Self-criticism can sometimes help us improve ourselves, but feeling greatness and elevation can help even more. Rabbeinu Yonah, who passed away 756 years ago this week, wrote prolifically from the city of Girona, in medieval Spain, about repentance and self-improvement. He explains that if we only remember who we are and remind ourselves of our roots, it will be much easier to live properly:
“A person, first of all, should know his self-worth, be familiar with his elevated status and be aware of the greatness of his ancestors and G-d’s affection for them. And, to the fullest possible extent, he should not do anything that would shame his ancestors.
“When he lusts to do something improper, he should be ashamed of himself and ashamed of his ancestors, and he should speak to his soul and say:
“‘A person as great and as important as I, who has many good, elevated, and superior qualities, and who is the descendant of spiritual giants, how could I possibly do this terrible thing and have my sin be in front of G-d and my ancestors?’”
May the memory of Rabbeinu Yonah be a blessing for us all.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin