So I wrote my first article on a public forum.

When it was posted, I felt accomplished and gratified. I was proud of myself. I felt like I had a new status as a published author.

This grew almost into an obsession, as I found myself logging on countless times to check the comments, and feeling immensely pleased with every comment (regardless of the content).

The extent of my reaction to the article and the comments felt childish to me. Out of proportion.

I found myself logging on countless times to check the comments

Instead of trying to stop myself from obsessing, I tried to understand, What is it that I gain from having my words read and commented on by others whom I don’t even know? And how many readers do I need until that need will be filled?

I think reading the comments makes me feel valuable. My existence is confirmed. And somehow, although there are quite a few objective measurements—as well as loving people in my life—that should confirm the value and validity of my existence, it’s never enough.

But when I’m validated by people who are more distant from me, somehow, that “does” it for me. Then I feel whole.

I’m a teacher, and this plays out in my classroom too. I don’t just appreciate good feedback and get annoyed at negative behavior. I experience and internalize my students’ attention, or lack thereof, as the creation or destruction of me.

And for me, that goes right back to my orphanhood, which was the subject of my first article.

I look into the small, pleading eyes of my child. I feel palpably that more than anything else, he is asking me to confirm that he is. That he is worthy. That he matters.

If I don’t give him that, if I don’t show him that he matters, my child will actually consider himself a non-entity, having no reliable source confirming that he is.

This is what I feel when I look into the eyes of my child.

My father could not give me that basic confirmation that I am, that I matter. He passed away before he had enough time to do that for me.

So I look for compensation. I need to attach some tag to myself as “the guy who is good at X” or “the guy who does Y,” and I desperately hold on to that identity as a confirmation of my existence. I constantly check up on this created identity to make sure it is valid and intact.

I need to impress people. But that’s not enough. I need to outdo everyone else. And as soon as that fails to fill the void, I need a new source of outside validation . . . and on it goes.

I look for compensation

And I need the validation from strangers. Those close to me are real people with the real give-and-take of a relationship. They see the whole me, and I see the whole them. I know that they don’t admire me in an absolute way, because we interact in the context of my weaknesses, not only of my strengths. And since for me admiration is not just nice, but I feel dependent on it, I need it to be absolute.

The stranger appreciating me fills my void. He’s just there to confirm my validity, and there is nothing else to the relationship to risk.

Not so with my intimate relationships, which are fraught with all the good, bad and ordinariness of myself, the part of me that is nothing more than—albeit nothing less than—a human being.

So where do I go from here?

Our sages say that at the very place where you find the greatness of G‑d, that is where you find His humility.1

The Arizal explains that G‑d created the world because He wanted to do good for His creations.2

In chassidut, it is emphasized numerous times that the creation of the world is not the main (or defining) factor of G‑d.3

My understandingWe interact in the context of my weaknesses of these statements is as follows:

One way to appreciate an individual is by learning about his achievements and unique capabilities. Which is why some flaunt their accomplishments, to show others who they are and to demonstrate that they are deserving of esteem.

There is no one who can compete with the awesome capabilities of the Creator of all achievers and achievements.

However, what seems to us awesome and unfathomable is to G‑d insignificant—to the extent that He “humbled” Himself, “moved away” from His true greatness, and “lowered” Himself to invest in creation.

Achievements which would seem to us great enough for anyone to want to be defined by are not a definition of G‑d, but rather a concealment of His true infinite greatness. So that which seems to us a display of His greatness is in reality an expression of His humility.

So what motivates Him to do this?

To do good to His creatures.

G‑d wanted to be kind to others, and that is why He created others, to be kind to them. He wanted there to be an “other” that was specifically NOT Him, and then relate and give to that “other.”

Perhaps, if G‑d was (G‑d forbid . . . ) lacking something, I’d say He turned to creation not for our sake, but for His. But G‑d is complete, and infinitely beyond creation. He did it for us. He engaged in the relationship with us for our sake.

Kindness. Humility. Defining factor.

What message does this contain for my life and for my journey?

If I’m lacking a secure identity, and I need to help other people as a way to find validation, then I’m not invested in kindness, but self-service.

How do I reach this level of security and calm?

If I’m secure, I can give to others with ease. For their sake. I don’t need to worry how they react, and to what extent they will admire me. This action is for THEM. I’m not helping to define myself in some way or to elicit their love, I’m just helping them.

But how do I reach this level of security and calm?

By internalizing that I am but a creation of a whole and perfect G‑d, who is self-sufficient and the source of all other things. I have Him, and if my relationship with Him is right, or at least I’m journeying in that direction, I need not be anxious about anyone else.

And then I can be truly kind, compassionate and giving to others. I don’t need to worry about myself.

We are taught, “Just as He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate.”4 Perhaps this could be interpreted as, my compassion needs to be like His compassion. Free, for the sake of the recipient, and not compelled by my need for outside validation.

Really, this is almost idle fantasy for me. I don’t have that relationship with G‑d. I don’t have a faith which is true and tangible enough to enable me to actually feel less dependent on others, and less worried about my circumstances.

This is almost idle fantasy for me

Amazingly, however, when I commit to behavior that fits with this way of thinking, even if I’m not actually feeling that way, I’m redeemed from the intensity of my dependency and anxiety.

When I’m anxious about how my class will go, and I mentally tell myself, “This is not to impress them, it is to help them in any way I can,” I feel capable of truly teaching and inspiring. And the same goes for so many other little encounters in my day-to-day experiences.

Though my father and mother have “abandoned” me, and I don’t feel anchored and secure, G‑d, and my commitment to Him, will gather me in.5