Search results ({{ }}):

A deeper understanding of Yetzias Mitzrayim

Why do addicts need to start from scratch?

GYE Corp. Monday, 09 April 2012

We have previouly discussed how the 12-Steps give us a set of guidelines that are basic foundations of what it means to be a human being - created in the image of G-d. We have also discussed that it is only after our foundations are solid that can we begin to build on top of them and discover what it means to be a Yid, and how we can achieve Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Hashem, Torah and Kedusha.

The question I would like to address today is, why do we addicts need to start from the very foundations? Who said we don't already have foundations? Why can't we focus instead on breaking free of the addiction by developing a closeness with Hashem through Torah, Teffilah, Mussar and Kedusha?

To answer this, I would like to quote Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski in an article he wrote recently on addiction, where he defines what it means to be an "addict":

The ultimate distinction between man and animals is not that man is more intelligent, but that animals are creatures that have no choice over their behavior. They must do whatever their bodies demand. They cannot choose what they should do. Man has the ability of self-control, to choose one's behavior, even in defiance of physical urges.

If a person loses one's ability to choose and is dominated by urges one cannot control, one is indeed an addict. Losing the ability to choose is losing the uniqueness of being a human being, and robs one of the dignity of being human. We pride ourselves on liberty and view slavery as evil because it dehumanizes a person. And that is exactly what happens when we relinquish our ability to choose.

We see from Rabbi Twerski's definition that what defines an addict is that he has lost his very humanity through his addiction. He has sunk lower than an animal.


Now let's hear what our 12-Step expert, Boruch, has to say about this. Boruch writes:

The way I see it, there is one yesod in Yiddishkeit that requires that we addicts use the 12 steps.

Most of us thought that we simply needs more Torah and more Kedusha, and that is how we will be saved from our Yetzer Hara. But as the Navi says in Yeshaya (55:8,9):

My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways, says Hashem. Just as the sky is higher than the Earth so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah (4:1):

One can only teach Torah to either a talmid that we know has appropriate behavior, or someone whose nature is not apparent (see Kesef Mishna). However, if a talmid is on a "derech lo tova" (a bad path) you do not teach him Torah. You first have to return him to the path of "tov" (good) and guide him to the path of "yashrus" (straightness). Then we check that he is sound, and only then do we teach him.

The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) speaks of someone who has Torah without Fear of Heaven:

Rabbah bar Rav Huna said; whoever has Torah without Yiras Shomayim is like the treasure keeper who has the keys to doors of the inner vault, but does not have the keys to the outer doors. How is he to get access to the treasure?

Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l was once asked the following question. The sefer Chovos Halevovos constantly refers to our obligation of hakoras hatov (thanks) to Hakodosh Boruch Hu as being the foundation and basis for our obligation to do the mitzvos. The questioner asked, "I did not ask Hashem to create me, so why should I be grateful to Him?" Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l answered that the Chovos Halevovos was only written for mentschen. It was not written for someone who is bichlal not a mentsch.

His answer was clear. The Chovos Halevovos assumes a certain basic level of character. If someone is so ungrateful that he does have gratitude for his life - the greatest gift imaginable - simply because he never asked for it, then he is not even a mentsch.

The message of the above examples are clear. Torah, Fear of Heaven and Mussar all require, as the Rambam writes, a minimum level of behavior. They were written and given for mentschen.

But as Rabbeinu Yonah says of the sinner in Shaarei Teshuva 1:10, and this is certainly true of the addict who has lost self-control:

How have I become like the animals?... and more, I have not even done as an animal, but sunk to even less then they...

So there is no point fooling ourselves by making excuses that we only need to give ourselves more chizuk in order to break free.

The one thing an addict who wants to cure himself needs, more than any chizuk, is a hard dose of honesty and a sobering dose of reality. Without brutal honesty, the addict will never recover. So let us be brave and let us be honest. Yes, we need to say this loud and clear: "We have been less than animals".

And now that we have been honest, we need some more honesty and some real action.

How is the addict who has sunk below the level of an animal, supposed to get back to being at the level of a mentsch?

It is not his kedusha or his "top floor" that has a problem, it is not his Torah wisdom or his second floor either, and it is not even his first floor - i.e. his very Yiddishkeit, that is the cause of his problems.

Rather his very foundations are broken. Not only is he not Holy, not only is he not a Talmid Chochom, not only is he not a simple Jew, he is not even a mentsch. For even a non-Jew should not be a sex addict. He is less than a decent non-Jew, he is less than an animal.

And I will say it myself, as difficult as it is to say.

I was an addict for many years until only very recently, and for all that time I was not a Kadosh, not a Talmid Chochom, not a poshute yid, not even a mentsch. I was less than a decent goy, even less than an animal.

And when the foundations are broken, we don't use the top floor or kedusha to build foundations, and we don't use Torah to build foundations - as the Rambam says in hilchos Talmud Torah (above), we don't use mussar seforim that were written for mentschen, we need to go back to the very foundations that even non-Jews can understand, and start rebuilding from there.

We addicts were missing the most basic foundations of mentschlechkeit. We need to find "foundation stones" so basic that even sex addicts and alcoholics get them. We need to understand what fundamental moral principles worked for addicts to help them recover.

And the record is clear. In the first 20 years of AA, the addicts who were the most successful in recovery, used what AA literature again and again stresses are moral principles so basic, that every religion agrees to them. As the AA motto goes; "Keep it Simple".

That is how you build new foundations. With brutal honesty and absolute humility.

Yes, let us be very honest here. "S'past nisht" for us choshuve yidden, many of whom feel we are Talmidei Chachomim, to admit that we have been less than animals. "S'past nisht" to admit that we need to recover like goyishe addicts.

But Hakodosh Boruch Hu laughs and lovingly says: "Un s'Past yuh to be addicted to sex and lust?"

So dear brothers, I mean this from the very depths of my heart and I mean this out of love; let us stop fooling ourselves.

Whether we have recovered entirely from our addiction, whether we are in active recovery without recent relapse, whether are in active recovery following a recent relapse or whether we have not begun recovery at all; By all means let us not wait another day to build a path of Kedusha, let us not wait another day, to build a path of Torah, let us not wait another day to build a path of Mussar. But we do not want our efforts to be in vain. A building without foundations can be torn down by the first strong wind. We do not want chas vesholom to be left vulnerable and risk loosing all of our efforts, Kedusha, Torah and Mussar to the first relapse.

So let us learn the lesson of the drunks of AA. "Keep it Simple".

I would just like to add to Boruch's words in the spirit of Pesach. It seems to me that fundamental moral principles of the 12-Steps could be compared (in a sense) to Yetzias Mitzrayim. As we say in the Hagadah:

"Afilu Kulanu Chachamim, Kulanu Nevonim, Kulanu Yodim es Hatorah - Mitzva Aleinu Lesaper Bi'yetziyas Mitzrayim - Even if we are all wise, all understanding and we all know the Torah - we are commanded to tell over the story of our exodus from Egypt".

Why though? If we know it already, why must we repeat it?

Because knowing alone is not enough. We have to LIVE it.

"Chayav adam liros es atzmo ke'ilu HU yatza mi'mitzrayim - one is obligated to view himself as if HE himself left Egypt".

As Boruch wrote above, all the Chachma and Torah won't help us if we don't have the basic foundations. And that is what Yetziyas Mitzrayim is all about. To stop serving the Egyptians. To let go of their servitude and follow Hashem blindly into the dessert. To rely completely on Him and become a mentch once again.

And once we get those strong foundations on the first night of the Seder, we can start to count Seffirah and build ourselves up, step by step, until we finally merit receiving the Torah on Shavuos. And at that point, we finally become the Jewish nation - the nation of Hashem.

Single page