It is no secret and no surprise that the vast majority of us dwell in a state of constant insecurity, self-consciousness, and self-critique. For some of us, our relationship with ourself is even more problematic. We tend toward self-loathing, displaying consistent behaviors that are self-defeating and self-destructive. Some of this negativity in our self-concept can be attributed to the pervasive cultural conception of the inherent sinfulness of the human being. This is perpetuated, in part, by those who have always sought to exploit our discontent in order to keep us under their control. Regardless of the sources and perpetrators of this toxic self-regard, its ultimate cause is the basic unawareness of what we are and why we exist.
Have you ever felt okay? Be honest. When was the last time you had a sense, deep down inside of you, that you are completely acceptable just as you are? Have you ever in your adult life experienced the conviction that you are fine and good and there is nothing wrong with you? Do you ever feel an absolute guiltlessness, a confidence that there is nothing you should be doing or being at this moment that you are not? This is not to say that you are perfect or complete – because we are not perfect or complete in this realm – but that you are complete in your incompleteness? Such a sense of worth and self-acceptance is extremely rare.
Even those whom we deem to be “successful” and “accomplished” rarely exude the kind of contentment and serenity that would characterize this type of self-assurance. Accomplishment in our modern societies is usually identified with the amassing of material assets, the acquisition of power, and/or the achievement of renown. But all of these are generally the result of a drive for validation and recognition. Their possession usually only increases the appetites and renders the self more hungry and restless, and less satisfied and calm. How many people have you met in your life who truly seem to be fulfilled and happy with who and what they are?
Because we don’t understand our essence, we are constantly questioning our existence and calibrating our worth. This incessant self-evaluation and critique leaves us anxious and insecure. We feel judged and dissected, and the ‘self’ that we view in the mirror is flawed and blemished and unable to stand up to such persistent and excruciating scrutiny. The judgment comes from those around us, but even more frequently and damningly, it comes from ourselves. Most damagingly, we believe that the perpetual critique comes from God, the One who created us and who is ashamed of how far we are from what He had intended us to be.
This assumption of God’s criticism and ire is the very root of so much unhappiness and heartache, and it is so heartbreakingly unnecessary, because it is simply untrue! God does not disdain us. He does not focus on our faults or look for opportunities to judge and condemn us. In fact, God’s desire to overlook our faults and His disinterest in judgment and censure is stated explicitly in Torah in Parshas Balak:
:לֹֽא־הִבִּיט אָוֶן בְּיַֽעֲקֹב וְלֹא־רָאָה עָמָל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל
Lo hibit aven b’Yaacov v’lo ra’ah amal b’Yisrael.
(God) does not look at sin in Jacob, and He has not seen crookedness in Israel. (Numbers 23:21)
Here, the wicked prophet Balaam is forced to declare that not only does God not seek faults in His children, but furthermore He does not even see our shortcomings. It is not merely that He is not looking for opportunities to blame and shame us, but that even if He were, He would find none. This is because God does not view our acts as sin at all. Why does He not do so? Because, at the level of His ultimate Oneness, our misdeeds do not, and cannot, affect Him. This truth is expressed in the book of Job:
:אִם־חטָאתָ מַה־תִּפְעָל־בּוֹ וְרַבּוּ פשָׁעֶיךָ מַה־תַּעֲשֶׂה־לּוֹ
Im chatasa mah tifal bo, v’rabu pishaecha mah taaseh lo?
If you sinned, what effect do you have on Him, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him? (Job 35:6)
In the grand scheme of His infinite unity, Job asks, can our trivial actions truly have any effect on God? The Chasidic masters explain Job’s questions to mean that because God is infinite, sin therefore does not, and cannot, separate us from God from His vantage. What then is sin if not an affront to God, and what are its ramifications? The prophet Isaiah informs us that the negative impact of a sin rests not with God, but primarily on the one who sins her/himself:
:עֲוֹנֹתֵיכֶם הָיוּ מַבְדִּלִים בֵּֽינֵכֶם לְבֵין אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם
Avonoseichem hayu mavdilim beineichem l’vein E-lokeichem.
Your iniquities have separated between you and your God. (Isaiah 59:2)
Sin is the layer of interference and concealment that we create between ourselves and our Creator. As such, sin is that which renders us less perceptive of, and receptive to, God. It is the curtain or barrier that we erect ‘between’ us and Him which makes it more difficult for us to perceive and reveal the truth of His infinite light. Though we are ultimately no more ‘distant’ from God after we have sinned than before – because God is everywhere equally – nevertheless, each sin encrusts us in another layer that makes us less capable of seeing the Godliness within us and around us.
With this understanding of sin, we may regret our transgressions, and we may strive to create fewer obstructions between ourself and God. Yet we can simultaneously understand that God’s reaction to our errors and our predicament is not judgment or anger or righteous indignation, but rather compassion and the desire for us to “see the light” that is within us. Recognizing that we are not judged harshly by God, we realize that we need not constantly judge ourselves. We can actually begin to experience life, and experience ourselves, without constant self-recrimination and critique.
A recognition of our inherent Godliness and the love that God feels and displays for us will revolutionize our self-image and transport us from an outlook of self-consciousness to one of God-consciousness. It will carry us from a state of self-judgment to one of intense self-esteem. When we recognize that God is truly one – “A-donai echad/God is One” – and we are a part of that unity, then we can finally love ourselves and treat ourselves with the patience and kindness that we deserve.
We can begin to appreciate every aspect of creation, even as we work to refine it, transform it, and reveal it for what it truly is. We can love even those things that we must battle, even those things that have no awareness and no manifestation of their inherent Godliness. We can certainly know that we are okay and fine, even as we are imperfect. I have work to do, but that need not hinder me from having genuine sympathy toward myself. Equipped with this self-directed sympathy, I can then sympathize with the entire creation. With this perspective, our angst and shame will begin to melt away, and we will begin to experience a buoyancy, clarity, and serenity that will transform our lives and enable us to perform our mission of transforming the world completely.