Character Development

Money Talks – Self-Esteem and Confidence

A very interesting story is told of a famous maggid who came to a particular city.  The maggid in those days would travel from city to city, usually staying over Shabbos, and give a series of lectures for which he would be compensated. 
The communities throughout Europe would look forward with anticipation to his expected recurring arrival.  He was extremely talented and would deliver enlightening lectures that provided a Torah perspective on life.  He was an accomplished orator with unique abilities to inspire his audiences.  
When the maggid arrived it was already close to candle-lighting time on Friday afternoon.  His first stop was at the home of one of the wealthiest people in the city.  When the butler opened the door and saw the visitor, he immediately summoned his employer.  The wealthy man warmly greeted the rabbi and inquired about the maggid’s needs.  
“If I may,” said the maggid, “I would like to borrow a thousand silver pieces.  I will pay you back right after Shabbos.”  Although his benefactor silently wondered what the maggid would do with the silver pieces over Shabbos, as he could not possibly spend it, he refrained from asking. 
He had great honor for the maggid, and his emunas chachamim (faith in Torah Sages) was unimpeachable.  As it says concerning the Jewish Nation at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, “Vaya’aminu b’Hashem ub’Moshe avdo – they believed in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant.”   Emunas chachamim is an intrinsic component of belief in G-d.  
The man immediately went to his safe, removed the considerable sum of one thousand silver pieces and gave it to the maggid. 
That night, Friday night, the maggid gave his first speech.  People had come for Shabbos from all the little villages surrounding the city to hear the maggid’s words of inspiration.     The words which emanated from his heart, penetrated the hearts and minds of all who were there.
On Shabbos morning, the maggid spoke once again, and this time the number of people in attendance had doubled.  People who could not spend the entire Shabbos in the city, but were thirsting for the words of the maggid, had walked long distances to listen to him speak.   And then the maggid spoke one more time  before Sholosh Seudos (third meal). 
Right after havdalah, the maggid arrived at the wealthy man’s home to return the thousand silver pieces.  His benefactor could not contain his curiosity, and he blurted out, “Rebbi, would it possible for you to explain to me why you needed these thousand silver pieces.  After all, it was impossible for you to do anything with this money on Shabbos.  And now you are returning the money to me immediately after Shabbos.  Why did you borrow it?”
The maggid softly replied, “Veil mit gelt redt men andersh — if you have money you speak differently.” 
I often think about this story of the maggid and the thousand silver pieces.  Is it the silver pieces that really make a difference?  Or, do they represent the external factors which we attribute to our abilities and our potential for success? 
Our perception for self-esteem has somehow become erroneously “dependent” on the accoutrements of money, looks, property, and connections.  But the mishnah in Avos specifically counsels the person to be ‘makir es mekomo’ – to recognize his place.  The Tzemach Dovid explains this to mean that one must comprehend and identify his true status in life.  This would require the person to be aware of the unique qualities of chochmah, binah and daas with which Hashem has blessed him and the talents he has been bequeathed by Hashem.  
A deficiency in the individual’s perception of ‘makir es mekomo’ would inherently constrain his growth and development throughout life.  It would limit his efforts in fulfilling his potential and he would “feel” unable and inadequate to face the challenges of life.  
Many commentators expound on the verse in Bereishit (2:26) “Na’aseh odom b’tzalmeinu k’dmuseinu.” They ask:  What does it mean Hashem, the sole creator of the world, said, “Let us make man.” 
The commentators explain that we, human beings, are partners with G-d in creation.  Hashem has entrusted us with the all-important mission of continuing to develop and grow in Torah and kindness, and to refine our character and has instilled within us the talents and abilities to do so.   We are allied, with the divine Providence of Hashem, to strive for the perfection of our being. 
Additionally, Hashem breathed into each one of us a neshamah govohah (lofty soul), as we say every morning, “Elokai neshamah …. atoh nofachto bi – The soul … You breathed it into me”.  Hashem has faith in our power to successfully fulfill our mission in this world, and this knowledge is meant to reinforce our own self-esteem and sense of worth.  
Unfortunately, though, there are times when a person unwittingly transfers his sense of insecurity to his children.   How we speak to a child, for example, concerning his abilities or his lack thereof, has the potential to either build the child and position him/her for success, or the reverse. 
When R’ Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar movement, would greet a small child he would always speak in the formal vernacular, “Vos macht ir,” which is generally reserved for someone we honor and respect, rather than the familiar “Vos machst du.”    When the child would be addressed by the great R’ Yisroel Salanter in such a manner the boost to his self-esteem was immeasurable.   It is important to recall R’ Yisroel’s manner of addressing others, in the way we speak to, and of, others, and ourselves as well.  
Recently, a 24-year old young lady was sent by her parents to see me.  Apparently, their daughter was reluctant to start going out.  At first they were patient, sensing that perhaps she was not quite ready to start in shidduchim – dating.  But one or two years had turned to three and four, and they were quite concerned.  
I met with the young lady, who was a fine bas Torah, intellectual and talented.  We discussed life in general, and what she was currently doing. Indeed, it was hard for me to understand why she would not go out. I then gently broached the subject of shidduchim, and a complete change came over her.  She was suddenly withdrawn and ill at ease, and even emotional.   
After more than a half hour of discussion, it became painfully clear that this young lady did not have a positive self-image, to the point where she blurted out, “Who would ever want to go out with me?” 
I was shocked when I heard those words spoken aloud, but it gave me the opportunity to be of assistance.   It took a lot of hard work, but I made sure that she got the help that she needed and continued to monitor the situation until she began to feel more confident about herself and could begin going out.  
It is of the essence for parents, teachers, and all adults who interact with young people to be sensitive of young people’s sense of self and to even make the effort to boost their self-esteem.    I would like to suggest a few points for consideration. 

  • Love should be real and not always tied to performance.  
  • Love should be total and unconditional.
  • One should not tell a child he has failed if he has not lived up to “our” expectations.
  • One must be careful not to label a child as “clumsy,” “a disappointment” or “dumb.”
  • “What is the matter with you?” is a problematic question that is threatening to a child.
  • One should never tell a child he is “hopeless”
  • Avoid comparing siblings, students, or neighbors.
  • Always draw attention to the positive; address the negative in a sensitive manner so that the young person will be able to accept it.

In dealing with our personal self-esteem we should give ourselves credit for the talents that we have and highlight our positive attributes.  
We can always improve in the areas of spirituality, as we learn in Koheles (7:20) “Ki odom ein tzaddik b’aretz asher ya’aseh tov v’lo yechta – there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins”; nevertheless that concept is tempered by (Avos 2:18) “Al tehei rosho b’fnei atzmecha – do not judge yourself to be a wicked person.” 
One should always keep in mind that one of the reasons given for standing with our feet together during Shemone Esrei (the silent prayer) and during kedusha is to be comparable to angels, because in the eyes of Hashem we are like angels.  We have that potential within us.   Remember, we are partners in the creation!


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