Friday, February 22nd | 17 Adar I 5779

July 20, 2017 12:47 pm

Addiction and the Jewish Community

avatar by David Nesenoff

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A Torah scroll. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The catastrophic numbers of drug users in America — and the number of deaths and overdoses due to drugs — only pale in comparison to the nightmare of a 90% relapse rate. And this plague has not passed over the Jewish community.

But does Judaism have anything to offer in the recovery process of those battling addictions? Can poring over the weekly Torah portion, mumbling through mincha prayers, tying tefillin, kindling candles and sitting in a Sukkah really be the magic pills to eradicating the epidemic of alcohol, drug, sex, food and gambling addictions? That sounds foolish.

But don’t be so foolish. Yiddishkeit is indeed the exact shining key to unlocking the elusive chamber that can help heal addicts forever. Judaism is the gateway solution; it helps to transform one’s life by discovering the actual purpose of why we are here.

Being an addict is all about selfishness. It is a nasty, dangerous business of self-indulgent, egocentric narcissism. The user is devout and devoted; it is his  or her religion. And it’s not a “two-day-a-year religion;” the addict is orthodox about it.

Every minute of the day, he or she is either using or praying to be using. And the addict will sacrifice his own family. He wants to be high, and then get even higher — he wants to be the highest. Which essentially means that no one and no thing can be higher. That is the addict’s goal, and the purpose of his or her life.

Enter Judaism. The practices, Torah, texts, stories, deeds and mystical teachings are all about negating one’s self-centered, ungenerous, greedy plots and plans. The negation occurs when we serve others — especially when we serve the highest entity of all. For the addict, a complete transformative focus must be the new goal: How can I connect with the Creator who awoke me from my slumber this morning? And how can I selflessly connect to His creations living in my community and world?

The spark of connection is initiated via the mitzvah, and the ongoing contact is protracted and propagated through continued acts and teachings that define one’s very purpose in life. The addict must ask himself if the whole world was created — and survived over the centuries — for me to be born and wake up this morning in order to get wasted? Or is there a deeper meaning as to the very purpose of my life? If so, then I shouldn’t waste it.

“Judaism may work or help in other aspects of life, but addiction is different!” So goes the mantra of some in the recovery world. But we are reminded this very month of the commemoration of the prison release of the blessed soul of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe. After being rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940, the Rebbe arrived in New York. Upon reaching dry ground, he was told that the Western world had dissimilar and divergent goals and purposes than his sacred old-world books. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak firmly straightened up from his wheelchair and said, “America is nisht anderisht” — American is not different.

From a righteous man who understood what it took to be freed from a Soviet prison cell — who went on to lay the foundation for the global renaissance of Torah — we can learn that recovery “is nisht anderisht!” Recovery is not different. We need Judaism.

As Jews, we have the tools that can help us escape our imprisonment. We can rebuild our personal growth — the kind of unselfish growth that leads to discovering our very purpose in this world. Stopping addictive behavior is not about ending specific actions; it is the complete love, loyalty and purposeful enthusiasm for a new, all-consuming positive stimulant.

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff has lectured in more than 600 cities throughout the world to communities, campuses and corporations. He is the founder of the Center for Jewish Addiction Rehabilitation and the director of the Florida licensed, kosher, Tikvah Lake Recovery & Spa (24/7 phone: 954.644.5040 website:

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