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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 re-cognizing 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.' "
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.
The seventh of the Jewish month of Marcheshvan is always in the week of the Torah portion of Lech Lecha.
On the seventh of Marcheshvan we begin to pray for rain, for it is the day on which the last pilgrims who had come to the Holy Temple for Sukkot returned home. We wait until this date to ask G-d for rain so as not to cause undue hardship for the pilgrims who are still traveling.
The seventh of Marcheshvan is thus symbolic of descent, for it signifies the Jews' departure from the Temple - the epitome of holiness - and their return to their own places.
Lech Lecha, by contrast, is symbolic of ascent. In this Torah portion, Avraham leaves the land of his birth and goes to the land of Israel. It thus signifies the ascent from Charan to the higher level of holiness of the land of Israel.
What exactly did the Jews do during their thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem? They basked in the Temple's holiness, witnessed the Ten Miracles that occurred there regularly, and in general perceived G-dliness in a revealed manner. The enjoyment that was derived, albeit of a sublime and spiritual nature, was nonetheless a personal enjoyment.
The Jews' return home marked an end to this exclusive preoccupation with G-dliness, Torah and mitzvot, and Divine service. Each person had to resume the more mundane labors of his livelihood, plowing and sowing his individual plot of land. Yet G-d wants the Jew, through his actions, to establish a "dwelling place" for Him in the "lower realms" - the material plane of this physical world.
Thus, in essence, the seventh of Marcheshvan - the "descent" of the Jew from the holiness of Jerusalem to the more ordinary affairs of his daily life - is actually a very great "ascent," for it is only upon his return home that he can begin his task of establishing a "dwelling place" for G-d in earnest.
It wasn't until Avraham arrived in the land of Israel that his work to reveal G-dliness within the world commenced on an unprecedented scale. True, Avraham had strived to foster an awareness of G-d even prior to this time, but his efforts had been more limited in scope.
The seventh of Marcheshvan always coincides with Lech Lecha to teach us that the descent it symbolizes is really a step up, providing us with a lesson we can apply in our lives:
Although the Jewish people are in exile, this should not cause us to be saddened or despair. On the contrary, it is precisely through the "descent" of exile that we may effect the greatest "ascent": fulfilling the will of G-d by serving Him within the context of the physical world, thereby making a suitable "dwelling place for G-d" in the lower realms.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 20
The Gardner's Son
by Steve Hyatt
Back in the early 1970s money was very tight for my family. To make ends meet my dad had several jobs. He worked full time at Pfizer Chemical making Penicillin. When he finished at Pfizer he jumped into his truck and put up TV antennas on local rooftops or he drove off to one of his clients where he was a professional gardener. This was a time before the invention of the Weed Whacker, so when it was time to clip the grass around the fence posts of one of the estates I got down on hands and knees and started to pull. Even though it was over 35 years ago I can't go by a picket fence without cringing.
I can still remember one particular day when I had what seemed like miles of fence to weed. Almost in tears I got up and complained that I'd been doing this same task for hours and I still had a long way to go. Dad came up to me, turned me around and said, "Instead of looking at how much you have left to do, turn around and admire how much you've already accomplished." That one life lesson has stayed with me all these long years as my life's journey unfolded.
Over the course of the last year I felt like I was constantly bombarded with bad news. We saw the tragedy in Mumbai, the implosion of the economy, the building tensions in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time in many years I found myself in a spiritual depression, a depression so dark, that I couldn't navigate out of it by myself.
Several days before Rosh Hashana two young "Roving Rabbis," Yossi Silverstein and Shalom Ber Cunin, came to Reno to meet with Jews throughout Northern Nevada. This was not the first time I'd met young rabbis who spent their summers visiting Jews in far off places. However, I had never felt compelled to invite them to spend time with me. So no one was more surprised than me when one Shabbat I invited them to come to my office at the newspaper and "learn."
Moments later I berated myself, "Why did I do that? They are here to meet with unaffiliated Jews, Jews who need to be inspired. I don't need help. I have been a member of Chabad for more than a decade. What could these two young guys possibly teach me?" As it turned out.....quite a bit!
We arranged to meet on Friday. They entered my office carrying a shofar and some reading material for us to discuss. Before we started learning Yossi raised the shofar to his lips and blew.
After he was finished the three of us started to talk. We talked for more than an hour and never did get to the reading material they'd brought with them. We spoke of many things over the course of our time together but at one moment I found myself opening up and discussing my spiritual depression. Until that moment I had not discussed my feelings with a single soul, not my wife, not my dad, not my mom nor my rabbi.
For months I had slowly and depressingly drowned in a spiritual morass that had relentlessly drained my energy and emotions. Yet in less than an hour these two 20-something rabbis got me to open up about my feelings, ask questions and probe the depths of my personal despair. In less than an hour they pushed me to reexamine my entire spiritual journey from its humble beginnings in New London Connecticut to its many travels through Palms Springs, Delaware, Oregon, Nevada and beyond. In less than an hour these two young, passionate men reminded me to stop looking at how much more I had yet to accomplish and take a moment to "turn around" spiritually and remember all I had experienced and seen over the past 20 years. They took time out of their precious day to take this one, lone Jew by the spiritual hand and remind him that G-d has always been with him and will never leave his side now or in the future. These two young men reminded me of the many small but powerful miracles I had experienced over the years, many of which I have chronicled in this space. In less than an hour the young rabbis had helped me turn around and remember the joys of my spiritual garden and the many miraculous moments it had produced.
I am not sure who was more energized or amazed when they left that day, Yossi and Shalom Ber or me. It was one of those special moments that recharges the personal spiritual batteries and propels the person to take the next spiritual step of life's journey. It caused me to look around and thank G-d for the small as well as the large miracles He provides each day. It was one of those days when the Lubavitcher Rebbe's vision manifested itself right in front of me: Years ago he sent out young emissaries just like Yossi and Shalom Ber to find Jews just like me, a mission that continues today all around the world.
As I sat alone in my office that afternoon tears streamed down my face. The pain and doubts that had almost consumed me, literally choking my spirit and causing me extreme heartache, had suddenly and thankfully disappeared in the blink of an eye.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I contemplated the notion that the end of one of my most challenging spiritual years was almost at hand and more importantly the beginning of a fresh, vibrant, hopeful one was just days away. I had forgotten the lesson I had learned in the garden so many years before. I had forgotten to reflect on the wonders and miracles that happen all around us each and every day if we simply just look.
It took two young men of faith and commitment to remind me. It took two young Rabbis who miraculously appeared out of nowhere one fine day in Reno, two young Rabbis that had no more of an agenda than to help their fellow Jews in need, two young Rabbis that embraced me just when I needed them the most.
Coincidence I think not!
Read all of Steve's articles at Kugelhead.blogspot.com
Path to Selflessness
The Chasidic discourse "Yehuda Ata" examines the blessing which Jacob blessed his fourth son, Judah (Yehuda), as compared to the blessings he gave his first three sons, Reuben, Shimon and Levi. Jacob's sons embody distinctive forms of divine service, which correspond to distinct sections of the prayers of Shema and the Amidah. Using these distinctions, the discourse further derives lessons about the bond between the individual Jewish soul and G-d. This 20th release in the Chasidic Heritage Series was translated by Rabbi Shmuel Simpson and published by Kehot Publication Society
26th of Teves, 5725 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with the enclosure, in which you write about your problem of acute anxiety, and ask my advice.
The best and most effective thing to do, in a situation such as yours, is to study thoroughly those sections and chapters in our sacred books where the matter of Divine Providence and Bitochon [trust] are discussed, such as Chovos Halvovos, Shaar Habitochon, and similar. It is well to keep in mind those chapters and verses in the Tehillim [Psalms] which speak of these subjects, as well as the Midrashim and interpretations of our Sages on them.
These things should be studied with such depth that they should become a part of one's thinking. In this way there will be no room left for any kind of anxiety or worry, and as King David said in the Tehillim, "G-d is with me, I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!"
As you well know the matter of Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence] is the basis of true monotheism, a concept which to us means not only that G-d is one, but also is the Master, continually supervising every detail of His handiwork. The corollary of this is that there cannot be a single point in the whole order of the world which is separated from the Supreme Being, or in any way not subject to His control. At the same time it is obvious that the Supreme Being is also the Essence of Perfection and Goodness. And although many things in the world seem imperfect, and require completion or perfection, there can be no doubt that there is a perfect order in the world, and even the lowest in the scale of Creation, namely the inanimate things, display wonderful perfection and symmetry, as can be seen from the atoms and molecules of inorganic matter. Hence, the conclusion must be that even those things which require completion, are also part of the perfect order, and necessary for the fulfillment of the good, as all this is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidus. It is explained there that in order for a man to attain perfection, it is necessary that he should also have the feeling that he is not only on the receiving end, but also a contributor, and according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory, "A partner in the Creation." This is why many things have been left in the world for him to improve and perfect.
I also want to make the further observation, and this is also essential, that there is really no basis for anxiety at any time, and as you yourself mentioned in your letter, that you find no reason for it. Even in such cases where you think you know the reason for your anxiety, the reason is undoubtedly imaginary, or at any rate, not the real cause. For the real cause is that one's daily life is not in complete harmony with the true essence of a Jew. In such a case it is impossible not to have an awkward feeling that things do not seem to fit somehow, and it is this disharmony which is at the bottom of the anxiety, and it is in proportion to the discrepancy between his way of life and his true natural self.
Everybody recognizes that anxiety has to do with the psyche. But in the case of a Jew, the so-called psyche is really the Neshama [soul]. Some Jews have a particularly sensitive soul, in which case the above mentioned disharmony would create a greater anxiety. In such a case even subtle and "minor" infractions of Dikdukei Mitzvoth [fine points of com-mandments] would create anxiety.
But even in the case of an ordinary soul for the average Jew, there must inevitably be created some anxiety if there is a failure to observe the fundamental Mitzvoth. It is very possible that the above may have a bearing on your situation. If this is so, then all that is necessary is to rectify matters, and bring the daily life and conduct into complete harmony with the essence of the soul, through strict adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth. Then the symptoms will disappear of themselves.
It is necessary to mention also that in your case, where your position gives you a great deal of influence on your environment, your influence is an integral part of your harmonious life, and it is therefore essential that your influence, too, should be in harmony with the Torah and Mitzvoth in the fullest measure.
I suggest that you should also have the Mezuzoth of your home checked, as also your Tefillin, and before putting on your Tefillin every weekday morning, to put aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity].
Take a Tip from the Kids
Children have a unique manner of relating to G-d and they understand that the awareness of G-d has to be connected with physical entities. Thus they understand the importance of reciting blessings: thanking G-d for the food that they eat. Similarly, we see that children have a unique attraction to a mezuza, and kiss it eagerly several times a day. Also, through having a charity box (pushka) and holy Jewish texts in their rooms, they transform their room - and the entire house - to a "sanctuary in microcosm."(The Rebbe, 18 Cheshvan, 5752)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the eleventh day of Cheshvan (this past Thursday, Oct. 29), 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.
The L-rd said to Abram, "Go out of your country...to the land that I will show you-areka" (Gen. 12:1)
Surprisingly, the Torah does not explicitly tell us that G-d showed Abraham the Land of Israel, prompting another explanation based on Hebrew grammar: In this instance, the letter "kaf" in the word "areka" does not refer to the Land, but to Abraham. In other words, G-d was telling Abraham that He would show Himself and reveal His true nature to the world through Abraham's service.
The command to "go out" of one's natural inclinations and become spiritually elevated is directed toward every person individually. No one is required to do more than he is able; at the same time, each person is expected to achieve all that he is capable of. G-d doesn't require Reb Zushe to be a Baal Shem Tov. He does, however, expect him to be a Reb Zushe.
(Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli)
To a land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1)
On a spiritual level, the "land that I will show you" refers to the revelation of G-dliness that comes as a reward for Divine service. This service of "going out" consists of connecting the soul as it is invested in the physical body with its spiritual source above, which can actually "see" G-dliness. When the lower soul and its higher source are connected, the soul within the body benefits from this vision.
When Abram was 99 years old G-d appeared to Abram (Gen. 17:1)
Our forefather Abraham fulfilled all of the Torah's laws even before it was given. Why, then, did he not circumcise himself until he received an explicit command from G-d? The answer is that before then, circumcision was forbidden, as the Torah prohibits the shedding of blood. The commandment of mila (circumcision) overrode this prohibition.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
A young girl approached the rabbi of her village. With tears in her eyes she described her situation to the kindhearted rabbi. She was engaged, but her joy in her upcoming wedding was marred by the fact that she was an impoverished orphan, and her intended was also very poor. There was no money for a wedding gown or even a proper wedding feast.
The rabbi turned to her and said, "Don't worry, my child. With G-d's help we'll celebrate a fine wedding." The young girl went home, comforted by the rabbi's optimistic words.
No sooner had she left when the rabbi immediately donned his coat and set off to visit some of the wealthier members of the community to attempt to raise money for the wedding. His first stop was at the home of a very wealthy and generous man, and the rabbi felt confident that he would find success there. When he arrived, the wealthy man greeted him warmly.
"Peace unto you, Rabbi," he said. "I am greatly honored by your visit. Please allow me to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of welcoming guests properly." With that, he offered the rabbi a seat and served him some fruit.
The rabbi pointed to the fruit and said, "While I enjoy the fruit that you have so kindly offered me, I want you to enjoy the fruit that I have brought."
The man looked puzzled, and the rabbi went on to explain:
"As we say in our morning prayers, 'These are the things, the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world and the remainder is held for him in the World to Come: Honoring one's father and mother, giving charity, hospitality, visiting the sick, endowering a bride...'
"You see, my friend, I am collecting money to enable a poor orphaned girl to get married, and I have come to offer you a chance to partake in this great mitzva of hachnasat kalla (endowering a bride)."
His host smiled at him and replied, "If you will stay and enjoy some refreshments, I will take upon myself the full expense of the wedding, And if your time permits, I would like to tell you a story which will explain why I'm so eager to fulfill the mitzva of hachnasat kalla."
The rabbi was indeed curious to know what motivated his host to make such a generous offer, settled himself comfortably and listened intently to the man's story.
"This happened soon after my own wedding had taken place. It was my first time heading out to the market to seek my fortune. I had a substantial amount of money in my pocket, and I was eager to get involved in the noise and excitement of trading in the marketplace.
"As I was about to get started, I noticed a poor woman standing off to the side, crying quietly. I was greatly affected by her obvious distress, and went over to her to uncover the cause of her sorrow. When I asked what was wrong, she said that her daughter was to be married shortly, and she had no money to cover the expenses. Both she and her daughter were heartbroken.
"At that moment, the bundle of money in my pocket began to feel like a heavy burden. I took it out and handed it to the woman without saying a word, and then I left quickly before the woman could even thank me.
"I had no choice but to return home, as I had no money to purchase goods in the marketplace. As I made my way home, a stranger stopped me and greeted me warmly, and then he offered me some diamonds for sale. As my father had been a diamond merchant, I was able to examine the stones competently, and I judged them to be beautiful stones offered at a fair price. I told the stranger that I would be happy to purchase them, but I had no money. The stranger didn't seem surprised by that, and he said, 'I knew your father, and I know you to be an honest man. Take them on credit, and when you resell them you can pay me back. You will be able to find me in the study hall.'
"I had no problem selling the stones at a substantial profit. At the end of the day I hurried to the study hall to pay back my debt. I searched the study hall, but the stranger was nowhere to be found. When I arrived home, I calculated my earnings, and they were ten times what I had given that poor woman. I put the money aside, but I have not seen him since. Since then, I have, thank G-d, been very successful, and I have always been aware of the importance of this mitzva. Permit me then, rabbi, to arrange the wedding of the orphaned bride in my home."
With that, the wealthy man handed the rabbi an additional sum of money to pay for the wedding gown and to cover additional expenses of setting up a home. The wedding was celebrated amidst great joy and festivity, and the young couple was able to set up a true Jewish home which was the pride of the community.
Reprinted from Talks and Tales, published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch
We need not worry about how to explain all the Rabbinic sayings concerning Moshiach's arrival...Moshiach will clarify all the seemingly unclear statements...Our duty is to believe unconditionally. With the coming of Moshiach all will be understood and revealed. Our task then is to believe and eagerly await his imminent arrival. Our main obligation is to believe totally and anticipate his arrival. If anyone does not hope for his immediate arrival it is because although he believes in the general idea of Moshiach he does not believe that he can come at any moment."
(Gaonei Brisk,Daat Torah BeInyonei Geulah UMoshiach)