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David Burns, one of the founders of CBT, refers to the belief that one’s worth is entirely based upon his achievements as “Achievement Addiction”, and notes that there are many disadvantages to this way of thinking. He suggests having a different formula for determining one’s self-worth (e.g., intrinsic self-worth, totally irrespective of one’s achievements) or of disposing of the idea of self-worth altogether. My question: is there any evidence in favor or against this philosophy (that one’s worth is based entirely upon his achievements) in the Torah or in logic? And what about one partially basing his self-worth on his achievements? Please provide sources if possible.

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  • not worth but close to it Avot 5.23 בֶּן הֵא הֵא אוֹמֵר, לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא: Ben He He said: According to the labor is the reward.
    – kouty
    May 14, 2021 at 4:39
  • What are "achievements"? Observing commandments? May 14, 2021 at 14:25
  • 2
    @kouty: good reference but as you noted, I'm specifically looking for sources relating to one's worth. It is totally possible that one's reward will be completely independent of one's worth.
    – Yehuda
    May 14, 2021 at 15:47
  • @MauriceMizrahi: I would say that your definition is good, at least for the sake of this question. Alternatively and perhaps more inclusive: "serving God."
    – Yehuda
    May 14, 2021 at 15:49
  • @Yehuda that's exactly what I said. But I mentioned it, not as an answer because when you infer it you can see that probably the Jewish worth is measured by the effort to be a good Jew
    – kouty
    May 15, 2021 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

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It would appear that Judaism believes it is possible for a person to be not-OK (a rasha) and it is also possible for a person to be very OK (a tzadik).

However, importantly, that which makes you not-OK is morally perverse behaviour (a rash) and that which makes you very OK is exemplary moral behaviour (a tzadik) - not "accomplishments".

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  • 1
    Thank you for that; that's a great point! In response: Firstly, is it possible that when the Torah says Rasha (and perhaps Tzaddik) it doesn't describe the essence of the person, but simply uses such a label for linguistic or practical reasons (e.g., it's easier to refer to a rasha in that way or categorizing people as such helps one cultivate hatred toward them)? Secondly, is it possible to distinguish between value and goodness? (see plato.stanford.edu/entries/value-intrinsic-extrinsic for some discussion- it was a bit difficult for me to follow)
    – Yehuda
    May 14, 2021 at 16:05
  • Thirdly, when I said achievements I understood that to be synonymous with "exemplary moral behaviour". Unless you agree with me, can you explain the distinction?
    – Yehuda
    May 14, 2021 at 16:07
  • @Yehuda It is fairly obvious from numerous mamarei chazal that chazal believe a rasha to be a not-OK and negative person worthy of scorn and ridicule. This in contradistinction to the belief that everyone always remains OK under all circumstances. On the other hand, the mitzva of veahavta le'reachah komochah applies more strongly to a talmid chacham (e.g. regarding the halachos of returning lost property) than it does to an ordinary person, which implies that a talmid chacham is more OK / loveable (Rav Hutner's terminology) than an ordinary person.
    – The GRAPKE
    May 19, 2021 at 7:31
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Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his book Gateway to Happiness deals with this issue at length and brings dozens of sources in Ch. 6. The tl;dr version is that every human being is created in the image of G-d and thus has very great potential. Just by being born one's value is tremendous. One should be proud of one's accomplishments. Prided used to spur one to do good can be meritorious. But one must also not be unrealistically critical and too hard on themselves.

I will add that one person's accomplishments do not automatically make him better than another, because every person is judged against their personal potential, not others. The Beit Elokim by Mabit makes this point at length in his introduction.

Thus a great person can take pride in his accomplishments and still be humble, because he realizes he is just doing his personal best to fulfill his G-d-given potential.

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai received [the oral tradition] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: if you have learned much Torah, do not claim credit for yourself, because for such a purpose were you created. Ethics of the Fathers 2:8

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