By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 102 – Internal Strength, Chayim shel Chilutz Atzamos
Rav Kahana asked Shmuel how we know that when the Torah speaks of the yevama doing chalitza to the yavam’s shoe that it necessarily means removing the shoe as opposed to putting it on him. His question comes from the fact that we seem to find numerous pesukim that employ the language of chalitza in the sense of zeruzei, which means arming or getting someone set up. Shmuel manages to deftly deflect each pasuk by explaining that it too can be understood in the sense of removal.
There is one final pasuk, though, that employs the language of chalitza and definitely means zeruzei, which forces the Gemara to explain in the manner of dikduk how we know that our pasuk vis a vis the yavam and yevama definitely is talking about removal of the shoe from his foot.
So, what was that pasuk? “V’atzmosecha yachalitz, Hashem will be choleitz your bones,” which Rabi Elazar explains is the best of all the brachos, and Rava explains that what it means is that Hashem will give you zeruzei garmei, arming or strengthening of the bones. Interestingly enough, we find this expression in the special, added teffilah that we say every Shabbos Mevarchim. One of the brachos we ask Hashem to give us in the upcoming month is “chayim shel chilutz atzamos”.
What exactly is this idea of chilutz atzamos and why do Chazal classify it as the best of the brachos? The Maharal (in his Chidushei Aggados) explains it as follows:
“For when a person is strong and energized, this matter is the foundation of all blessings, because when one is internally strong and energetic he is a complete being and then he is ready to receive and accept everything. This is not so if one is a reality of weakness in himself, then he is not ready or able to receive bracha, because a person needs to be a being in of himself and only then can he receive everything else that comes to him. That is why this matter is the best of the brachos, for it is the foundation of everything. Understand this point very, very well.”
By no means am I familiar enough with the writings of the Maharal to comment on the import of his particular choice of words, but I still think it is safe to say that if he ended off that explanation with the words “understand this point very, very well”, it must be that he considered this concept to be of supreme importance. That in addition to the fact that he calls it “the foundation of everything”.
Basically, it seems that what the Maharal is saying is that in order to have or accomplish anything in this world you first have to be a somebody. Tragically, it is necessary to go out of our way to emphasize that “being a somebody” does not mean what the common usage of the term implies. Often, when people talk about “being a somebody” they are referring to kavod. The truth is, even kavod is a poorly understood concept (see Daf Inspired on Yevamos 89 for a bit about that). In most people’s minds, kavod is all about having a standing of honor and respectability vis a vis other people – particularly in the public’s eye – and that is what they usually think of when they talk about being a somebody. In other words, it’s about recognition, reputation, and renown. All from a very superficial vantage point.
That is definitely not what chilutz atzamos is about, and it is not what the Maharal is talking about.
What the Maharal means when he says that the most fundamental foundation to everything is being a somebody, he is talking about an internal, inherent sense of how a person feels about himself. Essentially, it comes down to a person being able to say to himself about himself, “I am not an ayin, I am a yeish. My existence is meaningful and valuable. I feel a clear sense of strength in knowing that I am and that I can.” When a person’s internal reality resonates with this power and energy of yeishus, of inherent being, then his reality truly is a reality. He is, and therefore he can. And therefore he is able to receive all the brachos.
For some of us, this exposition is a matter of validation, in addition to serving as an indication of what humility is not. If that is the case for you, consider yourself lucky.
For others, though, the following thought may pop up when reading the above lines: “Great! I got the point. But how do I get that?” And that is a critical question to address, because as the Maharal emphatically reiterated, this concept of chilutz atzamos – of being and feeling that one is and can – is fundamental to everything.
From a psychological standpoint, one’s internal aura of self-esteem is primarily cultivated in one’s formative years through the parent to child relationship. But not everyone is so fortunate. Over the centuries, much upheaval has washed across the globe, in particular for us Jews, and the collateral damage has been enormous. There are many people who had to grow up without the constancy, stability, and security of unconditional, parental love. Often, the parents themselves suffered from a cross-generational sore lack of chilutz atzamos and were therefore unable to radiate it outward to their children. Other factors as well can weaken one’s internal sense of self. Whatever the causes may be, the question of what to do about it is very real and needs to be addressed.
Before mentioning a thought about this, though, one thing we need to make very, very clear. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or in any other capacity of influence on others – in particular children – it is critical for the sake of the future that you always use this concept of chilutz atzamos as the most basic, fundamental yardstick to assess what you are doing. “Is this ultimately an act of building this person into an individual who will internally resonate with “I am and I can” or not?” That question needs to be the first and most influential consideration we take into account whenever undertaking particular steps and approaches, because building this person into a someone is the most fundamental and critical goal we need to have.
Coming back, though, regarding what to do if as an adult who is now “on his own” one finds that this basic need of chilutz atzamos is lacking, there are a few thoughts that come to mind. Certainly, in many instances professional intervention is called for. There are definitely specific tools, skills, and approaches that qualified therapists and life coaches can convey to enable and empower a person to begin to discover and build himself. Exercising the courage and fortitude to reach out for help, by the way, is in of itself a major step in the right direction of developing one’s sense of self and internal strength.
Beyond the hishtadlus that one can and should do to achieve this bracha of chilutz atzamos, though, is the recognition – as Chazal make clear – that ultimately it is just that: a bracha from Hashem. Just as we put forth hishtadlus for parnassa but we realize that ultimately it is a bracha from Hashem, so too when it comes to chilutz atzamos. Yes, we can and should do everything in our power to try to achieve it; but, at the same time, recognizing that it is a bracha from Hashem for which we can daven is perhaps the most important factor towards that achievement.
And this brings us to the next thought on this matter. The full pasuk that mentions this idea of chilutz atzamos reads as follows, “And Hashem will guide you always, and He will satiate your soul with tzachtzachos, and your bones He will energize, and you will be like a saturated garden and like a source of water whose waters never cease.” Take note that what precedes all these brachos is the statement that Hashem is your guide forever.
Really, it is that awareness that is the greatest source of strength.
The more a person incorporates conscious awareness of Hashem’s guiding hand into his life, the more he will feel a solid sense of security and self-esteem no matter what life brings him. Because he knows that even if he may have gone through avi v’imi ya’azvuni, a feeling of having been forsaken by his parents, Hashem ya’asfeini, Hashem will gather me in. Our Father in Heaven is Hashem.
So, with all the efforts one does to generate and construct his internal sense of strength and energy, cultivating the general and overarching awareness that Hashem’s love is unending and unconditional, and that it is He who is forever the guiding force in your life, is the deepest key to opening up the gates of being zocheh to that finest of brachos called chilutz atzamos.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.