Mussar & the 12-Steps

Part 5/5 (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 #12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Torah teaches us that we have a duty of arvus, of mutual responsibility for one another. There is a Scriptural mitzvah of tochacha, of giving reproof for improper behavior. Indeed, if one has the possibility of positively influencing another person and fails to do so, one is held responsible for the other person's misdeeds.

The Talmud says that there is one verse on which all of Torah depends: "Know G-d in all your ways" (Proverbs 3:6), Torah rejects the idea "Give unto G-d that which is His and unto Caesar that which is his." We do not have two standards, one for religion and the other for the secular. We are required to practice the principles of Torah "in all our affairs."

My book, Self-Improvement? I'm Jewish, was written at the request of a recovering alcoholic who wanted a program based on mussar. At the end of the book, I cited the 12-steps, pointing out that they essentially comprise a program based on mussar.

Let me share another insight with you.

Rambam says that true teshuvah is achieved when "Hashem, who knows the innermost secrets of one's heart, will testify that the person will never again commit this sin" (Laws of Teshuva 2:2). Commentaries ask (e.g Lechem Mishnah), How can Rambam make that statement? A person always has bechira, the freedom to do good or to sin. If Hashem testifies that the person will never again commit that sin, then either he loses his bechira or Hashem's testimony was not correct. Neither of these is acceptable.

I attended a meeting of recovering alcoholics at which the speaker said, "The man I once was, drank. And the man I once was, will drink again. If I ever go back to being the man I once was, I will drink again." Suddenly, the Rambam's words were clear.

A sin does not occur in a vacuum. A sin occurs when a person is in a spiritual state that allows that sin to occur.

For example, a frum person would not eat treife. He is at a level of Torah observance where eating tereife is just not a possibility. Let us suppose that he discovered that he inadvertently had spoken lashon hara. He regrets this deeply and resolves, "I must now be more careful with my speech."

Good teshuva? No, says Rambam. Speaking lashon hara is a grievous sin, just as is eating tereife. Yet, although it was impossible that this person would inadvertently eat tereife, it was not impossible for him to inadvertently speak lashon hara. True teshuva, says Rambam, is when the person elevates himself to a level of kedusha where inadvertently speaking lashon hara is as impossible as eating tereife.

It is, of course, possible that a person may slip from that level of kedusha, in which case he may indeed repeat the act. Thus, Hashem does not testify that the person will never again commit the sin, but rather that he has succeeded in attaining a level of kedusha, where, at this level, that sin is not a possibility. That is why the Rambam, uncharacteristically, chose to refer to Hashem as, "who knows the innermost secrets of one's heart;" i.e, He knows that this person has achieved the level of spirituality.

This why the Rambam continues, that with this kind of teshuva, the person can say, "I am no longer the same person that committed that sin" (ibid. 2:4).