Rabbi Akiva teaches that one of the fundamental concepts in Judaism is found in this week’s Torah portion. “Love your friend as you love yourself” (Kedoshim 19:18).
This verse is so well known it has become somewhat of a cliche, and often does not receive the depth of thought and contemplation it requires. When you take a moment to reflect deeply on its words, you may come to realize it is a tall order. You see, being encouraged to love others as much as you love yourself is certainly hard, but it becomes a significant problem when you don’t actually love yourself to begin with.
I teach teenage girls for a living. It is not merely my profession; it is my passion. One thing that has been proven throughout my years as an educator is self-confidence is integral for students to achieve success. This is not just true in the classroom. Data has shown one of the key factors that determines future success in one’s life is self-confidence.
The more confidence you have in yourself and your abilities, the more you are willing to take risks, to seek out and take advantage of opportunities, and to live life in a state of empowerment. Someone who lacks self-confidence finds fear and insecurities hold them back, assumes failure before even engaging and lives life struggling to feel motivated or accomplished.
So how does one work on improving self-confidence and self-love in themselves and others?
It all boils down to perfection. Perfection is a serious problem.
What could be wrong with perfection? By definition, it’s perfect. The danger lies in our misguided belief we can and should be perfect. If my expectation of myself is to never fail, never fall short, to be completely self-sufficient without ever needing help or support, I am certainly going to struggle with my self-confidence. Unattainable goals are assured failures.
The same expectation of perfection that destroys our own self-esteem is very often to blame for interpersonal conflict as well. We are wronged, hurt, overlooked, offended. How could I possibly love someone who made such an egregious error? Perhaps because like me, they too are not perfect.
The core tenet of “loving your friend as you love yourself” concludes curiously with the words, “for I am G-d.” Perhaps those words serve to remind us that, as G-d, He alone is perfect. Acknowledging our own humanity and fallibility leaves room for acceptance and forgiveness of ourselves, and those in our lives.
Rochie Berkowitz is principal of Chaviva High School in Cleveland Heights.