Self worth

The Abraham figure as a model for the future.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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One of the wisest and most astute comments of the rabbis of the Talmud regarding life is that “ all new beginnings are difficult.” That certainly is true regarding the beginning of human civilization as described for us in this week’s Torah reading. Everything that seemingly could go wrong did go wrong.

Death, murder, fratricide, autocracy and oppression all make their due appearance in the biblical narrative of this week. All in all, the narrative gives us a very depressing view of human life and subliminally raises the question of why did and does God bother, so to speak, with the whole project.

Nevertheless, the Torah emphasizes the resilience of human beings that has marked the trajectory of civilization from the beginning of time until today. Kayin, in spite of his great crime, ends up building cities and fathering generations. And in the midst of all of the evil and wicked people, there do appear righteous personalities who point to a better future and to a more noble society.

The Torah emphasizes a lesson here that it will repeat many times in its descriptions of human events. The lesson is that it is not the numerical superiority of evil people that determines the course of human events but rather it is that the dearth of good people who are willing to proclaim goodness as a way of life that determines the eventual fate of society. That was true in the generations of early humankind, in the generation of Sodom and in the events of the past century as well. Our task is to be that good person – the Abraham figure – who stands in opposition to the evils that always abide in human society.

A person should never say to himself: ‘Of what value am I and what’s the difference what I do or say?’ The rabbis have taught us that the reason that humankind stems from one ancestor is to teach the value of one person…and that one person can tip the scales of heavenly justice and human life. The rabbis have also taught us that one should always say to one's self that the world was created for me alone.

Now, naturally, overdoing this idea leads to hubris and arrogance and sin itself. But in proper measure, it is the necessary ingredient to making life meaningful and to propel us on the path of accomplishment and worthiness. The realization by an individual of one's own importance in the heavenly scheme of life and generations is the key to one’s sense of self-worth. Without that sense, one can almost never achieve  either spiritual or temporal success.

It is this feeling of self-worth and the importance of an individual that creates the resilience that so characterizes human behavior and the history of human civilization. I think that this is one of the most important messages that this week’s Torah reading can communicate to us. Especially in these turbulent times when nothing is clear to us any longer, we need to strengthen ourselves in our beliefs  and our service to God and man.





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