Mussar & the 12-Steps

Part 2/5 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

Rabbi Twerski shared with me today an article that he wrote for the website It describes beautifully how the 12-Steps are derived from Torah principles, and it gives a clear summary of the 12-steps and how they apply to us as Frum Jews.

Step #1: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step #2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This is essentially the Talmudic statement (Kedushin 30b) that one's yetzer hara (evil inclination) increases in strength every day, and were it not for the help of G-d, one would not be able to withstand it. In other words, without the help of G-d, we are powerless over the yetzer hara. Indeed, the Talmud relates that two of our greatest tzaddikim were tempted by Satan and were actually in the process of submitting to the sin, and were saved only by the intervention of G-d. (Kedushin 81a).

The Talmud refers to sin as due to temporary insanity (Sotah 3a). Thus, just as we are powerless to resist the temptation to sin without G-d's help, so the alcoholic is powerless to resist the temptation to drink, and only a Power greater than oneself (which we define as G-d) can prevent the insane behavior.

Our powerlessness over sin is primarily due to two factors. (1) The overwhelming power of the yetzer hara. This is well described in what I consider a frightening essay by Rebbe Yeruchem, "The Land is Given Over to Evil," in which he describes the extraordinary powers of the Satan (Daas Chochama Umussar, vol.2 p.139). This essay was written in 1928, long before Satan greatly expanded his already formidable powers by means of the internet and television!

(2) Our vulnerability to self-deception. Like a judge who takes a bribe, our judgment is seriously compromised by our desires, which are powerful bribes. Harav Dessler addresses this in his essay on "The Perspective of Truth (Michtav M'Eliyahu vol. 1).

Without siyattya dishmaya (Divine assistance) we are helpless.

Step #3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-d as we understood Him.

The phrase "G-d as we understood Him" has been a source of confusion. It was meant to avoid reference to the deity of any religion. The Jew should say, "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Hashem." This step expresses two Torah concepts. (1) Set aside your own will in favor of the will of Hashem (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4) and (2) "Cast upon G-d your burden, and He will sustain you" (Psalms 55:23).

Moshe Rabenu warns us not to assume that we are in control of our fate. "Lest you say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth.' Then you shall remember Hashem, that it is He Who gives you strength to make wealth." (Deuteronomy 9-17).

Step #4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

All sifrei mussar repeatedly stress the importance of chesbon hanefesh, a personal accounting which could not be expressed any better than "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." This must indeed be fearless, because it takes great courage to honestly search oneself and confront parts of our character and personality whose existence we may be reluctant to acknowledge. King Solomon says, "Every way of a person is right in his own eyes" (Proverbs 21:2). It is so easy to rationalize and justify our actions.

In doing a moral inventory, we must list our assets as well as our liabilities, our merits as well as our faults, because only this way can we achieve a true self-awareness. The mussar authority, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz said that if a person is unaware of one's faults, one does not know what one must correct. However, a person who is unaware of one's character strengths is even in a more sorry state, because one is unaware of the tools one has to live a proper life.