Self-Worth? Priceless: The Jewish Perspective on a Healthy Self-Image

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20 Aug 2013

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There’s a little game I’ve been playing with my children since they were old enough to speak. It’s a way to build up their self-esteem while simultaneously teaching them where we derive self-worth from in Judaism. This is how it goes:

Me: Who made you so smart?

My kid: Hashem (which literally means the name, but is how observant Jews refer to G-d)

Me: Who made you so beautiful?

My kid: Hashem

Me: Who made you so funny and cute?

My kid: Hashem

Me: Who makes you so good?

My kid: me

I got the idea for this game based on a parable a friend once told me that went like this: If a beautiful object is reflected into a mirror, the mirror can’t say that it (the mirror) doesn’t look beautiful because a) It wouldn’t be true and b) It would be an offense to the beautiful object reflecting into it.

The mirror also can’t take credit for the beauty since the beauty doesn’t come from the mirror itself but rather from the beautiful object. What the mirror must say is that it is beautiful because something beautiful is reflecting into it.

That is the Jewish way of looking at strengths and talents. We are all mirrors reflecting tiny pieces of God’s various attributes and light. Therefore, we must be careful to acknowledge when a talent exists within us.

It’s not egotistical to know that you’re funny or smart or athletic. It’s necessary so that you can be grateful to the One who gave you your strengths and so that you can make sure to use them to uniquely improve the world. But it is also important to remember where the talent comes from so that you don’t come to take credit for something that you are not responsible for.

In truth, as the game with my children illustrates, the only thing that we control is the choices we make, for it says in the Talmud, “everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.”

Let’s choose to take an honest look at the talents we were endowed with, give thanks to the One who bestowed them upon us, and find a way to give back with the gifts we’ve been given.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.