Healthy Self-Love

A friend of mine told me his daughter bought him a kipah that’s half velvet and half knit, that says “I love every Jew” in Hebrew. Cute idea that expresses an important point we all need to think about more. Many of my fellow baalei-teshuva have an easy time saying “We should love all different kinds of Jews”. But some of us don’t easily fit in anywhere so it’s easy to say lets love everyone when you don’t really love anyone. Not that “not fitting in” is synonymous with not loving, but we all tend to develop a love for the members of our “group”, and cast aspersions on the others.

Within Orthodoxy against other Orthodox Jews or between Orthodox and Reform etc. Do we really need to puff ourselves up by denigrating others? If you really felt one with the Almighty, that you were an emissary of the Infinite Creator, would you feel the need to denigrate Reform Jews? As Baalei Teshuva, do we have an easier time loving all Jews or a harder time loving all Jews? If we have an easier time we need to share our thoughts with our fellow FFB’s. If we have a harder time, we need to learn from great people like R. Zelig Pliskin, and others how to generate more ahavas Yisroel.

Here’s one tip from our sages:

Healthy criticism is important and we do need to point out flaws in others to avoid them or help others avoid those flaws, but that mitzvah seems to be a little overdone. (The Chofetz Chaim cautions us regarding this in Clal Ches.) There’s more than enough of that going around.

Why does it say to love your fellow man like yourself? Why not just say “love your fellow man”? R. Moshe Rosenstein wrote that a person cannot properly fulfill the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael if that person doesn’t feel good about his/herself. When you have a healthy self-love you can magnanimously pour your thoughts prayers and actions into others. They are an extension of you. When you feel crummy about yourself, you often will project that onto others. As the gemara says, “kol bmumo posel”. All people criticize others with their own flaws.

Whatever particular group you align yourself with, even if it’s just “observant Judaism”, or the Jewish people, or even just humanity, it’s crucial to feel good about yourself and that group. This doesn’t mean excusing flaws or ignoring areas in which we need to grow. It’s also crucial to be interested in growth. But we especially need to focus on our good points. We need to constantly reflect on what we are doing right, and what is positive about us. Not to put down others, but to appreciate ourselves.

From that base of healthy self-love we can spread it to everyone else.

Originally Published 11/05/2009

5 comments on “Healthy Self-Love

  1. In the introduction to Shaarei Yosher, Rav Shimon Shkop says that self-love is an important part of being in the Image of G-d. Without a person loving “one qav he made himself over 9 qavim made by another”, there would be little drive to be contributing, creative, beings.

    Rav Shimon also makes self-love the cornerstone of chesed, lovingkindness. He writes (translation mine):

    In my opinion, this idea is hinted at in Hillel’s words, as he used to say, “If I am [not] for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?” It is fitting for each person to strive to be concerned for himself. But with this, he must also strive to understand that “I for myself, what am I?” If he constricts his “I” to a narrow domain, limited to what the eye can see [is him], then his “I” – what is it? Vanity and ignorable. But if his feelings are broader and include [all of] creation, that he is a great person and also like a small limb in this great body, then he is lofty and of great worth. In a great engine even the smallest screw is important if it even serves the smallest role in the engine. For the whole is made of parts, and no more than the sum of its parts,

    Similarly it is appropriate to think about all the gifts of heaven “from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land” (Bereishis 27:38) that they are given to the Jewish people as a whole. Their allotment to individuals is only in their role as caretakers until they divide it to those who need it, to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is worthy for himself.

    It’s an interesting skip where I divided his words into paragraphs. The first “paragraph” reads like something from Ayn Rand, and the second like Karl Marx.

    Unlike those haskhafos that teach that the key to chessed is through bitul, self abnegation, to Rav Shimon the key is to extend one’s feeling of “me and mine” to include as many people as one can.

  2. Sefer Pele Yoetz, written by Rabbi Eliezer Papo, who lived from 1785 to 1826, contains a chapter titled: Ahavat Atzmo, Self-Love.

    If my memory is correct, Ahavat Atzmo is the first chapter of Sefer Pele Yoetz.

    At this time, I csn not find my Sefer Pele Yoetz, so I can only offer is this:

    Sefer Pele Yoetz, chapter Ahavat Atzmo:
    We must avoid places where there is even a doubt of a doubt of danger to human life.

  3. Not all negative opinions about other people come from projection of our own defects or from some other personal flaw we have. Sometimes it comes from genuine righteous indignation at evil acts the other person has done, or evil ideologies he has adopted.

    Nevertheless, indignation that is not focused on improvement can be unproductive. We Jews, even if we have misbehaved, were chosen for a purpose. Out of Ahavas Yisrael, we should do our best to reconnect wayward Jews with Judaism, starting by setting our own good example.

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