Based on personal interactions and learning about concepts in Judaism, like the state of bittul (self-nullification), it seems like there is a “problem” with the self and its extensions - self-love, self-care, self-worth, etc. One person even voiced to me that he “hated anything to do with self” because, unfortunately, it may have been taught that self is associated with selfishness. It is my intention, at least beginning with this short newsletter, to shed light on this seeming contradiction. Namely, that caring for the self (self-care) is actually how one transcends the self to ultimately live in alignment with G-d, as we all truly desire.
This seeming contradiction of bittul and self-care requires further explanation as these concepts are not contradictory. Rather, they can be - if understood and practiced properly - complimentary of one another i.e listening to oneself can be in alignment with The Holy One and that “self care is not selfish.”
The idea of not caring about the self perhaps comes from the principle of ein od milvado—there is none besides Him. Self has a connotation of independence when in reality everything is null to G-d, because He creates and sustains life every moment. It is only that in this world, there is so much concealment of G-dliness, that there can appear to be a distinct self. In fact, the Hebrew word for “world” is “olam,” which is related to word “he'elem,” meaning “concealment.”
Although on a deep level this - that everything is G-d - is an absolute truth, there is a self and it needs to be cared for in order to really understand that all is One. Without caring for oneself - physically and mentally - a person is actually concealing G-dliness more than He intended His Light to be concealed. For example, the claim a person makes disregarding self could actually be a tactic of the ego, or in chassidic terminology the yetzer hara. Why? Because the within the body of a person is a G-dly soul and an animal soul. The G-dly soul was chosen to inhabit a body and it desires to fulfill its job to “elevate the animalistic tendencies of the body.” Without actually caring for the body and listening to it - which does not mean always acting upon its urges - this job cannot be fulfilled. In fact, it is a mitzvah (connection/commandment) to be healthy. So much of, if not all, healing that is spoken about today is precisely through the body. In order to understand these deeper truths, healing the body is how a person heals traumas and the limited beliefs and stories concluded from them. In simple terms, you have to feel it to heal it.
Through listening to oneself, a person can truly come to “know Him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6). How can a person discern the difference between listening to oneself, which is listening to the ego, and listening to oneself, which is listening to the internal guidance of one’s intuition? By having a clear intention and understanding behind what you’re doing. In Mishneh Torah Human Dispositions 3:3, Maimonides writes “he should set his heart to have a sound and strong body so that his soul be tranquil to acquire the knowledge of the Lord; for, it is impossible that one should comprehend and improve himself in scholarship when he is hungry, or sick, or when one of his limbs pains.” It is possible to heal the self so that listening to oneself is in alignment with listening to G-d. In this way a person can be in a state of bittul because one has healed the parts of onself that lowered the volume of the G-dly self. In a state of bittul taking care of oneself is not for egotistical reasons, but because it’s what G-d wants. This is hinted at in the Ethics of Our Fathers chapter 2:4 to, “fulfill His will as you would your own will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will.” The less self-care a person practices, the more he may actually feel and react on the body-self’s urges.
The more one practices self-care through healthful ways - eating well, moving one’s body, meditating to become familiar with the source of bodily urges, etc. - the more in tune one will be with the piece of G-d in him, which some might not define as “self.” Perhaps this is why in chasidic literature it’s referred to as animal soul and G-dly soul rather than self.
Through listening silently to the animal soul one can direct it’s energy toward what the G-dly soul desires. The way to achieve this though is not by subduing or putting to sleep the urges of the body, but by respecting and honoring them. After all, it is written that when Mashiach comes, the body will animate the soul as oppose to the body receiving its life-force from the soul.
Be curious as to what your self, meaning intuition, is guiding you to. Before just going to eat something, pause to determine what it is you’re truly hungry for.