Man was created in Hashem’s image. This means that every humanbeing, regardless of his or her position, shares a unique quality withHashem. This is the Tzelem Elokim, image of G-d. While man’sphysical appearance does not mirror G-d, he has a quality which is uniquelyendemic to man – his ability to exercise free will, which relates him in someway to Hashem. While Hashem always chooses correctly – man does not. Manerrs and is subject to his inclinations which very often reign over him. Thus,man’s ability to choose between good and evil is what makes him G-d-like. Hehas the potential to choose correctly and thereby elevate his G-d-like status, orhe can defer to his evil inclination and descend to the nadir of depravity, thusdestroying his essential G-d-like image.
When one realizes that his ultimate self-worth is based upon hisincredible potential to become G-d-like, he is encouraged. Certainly, one whorecognizes his potential for greatness does not have any issues concerning selfesteem.After all, for what more can one ask? The ability to achieve TzelemElokim status – to rise above a morally bankrupt world filled with spiritualbaseness – should be sufficient to catapult one’s self-esteem. Indeed, it is statedin the Shaarei HaAvodah: “The first gateway to serving Hashem is therealization of one’s own worth.” How can one act inappropriately when herealizes that he will be debasing himself?
The next step is to realize that this same gift has been given to all otherhuman beings. Therefore, the awareness that my fellowman also possesses aTzelem Elokim should engender a healthy respect for others. Indeed, as Horav A.Henoch Leibowitz, zl, explains, one who claims to have self-respect, but doesnot respect others, probably has little respect for himself. He cites the BaaleiTosfos who posit that one recognizes and is reminded of the Tzelem Elokim inothers to a greater degree than in himself. Therefore, if one honestly respects hisown nobility and potential, he should be even more aware of his fellow’sgreatness. Furthermore, if Hashem decided to create a person, He obviously didso for a reason. Who are we to disagree? Respect for others is equivalent torespect for ourselves. When we do not manifest respect for others, it indicatesthat we are ourselves troubled.