The Hebrew word “yeshus” is a concept in Torah difficult to define and translate. The word connotes a perverse sense of self, an over-embellished focus on one’s needs to the exclusion of those of others, feelings of inflated centrality. The word describes an exaggerated sense of ego and heightened self importance.

Yeshus is a kelipah (evil) which is a main nemesis to a man’s real spiritual growth. The greater the yeshus, the more difficult to progress spiritually in positive development. Yeshus is also the main barrier to comfortable co-existence of a married couple.

We saw in The Ladder Up that the more yeshus one has the more room he requires and the less space is left for his partner. Since everyone, (and therefore of course a spouse), needs room, yeshus is also not only the personal enemy but the enemy of partnership space sharing. We will see this in more detail the next Chapter.

Yeshus should not be confused with the recognition of one’s own value. Recognition of self-worth is a positive trait and indeed critical for the functioning of a healthy person.1 Moses, after initial doubt, knew that he was the best man for the job.2 One is not expected to be a fool and ignore one’s talents and capabilities in false modesty. It is when pride is accorded to one’s G‑d given talents that the problem of yeshus arises. If a man is clever, his cleverness is given to him by G‑d. For him to pretend that he is stupid is idiocy. On the other hand, being proud of being clever is equally another idiocy. Self esteem is an awareness of talent but needs to be accompanied by the concern for whether the talent is exploited fully and responsibly. The greater the concern for the responsibility which accompanies the talent, the greater the bittul (humility). Paradoxically, greater bittul can only come from greater talent; without the talent there would be no need for the responsibility.

Self esteem is therefore an excellent thing; knowing one’s qualities and capabilities is a requirement of Torah. When a man makes a spiritual accounting in the month of Elul (the month before the high holidays), in preparation for his service in the month of Tishrei (the month of the high holidays) he is required to make a spiritual balance sheet of everything he has done for good and bad in the preceding year. Just as we regret the bad, we cannot ignore the good. The terror of the man with real humility is to assess whether, given his abilities, he has discharged his responsibility to a sufficient degree.

Yeshus is the disease of claiming G‑d given talent as one’s own credit, so apparently entitling one to a level of privilege and envy amongst peers. It is a focus on self without a corresponding sense of duty. In extreme cases this self involvement can lead to the subject being completely oblivious to the needs of his neighbor (and of course spouse) to the point that he honestly has no conception of the damage he has or may cause.

There is a danger in not understanding a very important matter relating to yeshus. There is a temptation to criticize a person when his yeshus is visible. This is because as we will see later, yeshus, apart from being an evil, is ugly when manifest. The person afflicted with yeshus however, is not to be criticized but pitied and helped. His yeshus primarily destroys his life and only secondly is a damaging force to others. Personal fulfillment remains impossible for the person whose yeshus forces all focus to remain self centered. This is a sad and deep problem as we will see further in the book.

It should be noted that successfully changing yeshus to bittul is for most people probably the most difficult thing they will ever achieve. The road is long and agonizingly difficult. It is glib and easy to talk of change here, but in truth this requires an expert and kind mashpiah (mentor) who is prepared to patiently spend the time encouraging and helping the victim to change, or at least subdue the problem. The fact that yeshus is an evil is not a criticism; it is, instead, akin to a form of sickness with which most people are afflicted. The condition ranges however, from a slightly runny nose to being entirely crippled.

Nevertheless since man has free choice, he has free choice in relation to his yeshus. Obviously this can be difficult because yeshus is often a product of education and environmental issues. It can be very sad when for example, the parenting in a home causes exaggerated focus on a child, such that the child is unconscious in relation to developing sensitivity to others. The educative process is to change yeshus to bittul (humility). This difficult and long road needs to be one which the person afflicted with the yeshus wants to walk.

Yeshus is so negative it also applies in terms of ones inabilities and failings. For some people there is difficulty differentiating between those inabilities and failings which are G‑d given and those which are a result of one’s chosen failings (such as inactivity, laziness, and selfishness).

So there are two sides to yeshus; one the stupid boasting and adoration of talents which are not achievements; the other and reverse is the lament of the lack of certain talents engendering self hate. Both are aspects of the same yeshus and both are aspects of the same kelipah. Both are evil. Both are an absolute impediment to a person’s growth. Advancement is made progressively and proportionately with the shedding of yeshus.

We will see that a person’s yeshus is his enemy in many and various relationship areas. It is first a man’s own worst enemy, it is the enemy of the married partners, it is the enemy of both the individual’s and partner’s relationship with their friends and family.

As foreshadowed above the solution to yeshus is to replace it with bittul (humility). It is difficult to be married to someone with yeshus — the more yeshus the more difficult. Sadly this is seldom the perspective of the one causing the pain. Once when the Rebbe was discussing yeshus in a farbrengen, he smiled as he noted that everyone present knew he was talking of the person to the left and right of them...

We all can learn about yeshus and even understand it but the common feature of this kelipah is that even once identifying it, it is always the fault of someone else. The great paradox is that the more the husband complains of the wife’s selfishness, the more we probably are witnessing the cravings for space and the manifestation of yeshus of the husband. The more he sees a lack of consideration or respect, the more suspicious he should be at his need for this consideration or respect, realizing that it is not available on demand and needs to be earned. It may be his very yeshus, his preoccupation with himself that is preventing that very consideration or respect.

The more the yeshus can be identified by the person having the yeshus, the happier the marriage will be, assuming he is committed to treating the problem. Sorrowfully the more the yeshus is identified by the recipient, the more difficult will the relationship be. In the next chapter we will see the fascinating effects of limiting yeshus at a practical level.