Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 3

… And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel
…ולמעלה מזה מי שמכניס לה״אני״ שלו בני ביתו ומשפחתו, והאיש ההולך על פי דרכי התורה, ה״אני״ שלו כולל את כל עם ישראל, שבאמת כל איש ישראל הוא רק כאבר מגוף האומה הישראלית.

We saw last time the first two gradations of soul:
Level 0: The person who thinks their “ani” is only their body.
Level 1: The person who thinks of themselves as body plus soul.

Going beyond this, we get to level 2, at which the gradations become a spectrum rather than discrete (and so I switched to floating-point numbering):

Level 2.0: The person who connects to another, and thus their “ani” extends beyond their individuality.

Typically this first person is through marriage: “עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ, וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד –Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Bereishis 2:25) The unity with a spouse.

Then one can find unity with his children (G-d willing they are granted any) or other family. It is easy to stand up to defend one’s children, to see the nuclear family as “me and mine”. The soul reaches progressively higher levels of refinement as he broadens that definition. Once a person reaches the level of connecting to another, it becomes a gradual process of including more and more.

This is the synthesis I promised a couple of installments back.

The first two sections that I divided the introduction into focused on how: G-d created us to have someone to whom to be Good, imitating Hashem means therefore being good to others and being in His Image means refining oneself to be more able to do so in the future, and that “qedushah” (holiness) is the extent to which one is committed to that goal. (With the side effect of requiring drawing away from other goals.)

From proving that this separation must be a side-effect of a person’s qedushah rather than qedushah itself (since it cannot characterize Hashem’s holiness), Rav Shimon moves on to a discusion of the need to have self-interest as part of one’s service of G-d.

With this notion of extending one’s “ani“, we see how a focus on providing Hashem’s Good to others and self-interest do not contradict “as two warring co-wives.” Rather, it is one’s vested interest in the extended self — the ever-widening circle of those you touch and who touch you — that becomes the very motivation for giving.


Notice where the soul is placed in this progression. Connecting to one’s spirituality is lower in ranking than aiding others. First is the person who connected to G-d. Then comes the person who uses that connection to bestow His Good upon them.

The Meshekh Chokhmah (pg 403, top of 2nd col) discusses the priority of Torah learning in relation to the other mitzvos in these terms. The Y-mi Berakhos says that one interrupts learning to build a sukkah or set up a lulav. Rashi (Mes’ Sukkah) says that someone who is going somewhere to teach is exempt from sukkah and lulav. Don’t these two conflict? Learning itself is outranked by the preparation for these two mitzvos, but merely preparation to teach Torah outranks the mitzvos themselves?!

The Meshekh Chokhmah gives what he calls a “taam mufla” (an amazing reason). Learning just to learn is something he could have done before being born. The value in learning is when someone learns al menas la’asos (in order to do).

This is the essence of Moshe’s answer to the angels at Har Sinai. The angels complained to G-d how He could give the Torah to mere flesh and blood rather than them. Moshe answers, “It says ‘kabeid es avikha‘ (honor your father [and mother]), do you have parents?”

The ability to do a mitzvah, even the preparation for a mitzvah, is the whole justification of being born and placing that intellect that can hold Torah into a body that can act.

However, that’s not true for teaching. Therefore, the preparation to teach Torah, traveling to the class outranks mitzvos even as the mere preparation steps for those very same mitzvos outrank learning.

The contrast to Nefesh haChaim (cheleq IV) and its formulation of the ideal of Torah lishmah (studying Torah for its own sake) appears to me to be drastic. There, R’ Chaim Volozhiner portrays the ideal as absorbing and internalizing Hashem’s Wisdom, and thus Torah study is the ultimate mitzvah. The Meshekh Chokhmah’s idea is more along the same lines as Shaarei Yosher — giving Hashem’s Good (including Torah) to others is the highest priority, and the purpose for which we learn and do mitzvos between man and the Omnipresent.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 2

The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. …
האיש הגס והשפל כל ״אני׳׳ שלו מצומצם רק בחמרו וגופו, למעלה ממנו מי שמרגיש ש״אני״ שלו הוא מורכב מגוף ונפש, …

How do people differ qualitatively? By the breadth of their notion of “ani” (“I”). Rav Shimon might mean “ani” as a reference to the same etymology from which Freud took his term “Ego”, I don’t know.

In his ranking of gradations of soul, we just saw Rav Shimon’s first two levels:

Level 0: The person who thinks r”l that they are only a body. They are totally unaware of their spiritual side, and in fact, just think they are clever animals.  The driving force in their lives are creature comforts: food sex, comfortable clothing, rest, etc…

Level 1: The person who is aware of their own soul. This person addresses both bodily needs and spiritual ones. But, their attention to spirituality is all for the self.


There is a machloqes, a dispute among the rabbis, as to how to view man. One side, found often among books of Mussar, views a person as a soul who inhabits a body (Ramchal, Derekh Hashem), or perhaps controls it as a rider upon a donkey (Rav Scherr’s introduction to the reprinting of Cheshbon haNefesh). This then becomes a key symbol in the Gra’s interpretation system — when one finds a chamor / donkey in a narrative, it is generally a symbol for chomer / physicality. Avraham at the Aqeidah or the mashiach come in riding on a donkey as a way to hint to us their mastery over their own physicality.

The other stream of thought includes the body in the definition of person. Man as a fusion of body and soul. Such as when the gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) compares a sinner to a blind man and a lame man who conspire together to steal fruit. Each claims innocence, so the judge puts one atop the other and judges them as a unit. So too, the gemara explains, in order to be judged for our sins, Hashem will bodily resurrect the sinner to reconstruct the person as they were then.

Rav Shimon’s topic is slightly different. The “ani” of a person is a matter of self-definition, not whether that self-definition refers to one entity (just the person), or many (the person’s “me and mine”). As we will see later, the above dispute might be more in terms of what the introduction idenfies with “atzmi“, not “ani“.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 1

Although at first glance it seems that feelings of love for oneself and feelings of love for others are like competing co-wives one to the other, we have the duty to try to delve into it, to find the means to unite them, since Hashem expects both from us. This means [a person must] explain and accept the truth of the quality of his “I”, for with it the statures of [different] people are differentiated, each according to their level.
והנה אם בהשקפה ראשונה רגשי אהבת עצמו ורגשי אהבת זולתו, הם כצרות זו לזו, אבל עלינו להשתדל להעמיק בזה למצוא הסגולה המאחדת אותם אחרי כי שניהם דורש ה׳ מאתנו, וסגולה זו היא שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם איכותו של ה״אני״ שלו, כי בזה יומדד מעלת כל האדם לפי מדרגתו,

(The term used for co-wives, for two wives in a polygamous marriage arrangement, is “tzaros” — literally, “troubles”.) Rav Shimon is aware that the introduction until this point presents a dialectic. We might have thought the two poles were unresolvable, “like competing co-wives”), but Rav Shimon’s path in avodas Hashem is based on their synthesis.

Thesis:

For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “and you shall walk in His Ways” (Devarim 28:9)
שכל מה שברא ויצר היה רצונו יתברך רק להיטיב עם הנבראים, כן רצונו ית׳ שנהלך בדרכיו כאמור “והלכת בדרכיו”,

Antithesis:

There are also grounds for asserting that in the very foundation of the creation of Adam, the Creator planted in him a very great measure of propensity to love himself.
ועוד יש מקום שביסוד בריאת אדם נטע הבורא ית׳ בו תשוקת אהבת עצמו במדה גדולה מאד,

We will see how Rav Shimon resolves the tension between these two thoughts in future installments. However, we already had two hints in Rav Shimon’s discussion of the value of self-interest.

First:

As Rabbi Aqiva taught us, “your life comes first.” [Our sages] left us a hint of it when they interpret the scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself” in a negative sense, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your peers.” In terms of obligation, it is fitting for a person to place his own good first.
שהרי הורה לנו ר׳ עקיבא “חייך קודמים”, וגם רמזו לנו לפרש את המקרא, “ואהבת לרעך כמוך” בדרך שלילי “מאי דעלך סני, לחברך לא תעביד”, אבל בדרך חיובי ראוי לאדם להקדים את טובת עצמו,

The verse “ואהבת לרעך כמוך — and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” still places one’s actual self first.

Second, from the installment just before this one:

In this way one can explain that which is said, “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” [Shabbos Morning Amidah] There is no joy in receiving a bit of wisdom unless he is a reliable servant who possesses nothing, that it is all his Master and Lord’s.
ועל דרך זה יש לבאר האמור “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו”, היינו שאין לשמוח במתנת חלק החכמה, רק אם הוא עבד נאמן שחושב שהכל אינו שלו ורק לרבו ואדונו,

The key to joy is to see oneself as a servant of G-d, i.e. to commit oneself to giving His Good to others.

Combining these two ideas, Rav Shimon now adds the idea that the quality of a person’s “I”, differentiates the statures of different people. The servant of Hashem is thus someone with a different quality of “I” than the rest of us, and this informs his loving someone else like himself (his “I”).

In the next installment, we will see more specifically how these qualities differ.

Ten Reasons to Attend Kallah IX

Reasons to Attend
Mussar Institute Kallah IX

Where:
The Mussar Kallah will take place at beautiful and serene
Illinois Beach Resort,
located in Zion, Illinois,
amid 4,100 acres
of a protected state park,
right on the shore of Lake Michigan.The Illinois Beach Resort
One Lake Front Drive
Zion, IL 60099
Driving Directions
When:
Friday November 11, 2011 at 4:00 PM CST
-to-
Monday November 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM CST
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I can’t make it

The Kallah’s registration fee is $450 which includes all sessions and meals.

We look forward to seeing you in November.
Shalom,
Michael Burnham
The Mussar Institute
[email protected]
778-300-6174

Dear Friend,

Ten reasons to attend The Mussar Institute’s Kallah IX:

1. Dr. Alan Morinis returns to the Kallah – need we say more? He will lead sessions on Hitbonenut: Mussar Meditation; Hitpa’alut: Mussar chanting to open the heart to the Other and more

2. Rabbi Yaacov Haber is our scholar in residence – we just said a whole lot more. He will lead sessions on Nosei b’ol im Chaveiro: middah and practice; Avodah: Serving the Other as Spiritual Practice and more

3. Rabbi Micha Berger discusses Holiness, Self and Other and leads a session on the middah rachamim (compassion)

4. Shirah Bell on chesed (loving-kindness)

5. Rabbi David Jaffe on savlanut (patience)

6. Rebbetzin Rivy Kletenik, R. Yaacov Haber and R. David Jaffe offer tales of lamed-vavniks, tzaddikim and others who show us how to help others bear their burden

7. R. Yaacov Haber, Shirah Bell, Dr. Alan Morinis and Rn. Rivy Kletenik discuss practices for Soft-hearted living

8. One night enjoy a Mussar Talent show; the next night a Mussar tish

9. Catch up with old friends and make new friends

10. Twice daily group meditation, morning stretches with a Mussar twist, chanting, guided walk in the forest, walks along Lake Michigan, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, and more.

Why wait until 2012 to expand your mind and nourish your soul? Register today.

Like a Strand of Hair

The beraisa repeats a story of Rabbi Lazar bei R’ Tzadoq and Abba Sha’ul ben Batnis, who were storekeepers in Jerusalem. They would fill their measure[d jars of oil] on erev Yom Tov and give them to buyer on Yom Tov [letting every last drop of sold oil drip into the buyer's container overnight].R’ Chaninah ben Aqaviah said: even on chol hamo’ed they did this, so that the measures should be accurate[, since measuring things is prohibited on yom tov]. He also fined [himself] 300 jars and his friend fined [himself] 300 jars[, and donated them as repayment for any underage in any of the sales they made]. The sages said to them: you didn’t have to do this, but since you did and were stringent on yourselves, use them for the public good.
תני מעשה בי ר’ לעזר בי ר’ צדוק ואבא שאול בן בטנית שהיו חנוונים בירושלים והיו ממלין מידותיהן מעי”ט ונותנין אותן ללקוחות בי”ט
ר’ חנינה בן עקביה אומר אף בחולו של מועד היו עושין כן מפני מיצוי המידות. אף הוא כנס שלש מאות חביות וחבירו כינס שלש מאות חביות אמרו להן חכמים לא הייתם צריכין לעשות כן אלא הואיל והחמרתם על עצמכם יעשה בהן צורכי ציבור
– Yerushalmi Beitza 3:8 (vilna 16a)

ֵJust pausing here to take in these two early tannaim‘s notion of a proper chumerah. (They were one generation after Hillel and Shammai, and one or two before the end of the Second Temple.) As oil salesman, R’ Eliezer bar Tzadoq and Abba Sha’ul ben Batnis lived in perpetual worry that the slow pace of oil’s viscosity would mean that they stole from their customers. On the level of halakhah, since the norm was to forgive a drop or two that didn’t make it into the buyer’s vessel, this isn’t real theft.

Still, as Rava states (Shabbos 31a) centuries later, the first question one is asked after death is, “נשאת ונתת באמונה — Did you buy and sell with integrity?” And that is where these two tannaim thought it was important to be stringent.

One time [R' Elazar ben R' Tzadoq] got ill [in his right hand] and our sages went to visit him.He said to them: Look see what happened to this right [hand] which measured with such honesty.Rabbi Chanina said: Whomever said that the All-Merciful is one to let things slide, his intestines will slide. Rather, He is patient and collects His own. Rabbi Acha said: It is written “… it is very stormy [נִשְׂעֲרָה] around Him.” He is exacting with them [those around Him, i.e. the righteous], like the strand of a hair [כחוט שערה]. Rabbi Yosi bei Rabbi Bun said:  That is not the source. Rather [it's], “… and He is awe/fear-inspiring to all those around him.” His awe/fear on those close [to Him] is greater than on those who are far.
פעם אחת חלה ונכנסו רבותינו לבקרו אמר לון אתון חמון הדא ימינא דהוות מכילה בקושטא
א”ר חנינה מאן דאמר דרחמנא וותרן יתוותרון בני מעוי אלא מאריך רוחיה וגבי דידיה
אמר ר’ אחא כתיב (תהילים נ)  “וּסְבִיבָיו נִשְׂעֲרָה מְאֹד” מדקדק עמהן כחוט שערה
אמר רבי יוסה בי ר’ בון לא מטעם הזה אלא (תהילים פט) “וְנוֹרָא עַל כָּל סְבִיבָיו” מוראו על הקרובים יותר מן הרחוקים:
– ibid.

Contemporary Anglo Jewry has produced a large library of books on Torah-based Self-Help. A primary pitfall to watch out for with such literature is that self-help, while of value, doesn’t have exactly the same goal as does Torah. The Torah’s goal isn’t a happy life, but a meaningful and productive one. There is no promise that this will lead to happiness in this world. And even happiness in the world-to-come, where there is such a promise, is not supposed to be our goal in this life; that would defy the word of Antignos ish Sokho (Avos 1:3), “אל תהיו כעבדים המשמשים את הרב על מנת לקבל פרס ־־ Do not be like a servant who serves his master for the sake of receiving reward.” From my notes of a talk by R’ Ephraim Becker’s lecture at the Mussar Kallah in Houston (2-May-04):

Self-help addresses (1) loss of productivity; and (2) personal pain. In Torah (including Mussar) we’d call these yisurim (trevails). But Mussar wouldn’t want you to attack yisurim. Yisurim are triggers, part of the solution. They aren’t the things that need changing, they are causes to get up and change something. Mussar adds to self-help the notion of duty. One doesn’t try to eliminate yisurim, but their causes — which reside in flaws in our ability to carry out our mission.

(I already wrote on this topic in an entry titled “Psychology and Mussar“, see there for further elaboration.)

Similarly, there is an entire genre of stories that would have the reader convinced that given enough commitment to Torah and mitzvos, one would live a life where (to give one example) the only airplanes one would miss were ones that were going to crash; where one mitzvah saved someone from being the victim of the World Trade Center collapse; etc…

The confusion is a basically functional view of religion. Rabbi JB Soloveitchik commented on the billboards put up by a Christian group that promised “A family that prays together, stays together”. This may be true, but it reduces prayer from a value in-and-of itself into a means for another cause. No matter how noble the goal of family harmony is, the campaign misses and encourages the reader to miss the entire purpose and value of prayer.

Or a more Jewish example… A catastrophe hits one of us, and Jews from around the world pray for a positive outcome. What if the outcome doesn’t happen: If the brutes in Mumbai actually succeed in murdering a young couple? If we learn that the kidnapped child was the victim of a brutal killing? I heard in the name of more than one rabbi that the prayers were not for naught because Hashem saved them up in His warehouse, and someday, some other couple or child will be saved.

One doesn’t pray in order to keep the family together, or even in order to get the things one prays for. The value of prayer is in turning to Hashem for one’s needs, regardless of whether He chooses to respond as we desire.

What Chazal actually tell us, is that “שכר מצווה בהאי עלמא ליכא ־־ reward for mitzvos is lacking in this world.” (Chullin 142a)

Our gemara demonstrates this. The most righteous people are the ones whom Hashem judges most harshly in this world. In our case, Rav Elazar ben Rav Tzadoq is described as being in the very hand that he used to be meticulous his business ethics because of that very mitzvah!

Why? How is that just?

אמר רבה בר רב הונא אמר רב הונא ואמרי לה אמר רב הונא א”ר אלעזר מן התורה ומן הנביאים ומן הכתובים בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו

מן התורה דכתיב (במדבר כב):  לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם, וכתיב: קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם

מן הנביאים דכתיב (ישעיהו מח): אני ה’ אלהיך מלמדך להועיל מדריכך בדרך <זו> תלך

מן הכתובים דכתיב (משלי ג): אם ללצים הוא יליץ ולענוים יתן חן

Rabbah bar Rav Hunah said that [his father] R’ Huna said, and others say it was Rav Hunah [himself] who said that Rabbi Elazar said:

From the Torah, from the Nevi’im, and from Kesuvim [one learns]: In a way that a person desires to go, that is where they lead him.

Someone who chooses to walk the path of meticulous business ethics is taken by G-d further in that direction. Hashem prods R’ Eliezer b”R Tzadoq to be even more careful, to see what other things he can do to be even more fiscally honest. Hashem judges the righteous on even a hairbreadth because the righteous person’s path only has a small hairbreadth left to go.

Similarly, we recently had a discussion on Avodah in which someone asked:

malachim [angels] making mistakes???

people think that maybe their marriages don’t work out because the malach [angel] who either named them, or set up their zivug [marriage pairing] (didn’t hear correctly)

how is this possible?

In a reply, I suggested that these people were erring because of a faulty assumption:

The assumption that one’s bashert is their path to happiness is self-help, not Torah. Perhaps it’s bashert that one’s spouse is supposed to be a source of triggers for change?

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – Conclusion

In the previous installment, Rav Shimon wrote, “שאם יאמינו שכל חכמתם וקנינם לא להם הוא, הרי אז אבדו כל עשרם, ורק על ידי הכפירה יתעשרו — If they believe that all their wisdom and all they acquired were not theirs, they would lose all their wealth. Only through heretical denial can they make themselves rich.”

It would seem Rav Shimon is basing his language on Ben Zoma’s famous statement in Avos 4:1:

… איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר “יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ.” (תהילים קכח,ב)

… Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

Since people want to feel like self-made men, someone who can’t claim credit for their accomplishments are poor. This connection isn’t first made in Shaarei Yosher, it is inherent in Ben Zoma’s choice of proof text — “when you eat the labor of your hands.”

Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu“? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood granted us on Pesach, and the Torah given on Shavu’os. But the mun is gone, the cloud of glory that protected us have dissipated, Hashem’s guiding pillar no longer shows us the way — nothing we commemorate on Sukkos is still in our hands. Yes, we can still get food, shelter and guidance from the natural means He gave us — but the same was true before the desert! Chag haAsif, Sukkos in its role as the holiday of gratitude, is also “Zeman Simchaseinu — our period of [greatest] joy” because only through being grateful can we handle being recipients with simchah.

In this way one can explain that which is said, “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” [Shabbos Morning Amidah] There is no joy in receiving a bit of wisdom unless he is a reliable servant who possesses nothing, that it is all his Master and Lord’s. Only then there is complete joy in acquiring wisdom. Without this [attitude] it is possible that there is no happiness in acquiring wisdom, for it through it he is capable of reaching heresy.
ועל דרך זה יש לבאר האמור “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו”, היינו שאין לשמוח במתנת חלק החכמה, רק אם הוא עבד נאמן שחושב שהכל אינו שלו ורק לרבו ואדונו, אז שמחה שלמה בקנין החכמה, ולולא זאת אפשר שאין שמחה בקנין החכמה שעל ידי זה ח״ו יוכל להגיע לידי כפירה ח״ו,

We say in the Shabbos morning Amidah, “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו” which I translated here as “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” There are two interesting elements with the grammar of this line.

First, the use of the word “ישמח”, which for simplicity I rendered “will be joyous”. But did Moshe’s joy not begin yet? I think the point is more the Biblical Hebrew use of this conjugation: imperfective aspect rather than future tense. If this is correct, then a more accurate translation would be “Moshe is continuously happy….” (I just didn’t want to enshrine my theory in the translation.)

Second, Ben Zoma speaks of happiness “בחלקו — with his lot”, but the siddur talks of Moshe’s happiness “במתנת חלקו — with the giving of his portion.” This speaks directly to our topic of Self-Interest and the consequent need to claim credit for our accomplishments. Moshe could be happy with his portion without this second level, being happy with the fact that it was given, and not emphasizing his own role in the reception of what Hashem was even willing to call “Toras Moshe avdi — the Torah of Moses My servant”.

How do we avoid the slippery slope from the need to attend to one’s self and take pride in what one creates to the ills of egotism and haughtiness? By fully accepting one’s role as Hashem’s servant. “Because You called him a reliable servant.”

The only way to be content or happy is to priorize one’s life in a way that He can call you “a reliable servant”. As Rav Shimon put it, “שיהיה אדיר חפצנו, להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול — … so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were).” If I have a job to do, I care less about where things come from than what I can accomplish with what I have. By making one’s life about giving to others, one doesn’t focus on receiving. Rather than egotism, one realizes that one is a critical part of a bigger whole.

And that brings us to Rav Shimon’s next topic…

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – part 5

One can also feel this way with respect to acquiring a greater thing [than a qav of merchandise], which is wisdom. To elaborate: If a person does not try to the full measure of his ability to acquire Torah, to grasp the wisdom of awe-fear and pure faith, then there is a possibility to stumble through the strength of the middah of self-love. The same way this middah causes evil to all who study external knowledge. If it weren’t possible to see more of Hashem’s actions through the broadening of knowledge, as it says, “the heavens tell of the glory of G-d [, and the work of his Hands is described by the sky.” (Psalms 19:2)], they would fall and descend downward. If they believe that all their wisdom and all they acquired were not theirs, they would lose all their wealth. Only through heretical denial can they make themselves rich. Then, all that makes them great is theirs, and can make them haughty of what they accomplished.
וכן אפשר להרגיש ענין זה גם בקנין העושר היותר גדול שהוא קנין החכמה, למדגיש בה, שאם לא ישתדל האדם לפי ערך מעלתו בקנין תורה להשיג חכמת היראה והאמונה הטהורה, אז יש מקום להכשל על ידי התגברות מדת אהבת עצמו, וכמו שמדה זו גורמת לרעה על כל העוסקים בחכמות חיצוניות, שלעומת שהיה ראוי שיתוסף מראה על ידי התרחבות ידיעתם במעשה ה׳, וכאמור השמים מספרים כבוד ה׳, הנה הם נופלים ויורדים למטה, שאם יאמינו שכל חכמתם וקנינם לא להם הוא, הרי אז אבדו כל עשרם, ורק על ידי הכפירה יתעשרו, כי כל מה שיתרונם בהם הכל להם הוא, ואז יש להם להתגאות בקנינם,

What we said about productivity and creativity is also true of learning — both academic and Torah knowledge. People take special pride in what they know, as knowledge is an internal acquisition, it becomes part of me.

However, Rav Shimon points out to us that knowledge comes with a unique tool to help avoid this pitfall, aside from the general approach we will see next (at the conclusion of this discussion of self-interest). There is an approach to wisdom that negates the usual tendency toward claiming credit, avoiding recognizing Hashem’s assistance in our endeavors, and potential heresy. All knowledge is awareness of what Hashem made — whether it is seeing Divine Wisdom in creation, or seeing His Glory in His Torah. One can thus pursue knowledge, including secular knowledge, as a way to encounter G-d.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – part 4

In my opinion, this is true despite all the evil and sin that the world is full of because of this middah of self-love. Added to the challenge of wealth, this middah will cause him to stumble until the depths, as it is written, “Lest I grow full and deny[, and say, 'Who is Hashem?'” (Proverbs 30:9)] Because of the greatness of a person’s attachment to his own qav, if Hashem graced him with wealth, and he believes with complete true faith that everything is the Holy One’s, he is in truth poor. What he has isn’t his. However, if he denies G-d, then it is all his and he is in his own mind truly wealthy. Therefore, to satisfy his desire to enjoy his wealth, he will habituate himself to deny G-d, and then his error is complete.
ולדעתי, הנה מלבד כל הרעות והחטאים שהעולם מלא מהם לרגלי מדה זו של אהבת עצמו, הנה גס לנסיון העושר תצטרף מדה זו להכשילו עד התהום כמה שכתב “פן אשבע וכחשתי”, שלרגלי גודל תשוקת האדם בקב שלו, הנה אם חננו ה׳ בעושר ויהיה מאמין באמונת האמת שהכל של הקב״ה הרי הוא עני באמת, ומה שיש לו אינו שלו, אבל אם יכפור בה׳ אז הכל שלו והוא עשיר ממש לפי דעתו, ועל כן למלא תשוקתו לזכות בעשרו, הוא מתרגל לכפור בה׳ ואז ממלא תאותו בשלמות,

Rav Shim’on Shkop holds that self-interest is a central part of Hashem’s plan for man, and so essential that its value outweighs the obvious problems it enables. Before continuing this line of reasoning, Rav Shim’on pauses to reinforce our awareness of those dangers.

Inherent in Hashem making a world in which we can be creative beings in His “Image” is that that world operate with some measure of predictability. Our plans may be thwarted by the unexpected, but the universe must run consistently enough so that we can even engage in making plans to begin with.

Our need to be people requires shoving things not under our control to the mental background, and to focus on what we can improve about the situation we find ourselves in, things we actually have the power to change. In order to be motivated to produce, we need to take pride in that which we produced. To create, we need to love ourselves and what we create.

But pride of accomplishment naturally leads to kafui tovah, ingratitude. That maximizes my sense of accomplishment and thus my pride. A person who is happier with one measure he made himself than with what he received is likely to focus all attention to his own contribution to the result and train himself to ignore what Hashem contributed. And that way leads to apostasy — “and then his error is complete”.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – part 3

There are also grounds for asserting that in the very foundation of the creation of Adam, the Creator planted in him a very great measure of propensity to love himself. The sages of truth [i.e. Qabbalists] describe the purpose of all the work in this language, “The Infinite wanted to bestow complete good, that there wouldn’t even be the embarrassment of receiving.” ([Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato,] “QeLa”Ch [i.e. 138] Pischei Chokhmah“, ch. 4)
ועוד יש מקום שביסוד בריאת אדם נטע הבורא ית׳ בו תשוקת אהבת עצמו במדה גדולה מאד, שהרי אמרו חכמי האמת במטרת כל העבודה בזה הלשון: “רצה האין סוף ב״ה להיות מטיב הטבה שלמה שלא יהיה אפילו בושת למקבלים”, עד כאן לשון קל״ח פתחי חכמה פרק ד׳,

As we saw earlier, this is the essential paradox of the human condition. Hashem created us — there are two parties involved. Creation couldn’t have been to address His needs, as Hashem’s perfection rules out the possibility of His having any. Thus, creation must be to address ours. In the Ramchal’s idiom, “It is the nature of good to have someone on whom to bestow that good.” We exist to be the recipients of Hashem’s Good, and yet much in life is pain, misery, unhappiness and many things in which that Good really can’t be seen.

Here Rav Shim’on touches on the reason for this. The greatest good is to be a nosei, a carrier, a subject, rather than a nisa, a carried, an object. That is the “image” of the Divine that Hashem shares with us. And with that naturally must come the desire to be self-made rather than indebted to others. Hashem thus created us with a love of ourselves, of that which we made for ourselves, more than that which receive from Him (whether directly or through the aegis of others).

And this means that for man to be happiest and gain the most good, paradoxically not all of it can simply be handed to us. Much of the good in our lives is only given to us by the availability of pieces that we can then make that good ourselves. If we choose to.

This notion reveals how far the power of loving oneself goes, that “a person is more content with one qav [a unit of measure] of his own making than [he would be of] two qavin that are given to him” – even if from the Hand of the Holy One! – if the present is unearned. From here it should be self-evident that love of oneself is desired by the Holy One, even though “the wise shall walk because of it and the foolish will stumble over it.
וענין זה מבהיל שעד היכן מגיע כח אהבת עצמו שרוצה אדם בקב שלו יותר מקבין שינתן לו אף מיד הקב״ה אם יהיה מתנת חנם, מזה מובן שמדת אהבת עצמו היא רצויה בעיני הקב״ה רק “צדיקים ילכו בה ופושעים יכשלו בה.”

This need to be a creative, active, nosei, is so central to Hashem’s plan for man that He fosters and desires our self-interest. We have some idea of its value in that the Creator felt it was a positive thing to include in the human condition even though it carries the cost of enabling huge problems such as gaavah (egotism) and other sins. Or, to state it in the reverse: the fact that Hashem believes it is worth the potential cost, being so large and so obvious, shows the importance of self-interest.

In summation: Self-interest is a consequence of being in the image of the Divine, and thus motivated to be creative and giving, rather than passively receiving. It is thus a positive thing, something to be utilized rather than suppressed.