Ego Loss - Lost Ego
By N. Shuldig
How to deal with your ego? Some people try yoga or meditation, but we Jews have our own brand of ego lost techniques. One of the most famous is related in a Chassidic story:
One time a man came to visit a famous Chassidic rabbi who was famed for his ability to give help to all who came to visit him.
"Rabbi," the man complained, "I have tremendous problems due to my ego and I can't seem to control it. I always think that I am so smart, and that no one knows better than me. Can you help me deal with this?"
The elder Rabbi gently stroked his long white beard and pondered his question. "I think I may be able to help you," he replied, "but I want to request from you that you sit here and wait until I have seen some of the people who have come to speak with me. After I have seen these people, then I am certain that I can help you."
The man consented to wait, even though, it was basically unheard of that a Rabbi should have another person in the room when some one comes to seek the Rabbi's aid. He took a seat next to the Rabbi and the next person in line entered the room and began to speak with the Rabbi.
This person spoke at length, describing a difficult Halachic question (a question regarding Jewish law). The Rabbi listened at length taking in all of the various aspects of the question, and the man who came to work on his ego, sat there also, listening as the person speaking explained in great deal the difficulty he was having in understanding what was the proper mode of behavior in the situation in which he described.
As the man finished speaking, the Rabbi turned towards the man seeking help in controlling his ego, and asked him what he thought would be the correct answer in such a case. The man, noticeably embarrassed, shrugged his shoulders and meekly explained that he really did not have a deep understanding of Jewish law to be able to really understand the problem much less render a Halachic opinion. To which the Rabbi merely raised his eyebrows as if in surprise and returned his attention towards the man who asked him the Halachic opinion and proceeded to answer him, slowly explaining the various rulings and points of logic that made up the various possibilities. Finally the Rabbi gave a ruling and the man gratefully thanked the Rabbi for his time and his opinion, shook the Rabbi's hand and left the room.
The next man to enter was a business man. He was dressed in a business suit and explained to the Rabbi that he had a business deal and he was not certain what to do in such a case. He explained to the Rabbi the two possibilities, either to proceed in this direction with a certain investment at a certain cost, or else he could try another venue, which also had a risk. The business man was at a loggerhead and could not make a decision. Would the Rabbi be kind enough to give his opinion of what to do?
The Rabbi, who had listened intently to the business man, now turned to the man who was seeking help on losing his ego and asked him what he advises in such a situation. The man became flustered and replied nervously excusing himself, but he really does not possess the experience and skills required for making such a decision. Whereas the Rabbi turned to the business man and proceeded to explain that possibility one had several merits to it, but he pointed out that there was also several rather nasty pitfalls to be reckoned. Possibility two also was not so good either and the Rabbi outlined what was problematic with it.
Then the Rabbi began to suggest a third novel approach from which the business man's eyes began to lighten up. As the business man listened, the Rabbi outlined a different plan of action that curtailed the pitfalls of the two possibilities that the business man had suggested, but had more advantages. The businessman was visibly excited with this prospect of solving his business problem. He grabbed the Rabbi's hand and thanked him very hardily before leaving.
The third person was a man who was in a very difficult financial straight. He owed money to everyone, had more expenses than he had income, and a sick wife to add to his misery. He asked the Rabbi if he could help him to alleviate his financial load.
The Rabbi turned to his guest, and asked him if he could perhaps advance the man some money, a few thousand dollars was needed to help him. The man, quite embarrassed explained that he too had financial problems and was not so solvent that he could give or even loan the man the amount that he needed. He advanced the man ten dollars to help him out.
The Rabbi turned to the man. He opened his desk drawer and took out several hundred dollars. "This should help you get started." He said. Then he took out some paper and began writing several notes. He handed them to the man and instructed him to take these notes to the person whose name appeared on the paper and show him the paper. He explained that these were rich men who the Rabbi knew personally and with the aid of the letter of introduction, would see to it that his financial situation would be favorably improved.
The poor man began crying out of gratitude, and took the Rabbi's hand and kissed it before leaving.
Now the Rabbi had finished with his visitors and turned back to the first visitor. "Alright, let us see," the Rabbi said, "you say that you have a problem with your ego. I do not understand why that is. You admit that you do not understand Jewish law, you admit that you are not sharp in business. You also admit that you are not wealthy. Tell me, please, what do you possess that should cause you to have an inflated ego?"
* * * *
Yes there are those great geniuses and wealthy men who act in a way perhaps that we envy, but most ego problems come from our own inability to recognize exactly (or even closely) who we really are. We are by most, fragile and imperfect individuals with many faults. Whereas there certainly is nothing to brag about our lackings, certainly knowing our faults is much preferable to thinking that we have none.
If we would merely admit to ourselves that we lack in many areas, we would see that we would become more of a comfortable person to be with. Most inflated egos are byproducts of depressed egos; a need to be recognized, a need to be the best. When we come to grips with the fact that others have much more capabilities than we do, we can begin to become more socially inclined and get along much better with all people.
Remember, it is only the person who knows little that thinks he knows it all. The more a person knows, the more he realizes that he doesn't know much.
from the September 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine