Perek gimmel, mishnah yud-ches says חביב אדם שנברא בצלם. The fact that man was created in the image of Hashem shows that he is beloved to Hashem.
The mishnah is telling us the proper way to view ourselves. We should not feel arrogant or proud of who we are or of our talents and accomplishments. At the same time, we should not see ourselves as small and unimportant. Our value is based simply on who we are – an entire being representing Hashem. Each one of us is Hashem’s child, and we represent Hashem’s Torah. That is what makes us so important.
Keeping this in mind will help us feel humble but empower us at the same time.
Poor self-esteem hinders our ability to accomplish. It stops us from trusting ourselves. It deters us from achieving what is achievable. It’s not the outlook Hashem wants us to have.
I once knew a girl with self-esteem so low, she was really unable to believe in herself. It was sad to see, once I realized what was happening.
I met Shoshanah (names have been changed) for the first time in camp. Her face seemed to be announcing loud and clear, I am better than you. Actually, I am great. You should want to talk to me, but don’t bother. I will not honor you with a conversation.
Although we had a few interactions over the summer that only served to confirm my initial assessment of her attitude, once camp was over she became a distant memory. And then I met up with her in seminary. Not only did I meet up with her in seminary, but she was very close friends with my roommate Chavie. Chavie was a fun, popular, nice girl. I didn’t see why she liked Shoshanah so much. But they clicked, and Shoshanah was in my room constantly. I got to see a lot of her up close, and I started to understand why she behaved the way she did. Her self-esteem was so low that she had to put others down to feel even a teeny bit of self-worth.
It was painful to see how little she valued herself. She couldn’t make a move without Chavie’s approval. Each morning she walked into our room and pranced in front of the mirror, asking Chavie if she looked good. Would a different skirt match better or would a particular sweater look nicer? She only felt she was worth anything if Chavie approved and if Chavie was by her side. Without Chavie she felt that she was a no one. It was painful to see this on a regular basis.
I don’t know why she felt like this. I don’t know if she had academic issues, social issues or family issues that contributed to her negative thoughts about herself.
But the mishnah reminds us that we are each a tzelem Elokim. Hashem made us with our weaknesses and strengths. He made us with our flaws and our merits. And He made us in His image. He wants us to be proud of who we are. He wants us to believe in who we are and to live life to the fullest, with all the circumstances He has given us.
I don’t know where Shoshanah is these days. But I hope that she got herself the help that she clearly needed. I hope she realized that she is someone beloved by Hashem by virtue of who she is. She doesn’t need Chavie or anyone else to make her feel worthwhile.
As for me, self-esteem is definitely something I have to work on!
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.