An important assembly was taking place in heaven. Each angel stood eagerly waiting for his turn to receive his mission. G-d turned to one angel and began: “You will be Malach Michoel. You will be responsible for nurturing, assisting and supporting the Jewish people.” He turned to another angel and said, “You will be Malach Gavriel. You will be in charge of fighting the enemies of the Jews.” To a third He said, “You will be Malach Rephoel – healing the sick.” The tasks were given out in this manner to many more angels, until He turned to the last one and announced, “You will be the Satan.”
The puzzled angel inquired, “Satan? What is that? What do I have to do?”
“Ah,” G-d replied. “Your job is to make trouble.”
“Trouble? What do you mean?”
“You will go down into the world and do everything you can to make the Jewish people fail. You will put obstacles in their way, imposing upon them nations who will oppress them and make Torah life difficult, you will bring tragedies into their lives, and strike them with disease, famine and poverty.”
“You really want me to do that?”
“Yes. You can be as creative as you wish.”
So the loyal angel got to work. He went down into the human world and began to wreak havoc on its inhabitants. A while later, he returned to Heaven, frustrated and discouraged.
“What's the matter?” asked G-d.
“I can't carry out my mission anymore.” Satan replied.
“The Jewish people got to know me. They started to realize who I am and what my agenda is. So they warn each other to stay away from me and not be affected or weakened by what I do.”
G-d pondered this problem and came up with a solution. “I will give you a new look. When you go back there, you will be the Yetzer Hara.”
“Instead of causing destruction from outside, you will cause trouble from the inside. You will cause them to be angry, jealous, lustful, greedy and fearful. You will separate the Jewish people from each other and from me.”
The Yetzer Hara went down, eager to please, but he resurfaced a while later.
“What happened now?” asked G-d.
Yetzer Hara looked defeated. “I don't know... They are making these gatherings that they call farbrengens. They alert each other about me, saying that I'm the same Satan causing trouble from within. They support each other so they can detect me and stay away.”
“Okay. This time we'll make it really hard for them to recognize you. You will be called Yeshus. Do everything you can to make them feel arrogant and proud of themselves. They will consider themselves so superior that they will look down on each other and stop advancing in their performance.”
Yeshus went down, reinvigorated, and was quite successful. Alas, his success did not last.
He came up to Heaven once again and complained furiously, “They're still conducting those terrible farbrengens. They got more sophisticated in tracking me down. Now they warn each other not to be self-centered and conceited. They help each other to make what they call cheshbon hanefesh – an authentic self-assessment, leaving me totally dis-empowered.”
“I have such a good idea,” G-d said determinedly. “This will really make it hard for them to recognize that it is you again.”
“What is it?”
“You will be poor self esteem!”
“What does that mean? What do I have to do?”
“You will go down again and make them feel not good enough. Make them feel unlovable, make them think that they don't have what it takes, make them compare themselves with each other and get each one to think that the other is better or has it better. Just make them feel inferior. They won't even imagine that it is you this time. They will be taken over by an uncomfortable, unhappy feeling inside and think it is their problem. They will become insecure and inefective.”
“I think I got it!” said Satan, and he went on his way to do his job. Since then Satan has not returned to complain before the heavenly throne. He is busy separating people from themselves, from each other and from G-d.
Mission: In Action
How? Here are some true examples that I've encountered:
* A 17 year old girl looks in the mirror and all she sees is some extra pounds. She feels so ugly and unlovable. She avoids phone calls from friends inviting her to a farbrengen. Instead, she withdraws into her lonely sadness.
* Shluchos come to the annual Kinus Hashluchos and listen to stories of success from their peers. They watch videos of outstanding accomplishments at other Chabad Houses. When they come home some of them feel depressed; how can they go on? They feel inadequate. There is so much they did not accomplish, they should have done this better and that better, and if only... then they would do so much of a better job. It is an inner conversation that drains them of their simchas hachayim.
* A young bochur finds himself in an unexpected encounter in camp that leaves him feeling confused and very uncomfortable. He can't delete the memory from his mind. He feels shame and guilt, he feels low and impure. He has no one to talk to and his self-critical thoughts deplete him of self respect. He puts himself down and rejects himself, alone in his harsh, unyielding self judgment. It becomes harder for him to concentrate on his learning, and farbrengens no longer touch and inspire him. No one understands what happened; how did he lose his interest in Yiddishkeit?
What is wrong with me? Why can't I do it right? Look at me, why would anyone want to go out with me? Why would anyone hire me? Why aren't my programs as good as everyone else's? I don't matter that much anyhow. These are thoughts that reflect one of the most common human plagues of our generation.
In the course of talking and working with all kinds of people, I observe how often we walk around with an inner question mark that doubts our self worth. This painfully consistent question mark, whether more conscious or less conscious, often runs our lives and significantly compromises our freedom of choice and our true joy. Some people react to this feeling by withdrawing and giving up so many precious things that make life delightful. They avoid bonding and fully investing themselves in close relationships. They deprive themselves of a chance to express themselves in various areas of life to ensure that they don't fail. Others become compulsive about doing everything perfectly. They experience tremendous stress before almost any project or task that they take on. They believe they have to worry about not forgetting any detail and sometimes experience fears and anxiety. Such people cannot enjoy what they're doing until it's over.
The Precious Treasure
Let us take a look at the Torah's perspective on this matter: The Torah contains detailed guidelines and instructions for fulfilling our mission in this world, to carry out the Divine plan of turning the world into G-d's most desired dwelling place. Just prior to embarking on this most challenging journey, at the foot of Mount Sinai, G-d instructs Moses to talk to the Jewish people and tell them:
But then there is the most precious treasure of the king. This treasure is kept in the royal treasury, hidden from the human eye. It is not shown to anyone, except the king alone. He has infinite pleasure just from knowing that this treasure exists.
Each and every Jew is G-d's treasure: There is delight that G-d has from a Jew learning Torah and doing mitzvos, attending to G-d's kingdom. There is a greater pleasure that G-d gets from a Jew doing teshuvah, upgrading his entire being to a higher level, which exposes more of his own Divine soul and manifests G-d's beauty.
But then, there is the Taanug Atzmi – the essential delight and infinite, unconditional pleasure that G-d has from a Jew just because he exists. This essential love and pleasure does not depend on any achievement whatsoever. It is intrinsic to the existence of every single Jew.
We, too, says Chassidus, have this unconditional, infinite appreciation of G-d and of ourselves. It is in the core of every person's being. It is peaceful and confident, serene and illuminated. This is the Yechidah of the soul. In this core of being there is not a question nor doubt about one's value or preciousness – it is a given.
As a people, as Jews, and how much more so as Chassidim, it is crucial that we maintain our awareness and connection with that place within ourselves. It is the kodesh hakodashim, the holiest place of every person's inner sanctuary, which is the core of our wellbeing. It is from that place that we must make our choices and generate our pursuits. That place of ahavas chinam, unconditional love and respect to ourselves and others, should not be violated nor should it be compromised no matter how much the Yetzer Harah tries to tamper with it.
In parenting and in chinuch in general one can inspire a child to be motivated to take on the highest goals and still maintain the child's happiness and wellbeing if the child gets a clear message that his achievements are not a measure by which his value is defined. I have worked with highly motivated teenagers who grew up in homes with parents who totally gave themselves over to outreach and shlichus work which ended up becoming more important than their families. There was a significant absence of nurturing and much needed time of just being together and cherishing each other's presence. Some of these children get crushed under the impossibly high standards that leave them behind, feeling they can never really be good enough. Their own struggles and individual needs seem to them insignificant or not legitimate enough to be addressed properly.
We need to find the right balance between our motivation to strive, grow and achieve - and that deep, inner anchor that generates the secure feeling of being just fine the way we are.
Women are well equipped with the power to achieve this balance. They are blessed with an extra measure of Binah - “Binah yeseirah nosan Hakadosh Baruch Hu ba'isha” (Nidah 45 and Breishis Rabah 18:1). Binah is associated with the power of hearing which manifests itself through the ears. The root of the Hebrew word oznayim (ears) also means to weigh and to balance, like the word moznayim (scale). Physically, the inner ear is responsible for maintaining the balance of the entire body.
It is with the intuitive wisdom of the woman that she can create the desired harmony in her family; the balance between functioning, pursuing and accomplishing, and peaceful being - nurturing and cultivating self respect and appreciation.
Making It Happen
What can we do to fulfill this desired goal?
1. Learn Chassidus. Chassidus nurtures, activates and reveals the Yechidah Shebanefesh, the core of the soul, which is strong and stable, peaceful and secure. It enables us to celebrate life passionately instead of just surviving life.
This is the month of Kislev in which we celebrate the Rosh Hashana of Chassidus. Learning Chassidus is not just about surviving golus; it's about experiencing geula and enjoying life. A lady in one of my Chassidus classes told me, “Our learning affects the way I talk to my children. They listen to me differently.” Another one said, “I feel my neshama resonating – my whole week is uplifted.” Let's remove the seforim off our bookshelves and make them part of our daily lives by delving into the depths of Chassidus and discovering how relevant it is in experiencing a rich and meaningful reality.
2. Realize and learn about the important task of being your own caretaker. Just like a good parent provides an atmosphere of understanding, support and encouragement for his child, you, too, need to provide such care for yourself. Make sure to be attentive to your own vulnerabilities and needs.
For instance, if you find yourself afraid to take on a new project, allow yourself to ask for support from a person who can provide you with useful information as well as encouragement. Find someone who can tell you, “You can do it!”. After you have accomplished a task or project, it's okay to ask someone who cares about you to acknowledge what you accomplished and say some words of appreciation. When you find yourself resisting doing more after investing yourself in a certain activity, allow yourself to take a break and engage in another activity that gives you pleasure.
Look for that place within you that appreciates you just because you are, not because of anything you do.
I find it often with people I work with that poor self image generates all kinds of challenges to relationships. A woman was drawn to her husband because of his integrity, high morals and keen ability to focus and be organized. However, problems arose when he started to express doubts about his own value and his ability to do things well, constantly pursuing unreachable perfection and pointing out his own faults. The wife, who initially respected her husband so much and looked up to him, began to lose her respect. It took a few sessions to help him realize that by putting himself down he undermines what he really wants to achieve; instead of gaining respect for being excellent, he becomes disrespected for the flaws that he himself points out.
We need to love ourselves in order to be loved. We need to respect ourselves in order to be respected.
Your child comes home crying because other kids picked on him. You want to give him advice to ensure it won't happen again, but is that what he needs right now? His sense of self worth was shaken. Hold your advice. First help him understand his feelings of being rejected and worthless, and legitimize his pain. Communicate your unconditional love and support through actions and words. Make sure your child's sense of worth and comfort is restored. Only then can you discuss various options to solve the problem.
As a parent, be sure to engage your children in conversations which help them become aware of their feelings and put them in words. Help them to connect with their own, inner sense of “Am Segulah”, that they're a precious treasure just because they are G-d's children.
A student once failed to prepare for a test. When the test was given, he realized that he was unable to write reasonable answers so he signed his name and handed in a blank paper. When the tests were returned the student was surprised to see the mark 12 written as his grade.
“What did I get 12 points for?” he asked the teacher.
“Neatness!” she answered.
In a classroom setting it is important to focus on the strengths of each student, allowing creative thinking and legitimizing different perspectives. Each student has to be fully appreciated for his unique talents so that his sense of self worth can remain intact. A child who is not doing well in Chumash might have a great sense of humor that can be cultivated rather than suppressed. Acknowledging his sense of humor can provide him with the confidence to keep trying and develop better Chumash skills.
Working with the Youth
Respect the adolescents' struggles and their need to process things their own way. When a teenager struggles with issues of self worth, it is much harder for him to stand up to peer pressure, make intelligent decisions and maintain healthy boundaries.
When working with the youth it is important to show that their opinions are significant and that you trust their ability to make good decisions. If a teenager comes up with an idea that you view as ridiculous, control your impulse to dismiss it. Instead lead a rational discussion that helps him to see the matter from other angles. Point out factors that he may have overlooked. Allow him to come to the right conclusions on his own.
Rather than rejecting him for coming up with such a ridiculous idea, you can end the encounter with a comment like, “that was a great discussion – you're a good thinker”, which leaves him with the feeling that he matters and can be respected.
Sometimes people settle for jobs that don't reflect what they can really achieve. A client came to consult with me whether or not she should commit for a long term to a job she had. After a few short questions I realized that the pay was almost as low as a baby sitter's pay and the work itself was not that interesting to her. It had no future. In one session she fully realized how far she had gone in not doing justice to herself, being such a creative and intelligent young woman. After connecting to her inner sense of self worth she took a leap of faith and left her job to look for one that better suits her abilities. She made a commitment to present herself confidently in her job interviews. Within a couple of days she called me to let me know that she had a few job offers that are very much what she is interested in. One of them pays more than double her previous salary.
When you present yourself with confidence and self respect people treat you accordingly. Being in tune with your own worth helps others see the good that is in you.
The Yetzer Harah has an easy time with people on shlichus. No matter how much you do, it's never enough. I have spoken to shluchos who feel like quitting because for them shlichus became an impossible battle to win. They have a hard time keeping up with the high standards they set for themselves and in the course of taking on the mission of a shlucha their individuality and personal needs are often abandoned. Is that what shlichus is about?
There are times when sacrifices are made for the sake of achieving a goal. For example, a shlucha will occasionally give up her much needed rest to help a family in need, or skip learning a sicha in order to make a program. But how can one distinguish between working hard towards a desired goal versus depriving oneself of needs that are essential for maintaining a healthy, vibrant shlichus life?
The former generates choices that reflect who she really is and what she believes in, thereby increasing her vitality. The latter generates choices that reflects lack of self respect, thereby exhausting her energy and decreasing simchas hachayim. What will the shlucha's community see? Will they see a woman who is struggling to survive a heavy burden, or will they see a woman who is radiating joy and happiness doing the will of G-d?
Are We Being Arrogant?
I find that people often confuse healthy self esteem with arrogance. In order to make sure that they maintain Chassidishe standards of bittul and humility, they promote and hold on to low self esteem. This causes them to be self-conscious; confined to their own prisons of self. In fact, there is a crucial difference between low self esteem and bittul. Low self esteem is a psychological dysfunction while bittul is the awareness that who we are is an expression of our Maker. As such, we recognize that our greatness and talents come from G-d's benevolence and are meant to be used in His service.
Now Is the Time
This issue of the Nshei Chabad Newsletter is illuminated by two major holidays in the month of Kislev.
Yud Tes Kislev is about revealing inner light, celebrating the inner dimensions of Torah and the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul. We can seize the power of this Chag Hachagim and utilize it to commit to a life filled with the awareness of being G-d's treasure and inspire others as well.
Chanukah is about rededicating the Temple after it was defiled by foreign entities. It is a time to reconstruct and celebrate our own, inner sanctuary by crystallizing a personal and global vision imbued with light, joy and dignity. This will culminate with Moshiach leading us to the palace of our King, the eternal Temple, with the true and complete geula.
Can we join forces and run the Satan out of business for good?
About Chana Ginsburg
Mrs. Ginsburg is a well-known teacher and lecturer in Kabbalah, Chassidus and Jewish philosophy, conducting ongoing classes in advanced Jewish learning. She is the designer and facilitator of a series of workshops on personal transformation and has been a therapist, spiritual mentor and personal counselor for over 25 years. She currently has a practice with an office in Brooklyn, NY and coaches individuals, counsels couples and teaches world-wide via the telephone.
Chana has recently launched an expanding website for spreading the treasures of Kabbalah and Chassidus around the world, providing practical, transformational guidance for a richer and more effective life. Visit www.KabbalahofLife.com or call (718) 756-1485 for more information.