he had lost an opportunity to say "Good Yom Tov" to a fellow Jew.
Many, many people knew Rabbi Wichnin as a teacher, the head of the yeshiva, mentor, and friend. For me, he was always the person I could count on. He brought me a menora when I was on duty at the hospital on Chanuka. He opened doors to Chasidic homes in Boston and New York. He advised me on the practical issues of observing mitzvot in medical school. He recited the blessing under the chupa at my wedding and was sandek at our son's brit. He was always upbeat, always smiling.
When the Wichnin's first son was born, the baby had to stay a long time in the hospital. One Saturday night, Rabbi Wichnin took me to visit the baby after visiting hours. Although I was a medical student, I had not worked at that hospital, and the nurses didn't know me. When we came to the nursery Rabbi Wichnin greeted all the nurses warmly. They looked at me and asked Rabbi Wichnin, "Who is this with you?" he quipped, "Oh, he's my chaplain."
Surely, all who knew Rabbi Wichnin miss him. Yet his life example remains with us as a constant encouragement and inspiration.
How much is too much? You can never have too much of a good thing, conventional wisdom declares. When it comes to thanking G-d for good things, certainly the same wisdom applies. How much should one thank G-d, through reciting blessings?
The Rebbe explained (22 Marcheshvan, 5751) - "A person is obligated to recite 100 blessings each day as it is written, 'Now Israel, what is it that G-d asks from you?' Do not read 'mah' ('what'), read 'mei-ah' (100)... These 100 blessings are intended to bring a person to fear G-d, to love Him and to recall Him at all times through the recitation of these blessings."
For a beginner's blessing booklet, send a business-size SASE to NCFJE, 824 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
16th of Adar, 5739 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your (undated) letter, in which you write about the situation of Torah chinuch [education] in your community, and your personal involvement in it. I am gratified to note your dedication to the cause of chinuch. I trust you will be able to report good news about your efforts to preserve and strengthen true Torah chinuch, as well as all matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, in your area.
I hope you had a joyous and inspiring Purim, which brought "Light, Joy, Gladness and Honor" to our people in those days, and we pray "So be it for us," both in the ordinary sense of the words, as well as in their deeper meaning, namely, "Light -- this is Torah," etc. We have the assurance that when a Jew is determined to strengthen Yiddishkeit both at home and in one's surroundings, G-d blesses such efforts with hatzlacha [success].
With regard to your question whether it would be advisable for you to move to another place, it would not be good for the children to have such a change in the middle of the school year. Besides, as already indicated, one has definite obligations towards the community in which one lives, and seeking to improve one's own situation would not help those who must remain behind. Indeed, when an active member of the community leaves, it makes their situation even worse. I therefore think that, for the present, at any rate, you ought to redouble your efforts to strengthen the situation of Torah chinuch and Yiddishkeit in your community and postpone the question of moving until the end of the school year at least.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above. With blessing,
9th of Adar, 5739 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 7th of Adar, in which you write about the proposed treatment, surgery, for Mrs.__. I will remember her in prayer that whatever the decision, it should be with Hatzlacha [success].
Inasmuch as you also ask my "advice" in this matter, I can only say in a general way that I am not in favor of radical treatment if there is any possibility in treating a patient in some other way.
I must also add that it is customary among Jews that when there is a difference of opinion among doctors as to the urgency of an operation, or whether to operate or not, it should be treated as any other sh'ala [question], to consult with a competent practicing Rav [rabbinical authority], with whom the various aspects and details of the case can be personally discussed, and he can then state his opinion in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law].
I trust there is no need to emphasize at length that one always needs the blessing of "The Healer of all flesh Who works wondrously," and the channel to receive it is through the everyday life and conduct in accordance with His Will, namely, in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot. When a special Divine blessing is needed, an additional effort in this direction is indicated.
While on the subject of the Torah and mitzvot, as well as medical science, it is fitting to mention here the analogy between the two.
As you know, medical science is basically an empirical science, relying primarily on actual experience and the effectiveness of drugs, which has proven by application and use. The understanding of how the drugs actually do their work is not of primary importance, and can be studied later. The same is true of the Torah and mitzvot insofar as the Jewish people is concerned. For our long history has proven beyond a doubt that the existence of the Jewish people is intimately bound up with the Torah and mitzvot as a way of life, and this has been the only constant factor that has preserved our people at all times and in all places under all kinds of circumstances, whereas other factors that are important for other people such as language, territory, etc., cannot be considered determining factors in Jewish life.
I trust that you are using your privileged position of bringing care and healing to your patients to encourage to live up more fully to the Will of G-d in the everyday life, since there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvot...
Though the 16th National Boy Scouts Jamboree took place in the summer, we couldn't resist sharing with you these pictures and part of the report we recently received: Jewish troops who attended the Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, did not have to choose between going to church on Sunday or twiddling their thumbs this year. Instead, they flocked to a workshop on Jewish traditions, guided by a group of Tzivos Hashem leaders. Rabbis Pinny Gniwisch and Zev Wineberg were dispatched by Tzivos Hashem to work together with the National Jewish Committee on Scouting in catering to the religious needs of the 1,200 Jewish Scouts at the 11-day national extravaganza. Five more Tzivos Hashem leaders arrived to lend a hand on the weekend. Since 1989, Tzivos Hashem has worked closely with NJCS and has sent chaplains to Boy Scout camps, as well as national and international Jamborees. Through their involvement in a requisite number of Jewish activities during the Jamboree scouts were able to earn the 1997 Jewish Jamboree Achievement Award created by NJCS.
On the eleventh day of Cheshvan, the Matriarch Rachel, Jacob's wife, passed away. She was not buried in the cave of Machpelah with our other Matriarchs and Patriarchs, but was buried en route from her father Laban's house. Jacob chose this spot because he knew in the future that his descendants, the Children of Israel, would pass on their way into Babylonian Exile. Her grave in Bethlehem has always been a holy site, where Jews pray for their individual or communal needs.
When the Jews in fact went into exile, Rachel wept before G-d on behalf of her children who were crying by her grave. G-d replied to her, "Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your labor...and the children shall return to their boundary."
This is related to this week's Torah portion, in which G-d promises Abraham that the land he travelled through, the Land of Israel, will belong to his children, the Jewish people.
Throughout the generations we have had to struggle to claim the land that has always been ours, as we see in the Torah a Divine "transfer of ownership" of Israel to our ancestor, which is to be handed down to each and every one of his descendants. G-d comforts Rachel by telling her that we will be returned to the land that is rightfully ours.
We carry G-d's promise to Rachel with us today and pray that very soon, our mother Rachel will rejoice as we, her children, are "returned to our borders." At that time, when we will be living in the Holy Land in security and peace, we will be governed by Moshiach and will be experiencing the wonders and glory of the Third Holy Temple, may this be speedily in our times.
And Avram went according to G-d's instructions...and Avram was 75 years old (Gen. 12:4)
Avram's age is mentioned to demonstrate his devotion to G-d. Untill then he was living a comfortable life in Charan, but because G-d instructed him to leave his home at his age, he did so.
And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I shall curse; and all the families of the land shall bless themselves with you (Gen. 12:3)
"All the families of the land shall bless themselves with you" means that families will bless themselves to have children like Avram. If all of the families want children like Avram, then it is unclear as to who would curse him. Avram's mission was to teach the world about G-d, and while there would be many people who would join him and bless him for teaching them, he was bound to encounter opposition. G-d told Avram not to be frightened or discouraged when those who opposed him cursed him, because in their hearts they truly envy him and want their children to be like him.
And he went on his journeys...to the place where his tent had been in the beginning (Gen. 13:3)
The commentator Rashi says that on Avram's return trip he repaid his debts, but it seems unlikely that anyone would lend money to a poor traveling stranger. The "debts" he repaid were not monetary. Many people asked him questions about G-d, and he wasn't able to answer all of them, so he "owed" them answers. Avram was frequently asked why G-d didn't use His power to make him rich. On the return trip, after he had been blessed with riches, he told the people that a person must have faith in G-d, and G-d will reward him.
And He said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them...so shall your children be." (Gen. 15:5)
The Jewish people are likened to stars, in that from the earth they seem very small, but in the heavens they are actually immense. On earth, the nations of the world may consider the Jews to be of little significance, but in heaven, they are of primary importance.
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Although they had long since concluded their prayers, every day the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov would form a circle around their master and bask in the holiness of his prayers which he customarily extended into the day. They would stand listening to the melody of his devotions and watching as he attached his soul to the Creator until he ended his prayers. The scene never changed and not one of the Baal Shem Tov's students dared leave his spot until his master had finished praying.
One day, for no apparent reason, they were all seized with a deep longing to rest and refresh themselves with food and drink. They slipped away one at a time, each certain that the Besht would still be deep in prayer when he returned. Soon no one was left in the circle of disciples.
After eating and resting a bit each one returned to the spot where their master had stood in meditation, but to their utter surprise, he had left.
"Why," they asked, "did you finish so early today?"
The Baal Shem Tov replied with a story:
"Once a party was traveling through the forest when their leader saw, high up in a tree, the most beautifully plumed bird which trilled a haunting melody. He called to his fellow travellers saying, 'Look at that bird! How I would like to trap it and keep it so that we would enjoy its beauty and the wonderful music it makes.' But they saw how high it sat perched on a distant branch and couldn't understand how they could possibly catch it. Their leader had a plan. 'If we stand one on the shoulders of the other, we will surely be able to reach the top branches. I will stand on the top of the highest man, and from that point, I will be able to seize the bird.'
"And so, they did as he suggested, and formed a human ladder which reached high into the air. Unfortunately, this project was quite difficult and wearisome and they began to grow bored and tired of standing under the tall trees and seemingly achieving nothing. One by one they went off to get a bite to eat and rest their weary bones. Their leader, who had seen the beautiful bird and was trying his best to capture her fell to the ground and was left with sad failure."
Once, when the Baal Shem Tov was delivering a Torah discourse to a gathering of his disciples there was a knock on the door. The disciples were annoyed to see a peasant standing at the threshold with a wheelbarrow full of various sorts of tools.
"Do any of you gentlemen need anything fixed?" he inquired, oblivious to their stares. "Perhaps your chairs need a bit of tightening or your tables need a sanding or maybe the chimney needs bricking?"
"No, there is nothing which needs to be done," one of the Besht's followers answered curtly, wanting nothing more than to return to his learning.
"No, nothing requires fixing," chimed in the others, all growing more and more impatient by the second. "You can go on your way, there is nothing to be done here."
But the peasant was a tenacious fellow, and he refused to take "no" for an answer. "It's impossible that everything is perfect! Surely there is something that needs doing."
The Baal Shem Tov interrupted his speech and addressed his students. "Many times I have told you that nothing happens in the world simply by chance. From every word and every incident you can learn something to strengthen and improve your service to the One Above. The words of this peasant should speak to the heart of each and every one of us! How deep and meaningful they are, for how can we say that everything is perfect with each of us? If we only look into our hearts and souls we all will find something which cries out to be 'fixed,' some defect in us which is waiting for us to make the necessary repair."
"O behold our affliction and wage our battle; redeem us speedily for the sake of Your Name, for You G-d are the mighty redeemer. Blessed are You L-rd, Redeemer of Israel.
(From the Amida prayer said three times daily)