Self Esteem

I Am a Failure

I recently met someone who complained of a failing self-esteem. I can’t find a job, I can’t make ends meet and I’m constantly worried about money. How can I look my children in the eyes, if I’m sure they have lost respect for me? I am a failure.

I replied that children don’t need wealthy parents, they want happy parents. If we want our children to respect us, we need to respect ourselves. If we fall into depression and lose confidence in ourselves, our children will be frightened. First, they will worry, then resent and finally lash out. The problem doesn’t begin when they lash out, it begins when we lose respect for ourselves.

Go back home, I told this person, and reclaim your self-esteem. Tell yourself that you are proud of your life-long achievements and of the way you raised your children. You are a capable, mature and well-rounded adult. You are a happy parent and you contribute to your children’s wellbeing. Exude strength, joy and confidence and your children will love you.

You think your children are only proud of you when you earn money, but think of it this way. When your children see you face adversity without losing your values, confidence and joy, they will learn a lesson for life that they will retell with pride. You will become a family legend and an inspiration for generations. If you only show your children your ability to keep a job, they will love and respect you, but they won’t have anything exceptional to say about you.

This period isn’t just a hardship. It’s an opportunity to create a legacy that will inspire generations.

Singed Wings

In outlining the laws that governed bird offerings in the Temple, the Torah stipulated that the bird’s wings and feathers must be raised onto the altar and consumed by the sacred flames. Every farmer knows the horrid stench of singed feathers. When the feathered wings were thrown on the fire, a terrible odor must have pervaded the Temple. Why did G-d desire this odorous offering?

Our sages explained that this was to demonstrate G-d’s appreciation for the poor man’s offering. The Jew that brought a bird offering was destitute. If he could afford a sheep or ram, he wouldn’t have offered a bird. Yet, despite his poverty he parted with what little funds he had to purchase a bird and offer it to G-d. G-d appreciates this offering even more than the wealthy man’s offering because it is brought with heart. It is a serious and full commitment.

So intense is G-d’s love for the poor that He desires it despite the stench. It is akin to a child who comes home after wandering about for years. The parents embrace him with heart despite the grime and stench that the child brings home. The love is so powerful that the stench isn’t noticed.

If parents have the capacity to overlook faults, children have it in double measure. Children are very forgiving so long as we give them a reason to love and respect us. In our own eyes, our failures seem fowl and they injure our self-esteem, but if we model strength, conviction and love for our children they will respect and love us in return. They won’t even notice the failure. They will only see the good.

Relationship with G-d

Agrippa, the king of Israel, once delivered a thousand sacrifices to the Temple and instructed the High Priest to reserve the entire day for his sacrifices. In the middle of the day, a poor man appeared with two birds and asked that they be brought to the altar. The priest gently explained that this day was reserved for the king’s offering, but the poor man insisted. Every day, he explained, I trap four birds, two for me and two for G-d. If you prevent me from giving G-d His share, I will be unable to partake of mine and will starve. The priest relented and agreed.

That night, in his dream, Agrippa ascended to heaven and was told that the poor man’s sacrifices pleased G-d more than the king’s royal offerings. In the morning, Agrippa asked the priest why he contravened the order to preserve the day for the royal offerings. When the priest related the poor man’s words, the king agreed that the poor man’s offerings superseded his own.

This story offers an inspiring lesson. Despite the travails of poverty, the rewards are immense. The poor are desperate and therefore are always in conversation with G-d. The poor are always praying, they ask G-d for everything they need. Consequently, the poor are intensely aware of G-d’s hand in their fortune. They know that their success and failures are in G-d’s hands. They rejoice with G-d and complain to G-d. They enjoy a close relationship.

The poor man in our story only managed four birds in a day of trapping, but he knew with absolute conviction that G-d had delivered the birds to his trap. He knew that without G-d he would have returned home empty-handed. To him, it was a given that half his earnings belonged to G-d. They were partners in the hunt and must share equally in the spoils. If G-d wouldn’t receive His portion, the poor man wouldn’t take his.

This is the benefit of poverty. The wealthy, because of their self-confidence, can fall into the trap of thinking that their ingenuity and cunning garnered them wealth. The poor know better. They know that their lot is in G-d’s hands.

Self Esteem

With all the wonderful teachings about poverty there is one important lesson to remember. No matter how beloved the bird offering is to G-d, it doesn’t make its own way to the altar. If the poor fellow doesn’t raise it to the altar, G-d won’t elevate it for him.

When we fall into the pattern of self-deprecation, we cannot wait for the mood to lift. We must be proactive and pull ourselves up. It’s all too easy to fall into a funk and much too hard to climb out. Yet climb we must for if we don’t, no one will lift our depression for us.

When doubts begin to nag and chip at your self-esteem, dig deep and concentrate on the points we discussed in this essay. You certainly belong on G-d’s altar, but if you don’t carry yourself up, G-d won’t do it for you. You can do it and only you can. Only you will.