A different person

by GYE, Twerski, Rabbi Dr. Avraham (See all authors)

We were in contact recently with someone who claims that they have been trying to stop masturbation for many years and cannot succeed. The failures and the severity of the sin according to Chaza"l, were making him depressed, and this in turn would cause him to fall even lower. Therefore, he wrote me (just last night) that he has decided to continue masturbation (albeit less often) and stop feeling guilty about it, since he claims that "the guilt" only made it worse. He also finds it hard to believe that Hashem can possibly consider this sin to be so severe in cases where a person cannot stop.

I was thinking how to answer this person and I happened to randomly open up a Sefer next to me (Nesivos Shalom from the Slonimer Rebbe zatza"l). It seems that Hashem really loves this person because the words I saw there address his situation EXACTLY. I was so amazed that I scanned in the page. Click here to see the original. Below, I will try to give a summary of what it says there.

The Nesivos Shalom (Parshas Noach) brings the Pasuk that is the source in the Torah of masturbation being bad. "Vayehi Er Bechor Yehudah Ra Be'einei Hashem, Vayemiseihu Hashem" - "And Er the son of Yehudah was bad in the eyes of Hashem, and Hashem killed him". The Nesivos Shalom explains that there are two types of "bad". 1) "Ra" without a "Hei", and 2) "Ra'ah" - with a "Hei". "Hei" represents the name of Hashem. "Ra" without Hashem (like it says by "Er") is "bad" with no hope, and "Ra'ah" with a "Hei", is "bad" with hope.

It says about the Jewish people "Lo Hibit Aven Biyaakov... Hashem Elokav Imo" - "He sees no sin in Yaakov... Hashem his G-d is with him". Asks the Nesivos Shalom, how can it be that G-d chooses not to see sins in the Jewish people? Chaza"l say terrible things about anyone who says that Hashem is a "Vatran" (that He lets us off the hook when we sin)? So the Nesivos Shalom explains that the end of the Pasuk holds the answer - "Hashem Elokav Imo" - Hashem his G-d is with him. A Jew that sins because he can't control himself, but deep down his heart is breaking about how far he is from Hashem and he doesn't let go of Hashem, in such a case Hashem chooses not to see the evil and will forgive this person. And even if during the sin he doesn't feel bad, but afterwards he feels bad about it, and the good inside him makes him feel guilty and he asks himself "How could I have sinned and ignored the word of Hashem?" then there is also still hope for him. For this is the Koach that brings to Teshuvah.

And the Nesivos Shalom goes on to say that the guilty feelings we have, are a GIFT from Hashem that come from the good inside every Jew. Indeed, a Jew who does NOT have these feelings anymore, no longer has hope - like "Er" the son of Yehudah (where the Ra is written without a "Hei"), and that is why Hashem killed him.

And he goes on to say that this can be a test, if a person wants to know where he stands. If one no longer has a guilty conscious when sinning, then he can know that he is in a very bad state indeed. Because a person who gives in to the Yetzer Hara only because the Yetzer hara has tempted him strongly and he can't hold back, is still not "bad' in essence and G-d will forgive him. But one who doesn't feel guilt anymore, that means that the bad has taken him over totally and there is no hope.

And he writes that this is a Tikkun for every Jew to be able to get out of the bad. That even when he falls, he should make sure that the fall does not become part of his essence. For one who continues to hold on to Hashem and feel guilty when he is far from Hashem, then even if he did the worst sins, he still has hope and will be forgiven.

(Until here are the words of the Nesivos Shalom).

So I say to this dear Jew: Instead of working on NOT feeling guilty, we need to REJOICE that we DO feel guilty. For this is our only hope. The guilt that we feel is our life-line and "kesher" with Hashem, and through the guilt, Hashem ultimately saves us from the yetzer Hara! The Nesivos Shalom is telling us that a person who feels guilty and is trying his best, then in spite of all the scary Chazal's about the terrible severity of this sin, Hashem will stay with him, forgive him and ultimately save him!

There is one important distinction though, that we must make. The holy books emphasize that there is a subtle difference between "guilt" ("Merirus") which is healthy, and "depression" ("Atzvus") which is is dangerous. When a person feels bad about sinning, the healthy "guilt" should make him take himself into his hands and try again. It should make him feel bad about how far he is from Hashem and try to get closer to him. On the other hand "Depression" (Atzvus), is truly unhealthy and makes the person just want to give up and continue his downward spiral.

So instead of ignoring "Guilt", we need to learn to ignore "Depression". Ironically, when feeling guilty, we should REJOICE. For this is the only hope and Kesher with Hashem, even for one who has fallen to the lowest depths!

We wrote to Rabbi Twerski about this bachur who claimed he could not stop. Rabbi Twerski's answered us, and his response is invaluable as it adds a whole new dimension to understanding the battle with addiction. Rabbi Twerski writes:

His conviction that he cannot overcome the addiction is the addiction talking to him, saying, "Give up the fight, It's useless. You'll never succeed, so why put yourself through the misery."

Contrary to logic, marriage does not help sexual addiction, and continuing masturbation after the marriage can ruin it.

Other than try to stop and pray etc, what has this young man done to make essential changes in his character? That's where one should begin.

I attended an AA meeting where the speaker was celebrating his 20th year of sobriety. He began by saying, "The man I once was, drank. And the man I once was, will drink again" (but the man I am today, will not). Alcoholics who have not had a drink for many years but have not overhauled their character are "dry drunks" and will often drink again. The same is true for sexual addiction.

How does one become a different person? By working diligently on improving one's character traits. Learning how to manage anger, to rid oneself of resentments, to overcome hate, to be humble, to be considerate of others, to be absolutely honest in all one's affairs, to admit being wrong, to overcome envy, to be diligent and overcome procrastination. In short, one should take the Orchos Tzaddikim (I'm sure it's available in English), and go down the list of character traits, strengthening the good one's and trying to eliminate the bad ones. This does not happen quickly.

When one has transformed one's character and has become a different person, one will find that this "new person" can accomplish things that the old person could not.

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