Reifying the Sentiment of Self

We ordinary people’s sentiment of self, both in terms of its allegiance and its identity, repeatedly rings shallow. Most often, we see ourselves as we want to be seen; we cast away our unfavorable self-impressions, pretending that if we figuratively hide under the covers or otherwise drape disguises around us that no one will notice our flaws. It follows that when our lives get taxing, we resort to layering additional pretenses upon our original deceptions rather than embracing the notion that maybe, just perhaps, we have warts or worries that we need to remove, entirely, if not, in the very least, decrease in potency. 


That is, we tend to run from our inner murkiness rather than to try to understand those eventualities that interfere with our plans, best laid or otherwise. We don’t usually grasp that each and every occurrence in our lives happens because such instants are needed to enable us to spiritually evolve. Not all that breaths is friendly and not all that shines is celestial light. In balance, all that lives or that reflects life must be dealt with and all that lives or that reflects life, ultimately, is given to us a gift.


Rav Kook, z”tl, said,” the pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.” In other words, kvetching doesn’t get us anywhere but hoarse.


Turning away from our tribulations by minimalizing, by rationalizing, or by denying them brings us to worse conditions than does any flawed confrontation of our difficulties. We’re not meant to score perfect tens when dealing with our troubles. We are, however, meant to cope with them. It is in the act of sorting out our business that our self-growth comes about.


Unfortunately, we don’t, by and large, seem wiling to work to gain inner luminosity until and unless we receive some hint or reassurance that such struggles will benefit us. Whereas such a causal way of thinking is foolish, in particular since we can’t control the cosmos, we remain unperturbed by that contradiction. Accordingly, we stay locked in by our lack of mindfulness rather than empowered by the joy that is concomitant to living with the grace of trying to do our best, i.e. of manifesting our histadlut.


What’s especially sad about this loss of fulfilled potential is that few of us live such extreme lives as to make it reasonable to expect that we would be unable to break our challenging events into small pieces in order to manage them. Fundamentally, there’s beauty inherent in giving ourselves over to the work in which we need to engage to pull ourselves out of whatever morass occupies us. Consider that though the power to heal our lives comes from above, the ability to stay our journeys comes from less sublime places, i.e. from our human limits.


Explicitly, like children, we would do well to repeatedly manifest gratitude. We can and ought to task ourselves with the mantra “thank-you, Hashem, for these openings in our lives,” or with the topus “this, too, is good.” We can and ought, as well, to take care of ourselves by being happy about the situations in which we find ourselves. It remains up to us to stay indebted to whatever life history He shapes for us and to whatever present minute He fashions.


Rabbi Josh Joseph asks, in “Answering the Call, In Life and in Leadership,” that we regard our unique tests as being purposed to jolt us higher and higher. He insists that each of us has a unique mission to fulfill in this world and that each of us is sufficiently talented, in ways both hidden and revealed, to fulfill our life’s work. From the least accolade-laden among us to the seemingly highest on the social ladder, every one of us has aptitudes that were designed to enable us to rise above our lives’ trials. Thus, Rabbi Joseph asks us to regard, per our springboards to personal success; “[w]hat am I deeply passionate about? What am I naturally good at? What does the world at large, or at least my own world, in particular, need from me?” 


Not only is it the case that our impediments elevate us, but there exists, too, second and third reasons why we ought not to restrict ourselves to carping when faced with our ordeals. More specifically, when we work on ourselves, we engage in tikkun, in healing the world. Our behavioral choices impact others. 


Reb Naftali Kalfa adds that we need to expose ourselves to kinds of creativity, when problem-solving, that “express a connection to G-d in the most real manner possible.” Said differently, we need to scoop up and coat ourselves with light in order to vanquish the dark so that others might benefit from our restored direction and so that The Aibishter might experience fresh delight.


Hashem is kind. Life is good whether or not we perceive that we have the stuff necessary for dealing with the growth moments awarded to each of us. By reifying our sentiments of self, we can build Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael. We can make choices that empower us to push through our dilemmas and, in doing so, can bump ourselves and other folks up to loftier levels than we presently experience and we can please Hashem. Alternatively, we can whine and grumble.