David Wolpe

Are You Truly Self-Made?

We all struggle between the impulse to assume we are self-made and that we are indebted to others. Both, of course, are true: Without effort and hard work, it is impossible to accomplish much in this world. Yet without all the structures, both societal and environmental, that existed before we came into this world, we could have done nothing. To believe you are self-made is an act of blithe arrogance; yet to believe you do not deserve credit for your accomplishments is to blunt the motivation that moves society forward.

Judaism’s answer is gratitude coupled with responsibility — we are grateful for the gifts we have been given and responsible to use them for the good of the world. If you have a brain that works, you did not “earn” that brain; it was a gift. To be arrogant about natural gifts is foolish. If you have chosen to use it for the benefit of human beings, however, you have every right to be proud of that choice. God gives the artist the gift; the artist gives us art.

The proper answer to the question, “Did you build/create/make that?” is, “Yes, I did. But I had help.”

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.