“The failure of a good relationship to oneself lies at the root of much emotional suffering today.”
In his sermon of April 18, 1965 Rabbi Olan argues that we cannot follow the Biblical injunction to “love our neighbors as ourselves” unless we love ourselves first. He is careful to distinguish between healthy self-love and unhealthy selfishness (which he maintains is a mask for self-hatred).
Rabbi Olan makes it clear that a self that we can love is not something we are endowed with at birth. Rather, “a ‘self’ is a growing quality”, a developmental process that begins when we take in our parents’ love. Their acceptance of us leads to self-acceptance: “Accepting himself for what he is and building upon that is what gives a man a sense of at-homeness with himself.”
Rabbi Olan concludes by quoting the sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” He adds, “This is not selfishness. It places the responsibility for the good life on the individual himself.”
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph.*