Just Say 'No!'
We’re Missing the Boat
In my lectures about drug addiction, I often cite the comment of a 14 year old girl who was interviewed about Nancy Reagan’s campaign to “Just Say ‘No!’ to Drugs.” The young woman said, “Why? What else is there?”
I have watched our government spend billions of dollars on drug prevention. I have seen them increase prison sentences and confiscate drugs. I see the sniffing dogs at the airport. Nothing has worked. Nothing has made a dent in the fatal drug epidemic. I believe that nothing will work until we have an answer to the young woman’s challenging question, “Why? What else is there?”---an answer that youngsters will accept.
At Gateway Rehabilitation Center, I meet with youngsters who do not see anything in life worthwhile, and have recourse to deadly chemicals. They know that drugs can kill them, but death is not a deterrent when life is meaningless.
The shocking thing is that some frum youngsters who are students of Torah and observant of mitzvos are not immune. (See recent blog on Heveria.com). One would think that these youngsters have a meaningful life. After all, they learn Torah and do mitzvos. They are taught that this is the purpose of life, that this is why they were created. Many have learned Mesilas Yesharim (The Path of the Just), whose first chapter is “The Duty of a Person in His World”). They behave as if they are dutybound to a higher principle. Why do they have recourse to deadly drugs?
In the 1960’s, the popular mantra was “If it feels good, do it.” Professor Albert Einstein correctly said that “This is a life ideal appropriate for a herd of swine.” Obviously, drugs “feel good,” but a goal in life of pursuit of pleasure is most degrading.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things in this world. The berachah we recite in the spring when the fruit trees blossom is, “Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, for nothing is lacking in His universe, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure with them.” It is also written that one of the questions we will be asked on our Judgment Day is, “Did you enjoy My world?” But that is a far cry from the hedonistic viewpoint that considers the world to be a huge amusement park, with no goal in life other than “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
One might think that Torah observance is the perfect antidote to a hedonistic lifestyle. Some 800 years ago, Ramban coined the term, naval birshus haTorah, a person who is in technical compliance with all of Torah, yet is a physically indulgent scoundrel.
Some frum people seem to have adapted the hedonistic mantra to “If it feels good, and it’s kosher, do it.” This attitude is conducive not only to drugs, but also to other harmful addictions.
Yet, it is not easy to live a frugal life when technology has eliminated so many discomforts. My first car was a 1936 Plymouth, with no air-conditioning, power steering and power brakes. Should I not have availed myself of these conveniences when they became available? With all the kosher conveniences at our disposal, it is difficult to avoid becoming a naval birshus haTorah,
It is not much solace that there are many tens of thousands frum people who are not addicted. The desire to live comfortably is innate, and it is difficult to draw the lines. All frum young people are vulnerable and all should be considered “kids at risk.”
A closely related issue is that many youngsters do not see a bright future for themselves. This is a consequence of low self-esteem, unjustified and unwarranted feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, a theme which I have addressed in a number of my books. With no aspirations to success and with a belief that the world is a huge playground meant to be fully enjoyed, the road to addictions is wide open.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe in Alei Shur points out that a feeling of chahsivus (worthiness) is essential for Torah observance. Prior to giving the Torah, Hashem said to the Israelites. “You have seen what I did to Egypt. I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you will listen to My voice and observe My covenant, You will be a treasure unto Me from among all nations. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). Rav Wolbe says that this uplifting feeling of chashivus was essential for them to receive the Torah. The Talmud says that “Every person is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for me’”(Sanhedrin 37a).
The fact that some Torah observant and cognizant people gravitate to the use of drugs means that we have missed the boat and have failed to instill in them a sense of purpose in life and a sense of chashivus, both of which are essential to prevent their yielding to the lure of drugs.