Believe in yourself is a common mantra these days, but it is sadly not as common in real life. Though we live in an age of unprecedented success and prosperity, too many people are mired in misery, insecurity, and negative self concepts.
Though every child has a reach through social media that spans the world, they don’t believe they can make a difference. Never did we have the opportunity to impact so many with a single click of a mouse, and yet we don’t believe in ourselves. Never have we been able to generate more prosperity with more ease, and yet we don’t believe in ourselves.
Some of us lack self confidence because we were abused or molested by people more powerful than us. For some of us it occurred in childhood and marred us for life. For others it occurred in adulthood and was no less destructive. It is hard to break away from the gripping fear and helplessness that we experience when someone strips our power and bends us to their will. It matters not whether the abuse is physical or emotional. Mockery, dismissal, or belittlement can also rob us of self-esteem.
Some of us don’t believe in ourselves because of the mess we made of life through laziness, wrong choices, obsessions, addictions, and the like. If you look back on life and have little to show for it, it is hard to believe in yourself. Some of us suffer from the opposite problem. We have everything we ever needed or wanted, but we never earned or built anything. We were born into luxury, and everything came easily. We solved every problem with money or through family connections. People might think we are the luckiest people alive, but we feel rudderless and aimless. Without purpose or direction, without achievement or satisfaction, it is hard to believe in yourself.
G-d told Noah that He would destroy the planet with a flood. He instructed Noah to build a huge ark and fill it with his family and every known species. Noah built the ark and single-handedly saved humanity, and all life forms. I don’t know who could look back upon life with a better record. Noah must have really thought of himself as a successful achiever. What a self-concept he must have enjoyed.
Yet, the truth was sadly different. The first thing Noah did after leaving the ark was to build an altar and raise an offering to G-d. You might have thought it was a gratitude offering, but our sages thought different. Our sages taught that Noah brought this offering because he failed to believe in himself.
You see, G-d appeared to Noah and told him precisely how to save himself. G-d told him precisely when the flood would begin. G-d gave him a clear itinerary for everything he needed to do leading up to the flood. He knew what he needed to do and when it needed to get done. There was, however, one thing that G-d never told Noah: When the flood would end.
G-d told Noah to enter the ark, but G-d never told him when or if he would exit the ark. Noah began to doubt himself. Perhaps, thought Noah, I was meritorious enough for G-d to let me into the ark, but not meritorious enough for G-d to let me out of the ark? Who knows if I will ever get to leave?
For years before the flood, every time people saw Noah building the ark, they scoffed at him. You really believe in this silly flood of yours? Come on Noah, you are an old man, stop wasting your time and enjoy life like the rest of us. The constant mockery might have gotten to him. When it came time to leave the ark, Noah was unsure that he could.
Then came the exalted day when G-d told Noah, “Exit the ark, you, your wife and your children. Bring all the animals with you.” At that moment, everything fell into place for Noah, and he realized that he had doubted himself for nothing. He had never lost faith in G-d, but he did lose faith in himself. And for that, say our sages, Noah brought a sin offering.
It is a sin to lose faith in yourself. It is not one of the 365 sins in the Torah, but the damage caused by this sin can be worse than the damage caused by all the sins put together. If you don’t believe in yourself, you have no incentive to do anything. You don’t believe it will amount to anything anyway.
Why pray if G-d won’t listen to little old you? Why go to work if you don’t believe you can succeed? Why try to do right if you are likely to slip up and say or do something terrible. The Baal Shem Tov taught that a Jew may never lose faith. Not in G-d, that is a given. In yourself.
But why is losing faith in yourself such a horrible thing? What if someone robbed you of your ability to believe in yourself? What choice do you have?
It’s For Him
When we reflect on Noah’s story the answer will become clear. Noah wasn’t working as a private citizen to save his life and the other life forms on the ark. Noah was working as G-d’s agent. This wasn’t about Noah, and it was wrong of him to make it about himself. If he were working as a private citizen representing his own interests, his survival might have depended on his own integrity, ingenuity, merit, etc. But as G-d’s hand-picked agent to save the world, this had nothing to do with Noah’s merit.
It would not have mattered if Noah had the worst record in the world or the best. If G-d tasked Noah with saving humanity, Noah would save humanity. They would come out of the ark whether Noah was meritorious or not. This is why Noah offered a sin offering. It wasn’t about losing faith in himself. Many people lose faith in themselves. If you experienced a trauma or lived a life of despair, it would be normal to lose faith in yourself. That is not a crime. The crime is to make it about yourself and fail to fight back.
We have a sacred obligation not to surrender to despair. Don’t give up; climb up. When the chips are down, claw your way back to the top. Use every means at your disposal. Therapy, support networks, positive psychology, whatever might work. More than you owe it to yourself, you owe it to G-d.
Like Noah, we are on earth because G-d placed us here. Like Noah, G-d assigned us tasks to fulfill during our time on earth. Like Noah, we don’t have the luxury of giving up. We cannot. We ought not. We dare not. The path of despair is paved by darkness and failure and G-d needs us to be effective and upbeat.
So, don’t just accept that you don’t believe in yourself. Struggle back. Change your narrative. You are good. You have value. You are self affirming. G-d believes in you. G-d gave you life. G-d assigned you a role to play on earth. If G-d believes in you, you can believe in yourself too.
It won’t necessarily be easy, but who ever said life must be easy? Life doesn’t need to be easy. Life needs to be productive. And whatever is worth producing, is worth fighting for. So go on, my dear friend, and fight. Believe in yourself because G-d believes in you.
 Our sages said that Noach was a man of little faith. Some understood this to mean that Noah lacked faith in his own ability to prevent the flood by praying to G-d, and thus, saving the world.