We’ve talked in the past about the amazing sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (In My Heart I Will Build a Sanctuary) and the need to focus our lives and our mitzvah performance on constant awareness and connection to Hashem. The author, Rav Itamar Shwarz explains that if we don’t consistently and consciously focus on the fact that there is a Creator, Who created us, and is constantly exercising His providence on all that happens, we might live a life full of Torah and Mitzvos, but we will, G-d forbid, find that we didn’t achieve their intended purpose of creating a close connection to G-d in this world and the next.
In his third sefer, Da Es Atzmecha (Getting to Know Your Self) Rav Shwarz shifts the focus from Hashem to understanding ourselves. His first major point is that a person must view himself primarily as a soul wearing the garment of the body. He proves that without conscious effort to adopt this view, we will live primarily as bodies that have a soul and identify more with the body than the soul. The result will be that we will not live the amazing Torah prescribed life that a soul-centered perspective brings.
One major application of the soul-centered perspective is self-esteem. Rav Shwarz points out that self-esteem in the world of psychology and in parts of the Torah world is focused on praising the person’s deeds, their character or pointing out that their low self-esteem is based on an illusion. This method is based on the fact that a person is a body with intelligence and emotions and the focus is on what the person does with their facilities.
If a person has the proper soul-centered perspective, they will see that in essence they are a Divine soul as we say each morning “My G-d, the soul You have placed in me is pure”. Our soul is holy, positive and perfectly good and when we identify with this perfection that is our essence, we will automatically attain a positive self-esteem.
Another ramification is that when a person does an aveirah they must still see and identify themselves with their perfect soul. More than getting us to sin, the Yetzer Hara wants lower ourselves and self-esteem after we sin. In addition, the more the person identifies with their essential perfection, the less likely the will come to sin.
Rav Shwarz does an amazing job of bringing very esoteric concepts to a level that we can all understand with very practical examples. As with Bilvavi, Mesillas Yesharim and any Mussar classic, the key is not just to read it, but to keep on reviewing it (with the author’s suggested exercises) so that we can begin to internalize it. It has recently been published in English and I highly recommend you purchase it, as there are significant sections added that are not available in the translation on the web site.