Addiction and Jews

The catastrophic numbers of drug users, deaths and overdoses only pale to the nightmare of a 90 percent relapse rate. This plague has not passed over the Jewish people.

Does Judaism have anything to offer in the recovery of those battling addictions? Can poring over the weekly 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 to not understand that Yiddishkeit is indeed the exact shining key to unlocking the elusive chamber that contains the treasure to finally healing the addict forever. In reality, Judaism is the gateway solution; it helps to transform one’s life by discovering the actual purpose of why we are here.

The addict is all about selfishness. It is a nasty dangerous business of self-indulgent, hoggish, egocentric narcissism. The user is devout and devoted; it is his religion. And it’s not a two-day-a-year religion for him. He is orthodox about it. Every minute of the day he is either using or praying to be using. And he will sacrifice his own family, even his only son Isaac. He wants to be high and then get even higher; he wants to be the highest. Which essentially means no one and nothing can be higher. That is his goal and the purpose of his 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 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.

“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 were reminded last month of the commemoration of the prison release of the blessed soul of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe. After being rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940, he arrived in New York and was told that the Western world has dissimilar and divergent goals and purposes than his sacred old world books.

Schneersohn firmly straightened up from his wheelchair and said, “America iz nisht anderisht!” America 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 iz nisht anderisht. Recovery is not different. We need Judaism.

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff is founder of the Center for Jewish Addiction Rehabilitation.

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