One of the strongest human drives is our desire to satisfy our own wants and needs, even at the expense of others. This pursuit can often lead us to pursue honor, disregard the dignity of others, and engage in negative or destructive behaviors.
However, this powerful and potentially destructive drive is also essential for our spiritual growth and service to G-d. As King Solomon said, “If you seek it like silver, and search for it like hidden treasures, then you will understand fear of G-d (Proverbs 2).” Silver and treasures, of course, are things we seek for our own enrichment. In other words, we must channel our drive for personal gain towards G-d, to achieve the ultimate spiritual goal of living in His presence.
The Torah’s commandments train us to do just that. For example, the commandment to “love your friend as yourself” challenges us to overcome our tendency to advocate only for ourselves and see things from another person’s perspective. By promoting and protecting our neighbor, our drive is transformed into a drive to do good.
Harnessing the energy of our ego for spiritual growth can take a lifetime to learn, but it is possible with the right guidance and practice. Just as the controlled combustion in an engine converts the explosive energy of fuel into motion that drives trains, planes, and automobiles, we can harness the intense energy of our ego and channel it towards achieving great spiritual heights. With effort and dedication, we can turn our drive for personal gain into a force for good, and live a life of service to G-d. (Based on Michtav M’Eliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt”l, Vol 4, pg 32).