A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth
The property of the soul which serves as an antidote for the problems of the ego that block effective self-criticism is selflessness. And selflessness in turn is rooted in the sefirah of chochmah ("wisdom.") We see this relationship between self-criticism and selflessness on several levels:
Chochmah–through a permutation of letters–is understood to be the "power" (koach) of "what" (mah). It represents the power that comes from the ultimate eviction of ego and selfishness blocking the flow of Divine force which seeks to enlighten and empower us, but which can only do so to the extent that there is "space" within us for something greater than ourselves. In other words, the flow of the Divine force in us is proportional to our level of selflessness. The entire purpose of the discipline of self-criticism is to dissolve the armor of self-justifications which fortify the ego and block our surrender to God, the prerequisite for attaining true wisdom.
Chochmah represents the instantaneous "flash" of insight, that appears as a bolt of lightning in the mind. It is a moment of intense clarity and deepened awareness that recedes just as quickly back into the super-conscious realms from which it came, leaving only an impression of its truths. If it is going to have a lasting affect on our consciousness, then it must be developed and concretized by the analytical faculties of the sefirah of binah ("understanding"). The word for a bolt of lightning in Hebrew is barak, a permutation of the same three Hebrew letters which form the root of the word bikoret, meaning "criticism." Since chochmah is depicted in Kabbalah as lightning, this establishes another correspondence between self-criticism and wisdom.
The inner quality of chochmah is selflessness, and this must be the beginning and the end of any attempt at self-criticism. All rectification of self must derive from true wisdom (which is selflessness) if it is going to succeed in its goal of breaking our attachments and preoccupations with self. Otherwise, it is liable to have the opposite effect, where we become obsessively concerned with ourselves, but now, in the "noble" guise of engaging in self-criticism; this is false humility.
Selflessness creates the possibility of true wisdom and self-awareness. The Talmud defines the wise person as one who "knows his place." We know our place when we have realistic expectations of our strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. A sign of false or superficial wisdom is having unrealistic expectations of self or others.
It is wise to keep in mind the words of King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes: "There isn't a man on the earth that is so holy that he does only good and does not transgress." The Ba'al Shem Tov, commenting on this verse, explains that if the ego derives pleasure or claims credit for its acts of kindness, then the seemingly selfless deed is tainted (even if to a minute degree) by arrogance. Yet we cannot completely overcome this trait, because, while we remain in our physical bodies, it is impossible for us to completely transcend the "self." Nevertheless, we must try to minimize that sin of arrogance as much as possible by striving toward selflessness. The tool for doing so is self-criticism which leads to true wisdom.