Last week’s stretch of the week was: Speak to someone respectfully even if it is hard to do. Then respect yourself for doing so.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Healthy and Unhealthy Self-Respect
Healthy self-respect is about understanding your true value and greatness. Unhealthy self-respect is basing your self-worth on things that are false or improper. Chazal say “Truth endures, falsehood does not” (Shabbos 104a). When one’s self-respect is based on the truth, it will withstand the daily challenges of life; when it is based on falsehood, it will not endure.
Our quest for self-respect will be achieved through knowing who we really are. Lack of self-respect is often confused with humility. Humility is not about being blind to one’s greatness; it’s about completely crediting this greatness to the One Above. Self-respect is a pre-requisite for humility. Only when one has proper self-respect will he be secure enough not to need the honor and respect of others. Each and every one of us has so much to be proud of. When we internalize the truth, we will have an abundance of kavod both for ourselves and for others.
There are two distinct types of kavod. One type is external kavod, which comes from outside a person. The second type, internal kavod, comes from within a person. External kavod, such as receiving honor and publicity, is the type of kavod Chazal warned us to run away from. Most of us have a strong innate desire for this honor and respect from others. We feel that if others bestow on us an abundance of honor, this is testimony to our greatness.
This false perception ensures man’s failure, whether he achieves the honor he desires or not. If one fails and does not attain a desirable social status, he will feel unimportant, even if this person is a truly elevated individual who toils in Torah and mitzvos, which will certainly impair his growth in avodas HaShem. If one does achieve an elevated social standing, he is perhaps in even greater danger. He values himself based on his status rather than for what he truly is, which will prompt him to overlook his shortcomings, without ever feeling the need to improve.
“Man was created to toil” (Iyov 5:7). Our effort, our dedication and commitment are what truly count. We must look above all to find favor in the eyes of HaShem, and learn to develop our kavod from within. The more internal kavod we feel, the less external kavod we will need. When we perform an act of kindness without any recognition, we can actually derive more kavod than we would from the superficial honor of others, since we know that we are acting in an elevated manner.
(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).
Story: (based on a true story)
I loved high school and college. I loved being on student council and in choir and play. I would spend months on an event or practicing for a production, and then when it was over we would get a huge round of applause. I loved the reputation I had for being great at all things organizing and performing; it became my identity, and both faculty and students would come to me when they needed someone to make something happen. Even the academics part was OK. My grades told me when I had to work harder and when I should be proud of myself. Overall I felt really accomplished and confident, so I constantly reached out to do more.
Yesterday I read a board book to my two year old daughter Shayna. She giggled, said a few phrases and pointed to a couple of things when I asked her to. I finished, and she said, “Again”, so I read it again, and again. I was so bored and sometimes frustrated with my life. Just two years after I graduated college, my husband finished grad school and got a good position with health insurance so we decided I would stay home. I really wanted to be home to spend more time with my baby. Now I had a preschooler, a toddler and an eight month old baby and I spent my days doing laundry, feeding the kids, cleaning up after the kids, reading board books, stacking blocks, and attempting to put dinner on the table.
I didn’t recognize my busy, confident self when I look through my old yearbooks. My friends were taking the world by storm at their jobs and moving into recognized positions. Even those who are staying home seemed to be organizing groups and hosting shiurim and volunteering at schools, which I couldn’t find time or energy for within my family’s schedule. I felt inadequate--my name was on no newsletters or parlor meeting invitations or faculty lists that catalogued the work of people extending themselves for others. I was home, reading board books in my junk skirt from seminary.
One day I was looking through my old notebooks for an answer to a halacha question and I found my notes on Rebbetzin Feitman’s “Dignity of Jewish Mother” classes. It had seemed so simple at the time. Of course one of the most important things in the world was sitting with a child and loving him and building his every little skill while and doing your best to keep your home happy and nurturing.
On paper and in that classroom it looked great but I didn’t remember talking about how to trudge through every day when nobody is saying, “Good job!” when you teach your kid what red is or celebrating your ability to get your baby to eat a new vegetable or managing to make dinner by seven.
And then I flipped the page, and there it was in the next class’s notes. Brush your hair every day even when you don’t go out, and put on some makeup if that’s what makes you feel good; find a way to have a good meal; treat yourself like the important person you are, like you would treat a professional with the job description of what you do, like you would treat HaShem’s messenger. Every day, list three things you did well and give them their proper weight. Make goals for yourself with specific small steps, and when you accomplish them, reward yourself.
I realized I had stopped viewing myself and what I did as important. While my husband and mother regularly complimented me, I didn’t believe them--I just saw myself as schlepping through my life.
That night I called a friend with a proposal. Each day we would each write down just one thing that we did that day that we were proud of, and at the end of the week we would share with each other. My friend’s regular encouragement helped me to boost my respect for the job I do and also for myself, and I also felt great helping her to feel good about the efforts she put in at her seemingly menial job. I began putting on clothes that made me feel better about myself and were still comfortable, and picked up some tichels that made me feel put together on those non-shaitel days. Soon I saw that when I took care of myself I stood a little taller and smiled more.
Looking for that one accomplishment every day helped me see for myself the many things that I did. Every time I picked up a toy I made the house more livable for my family who blossom better when there is order. When I made a good dinner I was giving my family nutritious food to help them work and learn well, and when I ordered take out instead because it was that hard a day I was preserving my sanity so I could be caring and patient. All day long I was making choices and doing important things; it’s just that it was mainly HaShem who was watching and evaluating me, and I don’t get to see where my name appears in His books.
I am back on track with the right thoughts and ideas. I am taking care of His creations, and that’s an important job. I’m proud of myself for how hard I work at it, which gives me the confidence to keep working harder at giving each family member, including myself, the attention they deserve.
Discussion Question Options:
How can an over-focus on external kavod keep us from growing and reaching forward?
Why is the external kavod of being recognized by others so important to us? How can we use that need to help ourselves and others?
How can we help build internal kavod in ourselves, our children and those around us?
Stretch of the Week:
Recognize a gift that you have to give to others, and thank HaShem for giving you that ability.