by Rav Simcha Klein
According to many wise and astute social observers, the psychological afflictions of narcissism and egotism are increasingly affecting people today more so than any other generation. Human beings have become more and more self-centered. So many individuals walk around today with an exaggerated idea of their own importance. This inflated sense of personal superiority has been deemed the root cause of so many of the ills that society currently faces. From issues such as the high divorce rate amongst adults to the prevalence of bullying among youngsters, the evidence points to people’s overly egotistic attitudes as the primary cause. The truth is that mussar seforim from time immemorial have labeled egotism, what in Hebrew is known as ‘אנוכיות’, as an iron barrier not only between man and his fellow man but even between man and his Maker. On the passuk (דברים ה,ה) “אנכי עומד בין ה’ וביניכם בעת ההיא”, the Baal Shem Tov famously said homiletically that it is the ‘אנכי’ – the inflated sense of self, עומד בין ה’ וביניכם – that stands between a person and Hashem.
According to Chazal, Haman was the arch-type egoist. He was so full of conceit that the fact that a single person, namely Mordechai, who refused to bow down to him derailed him completely. The Megillah describes Haman’s conduct in such detail to teach us the dangers of egotism.
Is there anything that can be done about this widespread scourge? Particularly as parents, what steps can we take to prevent our children from developing this extremely negative characteristic?
The Rebbe of Piaseczno, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, in his diary entitled Tzav V’ziruz (num. 45) offers the following penetrating insight (paraphrased from an English translation of his sefer):
“…But how do we get past the barrier imposed by the ego-self? Only by mutually nurtering relations with other human beings – you cannot do it by your self… Now the dynamic of experiencing oneself so intensely to the point that one is totally absorbed by himself seems to be a psychological defense system. This develops as we grow and unconsciously perceive how everybody else is just out for himself, something that makes us feel alone and abandoned in the world… Who will care for me if I don’t stand up for myself?… This lonely self learns to strengthen its defenses in order to provide for itself. Gradually, a thick protective shell of selfishness grows around it….
“… The way to minimize and even dissolve this “I’” this selfishness… is to seek out close friendships with like minded…. Each one should be as concerned about the other’s welfare as his own. Share each other’s worries and joys, help and guide each other… Eventually the feelings of loneliness and abandonment will disappear, and it will be easier to uproot this self seeking from within you…”.
One of the primary themes of Purim is achdus. We implement this togetherness and unity year after year via mishloach manos, matanos levyonim and joint seudas. Perhaps this achdus is to counter the extreme egotism as expressed by Haman, since the true antidote to narcissism as explained by the Rebbe of Piaseczno is to connect deeply to others, thus alleviating the inner loneliness, which is the root cause of an overly egotistic attitude.
As parents we need to encourage our families to be part of a klal or a chaburah, or even a larger family unit, and deeply identify with that group. Growing up as a part of a larger group will go a long way at alleviating chronic loneliness, thereby helping preclude the defensive trap of egotism.