A person who is interested in developing his character must undertake the great spiritual task of recognizing his self-worth. He must do this in a correct and humble manner. If he does not see himself as the crown jewel of creation, or understand the impact of both his positive and negative actions in the spiritual and physical worlds, he may hit rock bottom in every aspect of his life without even realizing the extent of his decline or the position that he is in. Moreover, this person will lack the motivation to act or become a productive member of society. He will feel inadequate and even depressed, as it is written: “Humankind will have bowed and man will have humbled himself.”
At the same time, he must be careful not to get carried away or think too highly of himself to the point where he’s chasing after honor, as the sages have said regarding the pursuit of honor: “Jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honor remove man from the world.” And one of the forty-eight ways in which a person can acquire Torah is by “distancing himself from honor”. Instead, he should adopt the attribute of humility while recognizing his self worth in the proper measure as discussed above. The sages of the Mishnah ask: why was Adam HaRishon created as a single individual? Why wasn’t he created like the trees, grass and animals – in multiples? Their answer teaches us a fundamental lesson about our own greatness and self-worth. These are the words of the Mishnah:
It was for this reason that man was first created as one person, to teach you that anyone who destroys a life from Israel is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; anyone who saves a life from Israel is as if he saved an entire world. And also, to promote peace among the creations, so that no man would say to his friend, ‘my ancestors are greater than yours.’ And also, so that heretics will not say, ‘there are many rulers up in Heaven.’ And also, to express the grandeur of The Holy One [blessed be He]: For a man strikes many coins from the same dye, and all the coins are alike. But the King of Kings, The Holy One [blessed be He] strikes every man from the dye of the First Man, and yet no man is quite like his friend. Therefore, every person must say: ‘the world was created for me.’
It also says in the Midrash:
At first He spoke in the singular form – as in:’
Now, O Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you (singular)?
This is to teach us that every Jew must say: “The world was created for me and the Torah was given to me!”
Meaning, man should never think of himself as insignificant or that he is just another ordinary person out of many. Rather, he must realize that the world would not be the same without him! He must realize that he was commissioned to live in the world by Divine intervention at a particular time in history, and that he’s an inseparable part of the general mechanism of the world with a mission unique to him.
Every Man’s Personal Mission
Each individual living in a particular period in the history of the world is likened to an indispensable component of a system that operates in full harmony, mutually affecting all the elements themselves and the system as a whole. Every detail is vital and necessary in maintaining the integrity of the structure. However, it is in man’s power to either be an asset to the system or a hindrance. The sages of the mystics have taught us that each person has two paths in his spiritual endeavors; the first path is the general correction of the world which he can only accomplish through the mitzvoth that he performs (this is analogous to a person who possesses the key to one out of many doors, as each door corresponds to a different correction in the world). The second path is the person’s individual correction that is based on a specific purpose for which he has come to the world. And how is he to know what his main purpose is in the world? By monitoring which mitzvah he is most attracted to and which law he is most tempted to violate. The mitzvah that he feels most strongly about fulfilling, is the mitzvah that his soul is most deficient in and yearns to perform, which is essentially the reason it descended to the world, while the sin that is most difficult for him to resist is the one that his evil inclination is trying to make him stumble upon, specifically because it is the main area of his correction. This is besides for the general purpose that’s contained in all the mitzvoth (both the positive and negative mitzvoth), which is to illuminate the soul and rectify it in preparation for a life of eternity.
This is why each man was physically created different; so that he will always remember that he is unique and that he has a specific mission that no one in the world can accomplish besides for him. And there’s no difference whether he is able-bodied or impaired, beautiful or ugly, complete or deficient, mentally sound or ill – each person has a spiritual mission in the world, and every good deed that he performs or hardship he endures rectifies him and the world around him to its ultimate perfection.
Kabbalah teaches that these concepts intensify seven-fold when dealing with a Jewish soul (having a Jewish soul implies being a descendant of the people who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, as in, the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the prized Patriarchs of G-d, or being a legitimate Jewish convert who undergoes a lawful conversion process designed to create a significant spiritual change in the structure of the person’s soul), and every action performed by this soul has a great impact on the upper worlds. Therefore, some mitzvoth were designed to remind the Jew of how valuable he is in the eyes of G-d and point to the greatness of his virtues, so that his duty of conducting himself like the son of a King is always discernable before his eyes. For example, one of the mitzvoth in the Torah is not to break the bones of the meat eaten on the eve of Passover, as it is written: “You shall not break a bone in it.” In his explanation of this mitzvah, the Sefer Hachinuch writes:
This is also a branch of the above root purpose: For it is not a way of honor for royal princes and chancellors of the land to scrape the bones and break them like dogs. This is fit only for the hungry poor of the people. Therefore, at the beginning of our emergence to become the treasured choice of all the nations, ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’, and again every year at the same time, it is fitting for us to perform deeds, which reflect the great degree of excellence to which we rose at that hour. Through the action and the symbol that we perform, we set this matter in our souls permanently.
Actions vs. Thoughts
Because of the importance and excellence of the teachings of Sefer Hachinuch, which discusses the magnitude of human actions and the effects they have on a person’s character, it would be appropriate to present them here in full:
Now, do not think my son, to seize upon my words and ask, ‘But why should the Eternal Lord command us to do all these things in order to commemorate that miracle? Would the matter not have entered our consciousness through one commemoration, and thus not be forgotten out of the mouths of our descendants? For not out of wisdom would you pounce on me about this, but rather childish thinking would move you to speak so.
And now my son, if you possess the ability to understand, hear this; incline your ear and hearken. I will teach you of the Torah and the precepts, for your benefit. Know that man is influenced according to his actions. His heart and all his thoughts are always drawn after his deeds in which he is occupied, whether they are good or bad. Thus, even a person who is thoroughly wicked in his heart, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil the entire day – if he will arouse his spirit and set his striving and his occupation, with constancy, in the Torah and the mitzvoth, even if not for the sake of Heaven, he will veer at once towards the good, and with the power of his good deeds, he will deaden his evil impulse. For after one’s acts is the heart drawn.
And even if a man should be thoroughly righteous, his heart upright and honest, desiring the Torah and the mitzvoth, should he but engage constantly in impure matters – as we might say by way of example, if the king forcefully appointed him to an evil vocation – then in truth, if his entire occupation, constantly, all the day, will be in that vocation, at some point in time he will turn from the righteousness of his heart to become completely wicked. For it is a known and true matter that every man is influenced in accordance with his actions, as we have stated.
The sages of the mystics emphasize in their teachings that every thought or action a person does, or even a thought about a mitzvah or transgression that he is contemplating about, has an effect on himself and his environment and even on the upper spiritual worlds. The following excerpt is taken from the book, Nefesh Hachaim:
Our body and soul are sustained by the food and drink we take in; without nourishment, the soul departs from the body. The same is true for the spiritual bond between G-d and the universe. It is the will of G-d that this bond is kept intact by the spiritual fuel of Torah study, the observance of mitzvoth and the prayers of the chosen people.
Furthermore, just as unhealthy food does not nourish the body but rather turns into waste that poisons and dirties the body, thereby weakening it entirely and making it ill, so too are the undesirable deeds; they too dirty the spiritual worlds and allow the forces of impurity to intensify. Moreover, you shall now see and understand the power behind much of our holy work – it acts to sustain the worlds, draw down blessing and additional holiness by the connection of G-d’s essence to them. And it is proper for every person among the holy nation to direct the proper thought and purity of intention during Torah study and the observance of the mitzvoth. This way he can generate and add a new light to all the spiritual realms – especially when standing in prayer before G-d, as prayer recited at its appropriate time is the main nourishment for the spiritual worlds and the soul of the person himself.
He who grasps the great power that he was granted; to cultivate and revitalize the spiritual worlds (and of course the physical world too, which is contingent upon them) through positive deeds and words, or otherwise G-d forbid, to damage these upper dimensions through negative speech and actions, will not come to sin so easily. By abusing this power that he was given, he disgraces himself and harms his environment as well as the world. Instead, he should address his self-worth with absolute seriousness and exalt his virtues in a humble manner. And thus, he will weigh every act before carrying it out and every word before speaking it, and he should try as best as he can to direct his thoughts and intensions in the purest way until he reaches the ultimate spiritual perfection.
The moment he internalizes the importance of his own self worth by understanding the powerful potential that the Creator has granted him, is the moment in which he will also understand the significance of other people’s self worth. Anyone reflecting upon these matters will have a much easier time respecting his fellow man and dignifying him as a human being.
Notes and Sources
 Refer to the chapter on arrogance
 Yishayahu 2:9
 Avot 4:21
 See Avot 6:5
 Sanhedrin 4:5
 Psikta Zutrata Devarim Parshat Ekev 15a
 Devarim 10:12
 For a detailed explanation of the upper worlds, refer to the book “The Revolution” in the chapter entitled: “Parallel Universes”
 Shmot 12:46
 Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 16
 Nefesh Hachaim – Shaar 2, chapter 6
 Ibid chapter 7
Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen