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.