Mussar & the 12-Steps

Part 3/5 (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 www.TorahWeb.org. 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 #5: Admitted to G-d, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This step has been misconstrued as being the Catholic confession. This is not so. In his guide to proper living, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk says that a person should avail oneself of a trusted friend, to whom one can admit everything has done, and even the objectionable thoughts and desires one has harbored. Verbalizing these breaks the hold of the yetzer hara.

Private, moral offenses, should not be aired publicly, but we should share our interpersonal foibles. These are generally due to our acquisitive drives which lead to envy and dishonesty.

Step #6: Were entirely ready to have G-d remove all these defects of character.

Step #7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

We generally can control our behavior, but we may have little or no control over some of our feelings. It is evident from the Talmud that we are born with some character traits, some of which we can sublimate and redirect to positive goals. We may not, by our own efforts, be able to extirpate some undesirable traits.

The saintly Chafetz Chaim was known to pray tearfully at the Ark of the Torah that G-d relieve him of his feelings of anger. The Chafetz Chaim never exhibited anger, because he was in control of his behavior, but he could not eliminate feeling angry, and he prayed that G-d remove these.

Obviously, we must do our homework to rid ourselves of objectionable traits, and this is how one becomes "ready to have G-d remove all these defects of character." Once one has done whatever is within one's power, one can then "ask G-d to remove our shortcomings."

Step #8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

The Talmud says that whereas a person's sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur, this does not apply to offenses committed against another person. Divine forgiveness is granted only if one has genuinely sought forgiveness from the person one harmed or offended.

Step #9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

It is of interest that there is a difference of opinion between ethicists whether a person should seek to make amends if doing so would be displeasing to the victim. A man asked me to forgive him for having spread a bad rumor about me. I did forgive him, but I wished that he had not told me about this, because now I was worried about what bad rumors might be circulating about me.

In such cases, Rabbi Yisrael of Salant said that one would be better off not asking for forgiveness, because this aggravates the person. The Chafetz Chaim, however, said that one must ask forgiveness nevertheless. I was amused that Bill Wilson had gravitated to the opinion of Rabbi Yisrael of Salant.

"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible." The latter is an interesting qualification. What can you do when the person whom you offended has moved to another country and there is no way you can find and reach him? Siduro Shel Shabbos says that when you genuinely regret your action and have exhausted every possibility at personally contacting the person you offended, you may assume that Hashem will put it in his heart to forgive you.