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Parashat Vayetze

A Jew once said to his Rebbe, “I want happiness”. The Rebbe said, First remove “I”, that’s Ego. And then remove “Want”, that’s Desire. See, now all your left with is Happiness!

Once, someone sent the Lubavitcher Rebbe a letter. “I have no parnassah. I have no shalom bayit. I have no motivation to learn, pray or do kindness. I can’t seem to find my life’s purpose. I would appreciate if the Rebbe would bless me and let me know what I am doing wrong.” When he opened the reply, he saw that the Rebbe had sent him back the same letter, but he circled the first letter – I – of every sentence, in red. The problem is that “I” is the beginning of every statement in your life.

Your worst enemy is your ego. How so? The ego is the drive behind perfectionism, and it demands instant success, like expecting that you understand the Gemara 100%, the first time around. It’s that voice that says that you’ll look silly or that people will think you’re strange, if you do something different or new. Ego makes you difficult to deal with in interpersonal relationships and in business. It makes you overconfident and highly sensitive. It makes you ignore your own flaws, while you focus on the flaws of others. Ego will hold you back from validating others and their opinions. In basketball, your ego tries to make you play like James or Jordan, instead of being realistic with yourself and your team. In Baseball, it makes you go for a homerun, a triple or a double, and not just to do your job and get on base. As a writer, your ego makes it hard for you to erase your darling scribbles, the fat of the content that needs to be trimmed. Ego is what holds you back from letting go of things that don’t work. In one sentence, Ego makes you take up too much space.

The secret of how to transcend your ego is hidden in this week’s Parasha, in a Hassidic twist on the passuk. וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה: וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ And Yaakov left Beer Sheva, and he went to Charan… Rashi mentions the Talmud that tells us that when Yaakov reached Charan, Yaakov said to himself, Could it be that I passed over a place where my fathers prayed, and I did not pray there? When he decided to return, the land jumped ahead, and suddenly וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם. He reached “the place”, the place of the Akedat Yitzhak, Har Hamoriah. HKBH said, This Tzaddik came to My Hotel, and he will leave without sleeping here? Immediately, G-d had the sun set. (Chullin 91b)

Yaakov dreamt of a ladder upon which the angels who represent Yaakov’s enemy rise for the amount of years that they will be in power, and then, how G-d brings them down. וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַעֲקֹב֘ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְקֹוָ֔ק בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and he said, behold YKVK is in this place, and I did not know it. Rashi explains these words of Yaakov.  Had I known, I would not have slept in this holy place.

Didn’t Yaakov come back from Charan to pray at the place of Akedat Yitzchak? How could he say “I would not have slept here, had I known how holy this place is?” And, another question. Why does it say, ואנכי לא ידעתי? And I, I did not know? The wordsלא ידעתי , alone, mean I did not know. What is the meaning of the seemingly superfluous word ואנכי? The superfluous “I”?

The Panim Yafot writes an angelic answer, an answer we can learn from the angels of Kedusha in Mussaf. When the angels ask the question אַיֵּה מְקוֹם כְּבוֹדוֹ , Where is the place of His Honor? or, Where is G-d, so that we can praise Him? The answer is, Where is He not?  ְמלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבוֹדֽוֹ. The whole world is full of His Honor. When you look for G-d, you will notice that there is no place that He is not. Only then, you begin to realize ְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי, that there is no place for אנכי, there is no space for ego.

The Midrash Rabba quotes R Yossi Bar Chalafta, that HKBH sits and makes ladders, lifts this one and lowers the other. (Vayikra Rabbah 8) G-d is busy all day, מַשְׁפִּיל גֵּאִים עֲדֵי אָרֶץ. ומַגְבִּיהַּ שְׁפָלִים עַד מָרום After Yaakov saw the ladder prophecy and realized the ladder philosophy of life, and how G-d raises up the humble and humbles the haughty, he realized that there is no place in the world for “I”, because everything is G-d.  When you realize how the whole world is בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹקים G-d’s House, then egocentricity vanishes like smoke. וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כֻּלָּהּ כֶּעָשָׁן תִּכְלֶה as if it had never been there to begin with.

What happens when we adopt this mindset? What happens when you realize that you have no idea on which “ladder” you are on, where you are on the ladder, and if G-d is going to flip your ladder at any moment? You stop being so defensive. You begin to realize how it’s not about you. You stop taking yourself too seriously. You become someone that everyone wants to work with. You begin to build real relationships.

Once you have reached the emotional plateau of אָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי, you are in total control of your emotions. Once you recognize ְמלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבוֹדֽוֹ, even when you have the right to get angry, you will be in control of how you respond. Our Rabbis tell us that one of the things that was so great about Yaakov was that even when he had the right to get angry, he was totally in control of what he said, felt and did. The first mindboggling incident was when Lavan led Leah to the chuppa instead of Rachel. Yaakov did not even get angry at Lavan! He just asked Lavan why he had tricked him!! He got angry at Lavan for suspecting that he took his idols and for running after him, but instead of getting into a fist fight with him, he only explained his position with logic and conciliation. (See Bereshit Rabbah 74) He got angry at Rachel for cursing herself and for talking in a way as if Yaakov was G-d, and as if he could provide her with children. He got angry at his 13-year-old sons Shimon and Levi for shrewdly killing out the city of Shechem, and putting Yaakov and the rest of the family in danger, but held on to his rebuke until his last day. And he kept his rebuke of Reuven until his last day. One of the hardest moments of Yaakov’s life was holding back his anger at Yosef for carrying out his plan to have Yaakov come to Egypt to bow down to him, so that Yosef can fulfill his prophetic dream. The only way that Yaakov was able to hold on to this anger was by saying Kriat Shema. (See He’Emek Davar) That was how he was able to overcome his אנכי.

Fighting your ego is so confusing; it is like trying to think about nothing. The harder you try, the further you get from your goal. Even a desire to be spiritual can be self-centered. Even if you are fighting your ego, it’s still all about you. As long as you are taking yourself too seriously, you are feeding and playing into your ego’s hands. The only way for us to balance the ego is through stepping up to a higher plateau via prayer and understanding what we are saying. Through prayer, you realize that the whole world is G-d. And through prayer you realize that there is no room for אָנֹכִ֖י, for ego, to exist.



Here are the Selfie Steps- the Torah based Self Help steps that will help you control your ego.

  • Be grateful for the little things you have, and compliment others for the little things they do.
  • Acknowledge and accept all your mistakes.
  • See the big picture. We’re all on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose.
  • Stop bragging! According to Einstein, “More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.”
  • Look at ego as if it is a voice inside of you, but not you.

About the author, Yosef

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