This week I was reviewing with a student, asking him questions. He was doing great but at one point he got stuck and he blanked. Although this happens to all of us, he didn’t take it very well and when I told him the answer, his response was shocking.

He laid into himself, verbally abusing and insulting himself: “You idiot! You should’ve known that. What’s the matter with you!?”

This really struck a nerve because I used to do the same. This was how I pushed myself and I could even trace where I learned it:

  • From my highschool rugby coach who flung misogynistic and homophobic profanities at us as we did strength-training, apparently in an effort to encourage us.
  • And my commander in basic training, who apparently believed that the only way to build an effective soldier was to destroy any positive perspective he had about himself.

Whenever I made a mistake, whoa! These two voices came dutifully screaming in to let me know what a worthless waste of life I was.

Self-talk, mind-chatter, inner-voice, self-esteem, internal dialogue. Call it what you like but the influence of our subconscious mind goes further than just our own minds. It is the key to any and all of our relationships.

Deeper sources categorise the wide variety of mitzvos into three groups, each reflecting a different relationship:

  • Ben adam lemakom – between man G-d
  • Ben ada lechaveiro – between man and his fellow
  • Ben adam lemakom – between man and himself

The common denominator is the adam – the person, which means that one’s relationship with one’s self is key, because it affects all the other relationships.


Perhaps that’s why the most famous verse in the Torah is ואהבת לרעך כמוך“you shall love your fellow as you love yourself” which captures the idea: your ability to love someone else, and the quality of that relationship, is directly and inextricably dependant on your ability to love yourself.

But how does a person develop a positive and realistic perspective of themselves? Where can they learn to see themselves as they are: unique and special – what is called in Hebrew “holy”?

Well, in this week’s sedra the Torah tells us to be just that: holy, saying: קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ – be holy.

The chassidic masters point out that it doesn’t say: act holy or behave holy but rather be holy – not an external veneer but an internal reality, our very existence, the way we see ourselves, think about ourselves and talk to ourselves.

But how? The answer is in the very next verse which encourages every individual to each revere their mother and their father. 

Why and what is the connection between self perception and being in awe of one’s parents? 

Simple but profound: your mother and father are the source of you. It’s literally where and who you come from. If you cannot revere your parents, if you cannot respect and honor them, then you have no chance of respecting or loving yourself. And if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love others.


Now go do something for your parents and have a good Shabbos.