Here’s an experiment for you: Count how many times today you sent yourself negative self-messages.

Each and every self-directed criticism telling you that you “are not good enough” counts as one click on the negativity meter. For example, count how many times you berate yourself for not acting like a better parent/friend/spouse (—why did I yell?), or for not being more creative at work (—why didn’t I come up with that idea?), or for not choosing healthier food selections (—did I really need to devour that entire chocolate bar?).

If you’re like most of us, you’ll reach a pretty high number, which can have very unhealthy consequences. As a result of all our continual self-doubt, many of us feel unworthy and inadequate. It can even lead to depression, concluding that, no matter what we do, we will never measure up.

On the other hand, I’ve met more than a few individuals who have acted as if they were the greatest gift to mankind. Just as some people never stop criticizing themselves, these egoists never start—no matter how much they could benefit from a good, hard look in the mirror. They don’t see any of their inadequacies, and therefore see no need to work to be better, kinder, more understanding individuals. They are perfect just as they are.

How can we achieve a healthy and realistic self-image while maintaining a proactive desire to improve? How do we properly assess our accomplishments and our shortcomings, avoiding both grandiosity and low self-esteem?

This week’s Torah reading, the first portion of the third book of the Torah, is called Vayikra, which means “He called.” It begins with G‑d calling to Moses from the Sanctuary to teach him the laws that he would transmit to the Jewish people.

There is an interesting anomaly in how the word vayikra is written in the Torah scroll. The last letter of the word, the letter aleph, is written in a small, undersized script. In contrast, the first letter of the opening word of the Book of Chronicles, “Adam”—also an aleph—is written with a large, oversized script.

What is the message of the small and large alephs? And do they perhaps hold a lesson for us in gaining a positive and productive self-image?

The Chassidic masters explain that Adam was formed by G‑d Himself, fashioned in the “divine image.” Aware of his superior qualities as “G‑d’s handiwork” and the crowning glory of creation, he became somewhat proud. The large aleph in Adam’s name indicates his self-importance, which led to his downfall in the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

In contrast, Moses was also aware of his superior qualities as the greatest prophet to ever live, through whom the Torah was communicated to this world for perpetuity. But, rather than making him conceited, this awareness brought him humility. Moses recognized that his impressive capabilities were granted to him as a gift from G‑d. Accordingly, he felt no arrogance, but a pressing sense of responsibility. Thus, when Moses recorded in the Torah that G‑d called to him, he wrote the word vayikra with a small aleph. The commentaries note that the small aleph in the word vayikra, starting off this week’s Torah portion, hints to us that Moses was the most humble person who ever walked this earth.

Adam and Moses were both great men, aware of their greatness. But in Adam this sense of self-worth caused his disgrace, whereas in Moses it evoked humility and led to further greatness.

Did Moses not realize his exceptional qualities? Why didn’t he feel even a touch of arrogance?

Because true humility—as well as a truly positive self-image—does not come from denying or exaggerating our talents, but rather from acknowledging that all our abilities are a present from G‑d. If G‑d had given another person the same qualities, he may have surpassed my own accomplishments. But G‑d has provided me with these channels to accomplish His will in the best manner possible—as only I can.

The lesson of the aleph is: Realize your greatness. Understand your infinite potential, your vast talents and your special capabilities.

But at the same time, understand that these gifts are endowed to you by G‑d, Who desires that you utilize your unique talents to better our world—in a way that you, and only you, can.

Experience your greatness, but at the same time, feel your smallness. Humility as well as a healthy sense of self (—and maybe even that chocolate bar!) can coincide. We just need to bring G‑d into the picture.