THE ART OF BEING HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Honesty is a huge part of self- improvement. To be honest with yourself means to examine your personal narrative. Subconsciously, people tell themselves stories about themselves. Some stories are true, and some are not. Our stories came from different places, from things our parents, our teachers, our siblings, our friends told us. Stories form in our minds from what our spouses say and from how we compare ourselves to others. Stories form in our minds from what our ego tells us we should be, do or have.
Self-improvement begins when you step back from yourself, and stop the running story of your version of life that is going through your head, your personal narrative. Only then can you ask yourself the four questions. Is my story true? Is there anything truer? What do I gain by keeping my story? Where would I be in life without my story?
Being honest with yourself, is the trademark of the Jew, of the Yehudi. On Yaakov’s last day, he made it clear to his sons through the way he rebuked them and blessed them, that Yehuda was the only son worthy of having Kingship stay in his family. לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר שֵׁ֙בֶט֙ מִֽיהוּדָ֔הThe staff (of royalty) should not be moved away from Yehuda )Bereshit 49.) Why did Yehuda deserve to have Kingship stay in his family, more than in the families of Reuven, Shimon, Levy and Yosef? The Onkelos explains the words, יהודה את אודיתא ולא בהיתתא Yehuda, you admitted (your blunder with Tamar) and you were not embarrassed. Rashi comments on the words מִטֶּ֖רֶף בְּנִ֣י עָלִ֑יתָYou rose from killing, my son. Yehuda’s ability to admit is what made Yehuda’s gene the only one worthy of royalty.
The royal, priestly, Hashmonai-Maccabee dynasty needed to go extinct, because they were descendants of Levi, and royalty is reserved to Yehuda’s descendants, alone. Why is it so important that royalty remain by Yehuda? It seems that being honest with yourself is the heavyweight trait that deserves royalty, as Kind David admitted immediately that he sinned with Bat Sheva. If you don’t have this gene, if honesty is not your second nature, you can’t be royalty.
But why did the Hashmonai dynasty need to go extinct? Why is being honest with yourself the most important condition for royalty? Why not the ability to learn Torah with uninterrupted study (Yissachar), or the ability to manage big businesses (Zevulun), or the ability to judge alone (Dan)?
And, another question. The Torah commands שׂ֣וֹם תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ You shall place a king over you (Devarim 17,15). Isn’t Hashem our King? Aren’t we supposed to listen to our prophets and rabbis, who tell us the word of G-d? Why did Yaakov even think to bless Yehuda with royalty?
The answer is that the job of the Jewish King is to be a human representative of G-d’s Kingship. Although the king is powerful, he has someone who he has to answer up to: G-d. This is so deep. The story on the outside, is that the Jewish King is king, but the story on the inside, behind closed doors, the ideal Jewish King knows that he has his own King to answer up to, the King of all kings. The ideal Jewish king knows that he is nothing without the King of Kings. As King David said כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמידךָ נָתַנּוּ לָךְ” Because everything is from You … (Divrei Hayamim 1, 29;14). To be a Jewish King, the deciding trait, the trait upon which kingship depends, is to be honest with yourself. To admit the truth, that above you is an Almighty G-d, and you are nothing without Him. The Hasmonaean royal family needed to go extinct, because they did not have this trait in their gene.
We are all called Yehudi, for we all have in us an aspect of Yehuda in our identity, of being able to be honest with ourselves and admit. The first thing we do as a Yehudi each morning is say Modeah Ani, we admit. The word Modeh has two meanings. To thank and to admit. How do we know which it is? If it says מודה ש, then it means “I admit that…” When it says מודה על , then it means “thanks for…”. When you get up in the morning, the first feeling you have, the message from your subconscious is, your personal narrative is, I am because I am. So, we need to admit that this core belief, this story, is so wrong. I admit, that I am, because You put a soul in me today. מודה אני לפניך … שהחזרת בי נשמתי. Every night, before you go to bed, you give your soul back to your Creator. בידך אפקיד רוחי. In Your Hands, I put my soul for safe-keeping. While I sleep, I am no more than a body without a soul. And when I awake, I admit that it is G-d Who put my Neshama back in me.
Ever wonder why it says, שהחזרת בי נשמתי I admit that you put back in me, my Neshama- and not שהחזרת לי נשמתי that you returned to me my Neshama? The answer is that before I wake up, my body is just a lifeless box. A box that G-d, in His Kindness, puts a soul in each morning. There is no me that G-d returns something to, without the Neshama. I, me, only exists because of the soul that G-d gave me, this morning. There is no greater admittance to the truth, there is nothing you could be more wrong about in your personal narrative, than the belief that you exist today, without G-d having given you back your Neshama, today. Today is the day that G-d gave you. This is a very different Modeh Ani, different from a Modeh Ani of thanks. All because of a didkuk rule, of מודה ש as opposed to מודה על.
Ever wonder why we bless G-d every day of our lives for the way He made us: שלא עשני גוי, שלא עשני עבד, שלא עשני אשה, שעשני כרצונו? That He did not make a gentile, that He did not make me a slave, that He did not make me a woman, that He made me as He willed? Wouldn’t it suffice to bless this blessing just once in a lifetime? The answer is, because each day, G-d recreated you, because He knows you have more to learn, and you still have a deeper truth in life left to discover.
According to Judaism, admitting the truth, saying I was wrong, is not only a royal trait. It brings you up to a more elevated level as a person. מטרף בני עלית. Admitting is the only way to becoming human and real. People are afraid to admit that they were wrong, out of fear that it might make them vulnerable or look dumb. Kingship is reserved for the bravest of all. There is nothing braver than admitting you were wrong. There is nothing smarter that you could ever do. One of the signs of a wise man is that “on what he doesn’t know, he says, I don’t know, and that he admits to his mistake.” (Avot, 5;7) Why is that such a fundamental part of being wise? The Mishna continues to say that if someone lacks these traits, they are a fool! Why is that so?
A wise man is wise, because he knows that there is still much more in life to learn, improve and achieve. There are deeper levels of truth we can achieve each day. If G-d put my soul back inside me today, it means that there is much more for me to achieve. The wise have this motto, instead of crying, I keep on trying. It is fine that I don’t know something, it is fine that I made a mistake, I can keep trying to improve my performance, my thinking, my knowledge… The wise man prefers to cut his losses and admit his mistakes, so that he can take advantage of the new day and renewed Neshama that Hashem has given him.
Here are the Selfie-Steps. The Self-help steps to realize what causes people to be dishonest with themselves.
- Ignorance is bliss. Not knowing the Halacha does not mean that you are keeping it. Not knowing how you make people feel, does not mean you are a nice person.
- Reality denial. Not accepting the way events have turned, does not mean that your world did not change. Not accepting that you have fallen spirtually, does not mean that you haven’t.
- Overconfidence. 90 percent of all drivers think they are above average drivers. Macho thinking. Unrealistic optimism.
- Self-handicapping. Underconfidence. Believing that you just can’t succeed in what you really can.
- Filtering information. People embrace information that supports their beliefs and stories, and reject information that contradict the beliefs they wish were true.