Yiddishkeit and 12 Steps: The Rabbi's Opinion

Part 5/6 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

by Twerski, Rabbi Dr. Avraham (See all authors)

A recovering person writes:

Connecting to Gd, recognizing G-d does everything, moral inventory (cheshbon hanefesh, albeit with a different slant: it’s not guilt-based, Yiddishkeit's tshuva is), step 9 - making amends - is like tshuva too, without the guilt...

There are two types of guilt, healthy and unhealthy.

Healthy guilt is a painful feeling, like touching a red-hot stove. It discourages one from repeating the wrongful act. If a person does not feel pain when touching a hot stove, he should consult a neurologist, because there is something wrong with his nervous system.

A sociopath is without conscience and does not feel guilt. If one does not feel guilt for doing wrong, there is something wrong with him. Healthy guilt is what motivates a person to make amends and do teshuva.

Unhealthy guilt is feeling guilty even though one has not done anything to warrant feeling guilty. Pathologic guilt requires psychotherapy.

A recovering person writes:

[…] even though the concepts are the same as in Torah, it’s not like the Yiddishkeit I was raised with! I was never raised to be misboded (meditate) - maybe Breslovers were, but I went to Litvisha yeshivos. And if I said I had a spiritual experience and felt Gd’s presence, I would have been made fun of if not had my head examined. One of the things I love the most from the program actually is just sitting and feeling close to Gd, or asking Him to help me feel close to Him. I once went into a corner in shul and wanted to talk to Hashem and someone asked me if I was ok. (The Chofetz Chaim used to talk to Hashem in his attic. It’s not a practice taught in yeshivos).

The fact that yeshivos do not emphasize meditation is a shortcoming of the teaching system, not of Yiddishkeit. The Talmud says that the pious people used to meditate a full hour before prayer. Both Chassidic and mussar writings stress meditation, feeling close to G-d and spiritual experiences.

A recovering person writes:

Reb Yisrael Salanter met the Chafetz Chaim one time, and he told the Chofetz Chaim that he loved his sefer on not saying loshon hara but he doesn't understand how the Chofetz Chaim could write that if you speak loshon hara about someone you have to notify them and ask forgiveness. What gives the person a right to cause pain to another by telling them they spoke lashan hara about them? The Chofetz Chaim said he heard the question but what he wrote was rooted in Shulchan Aruch (Jewish law) - step 9 says you can't harm the person you want to make amends to.

This is an interesting argument between two Torah authorities. I had a person ask my forgiveness for having bad-mouthed me. I forgave him, but I wished he would not have told me. He could have benefitted from the general forgiveness I do every night at the Shema on retiring. It is perfectly legitimate to favor Reb Yisrael Salant’s position.

A recovering person writes

I'm struggling with incorporating the 12 steps in my life. A lot of the practices and tenets are sourced from Christianity (the Oxford group) and other non-Jewish sources. The prayers, such as the 3rd step prayer, the serenity prayer, and 11th step prayer (aka St Francis’ prayer)) cause me difficulty; also the practice of "hitting the knees."

I’ve often said that Bill Wilson plagiarized mussar. If a non-Jewish source quotes a Jewish principal, that does not disqualify it.

We do not say prayers that are part of another religion’s liturgy. I’m not aware of the Serenity Prayer being in Christian liturgy.

“Hitting the knees” is a symbol of humbling oneself before G-d. In the amida (shemona esrei) we genuflect four times, and although our knees do not hit the ground, we humble ourselves before G-d twelve times every day.

A recovering person writes:

Step 11 says don't pray for yourself - Yiddishkeit is full of prayers for
yourself.

I did not address this issue adequately.

The Zohar is critical about people who pray selfishly, “Gimme, gimme.”

However, it is appropriate to ask Hashem, “Please provide me with what I need to do Your mitzvos.” One cannot do mitzvos or study Torah unless one is in good health and has adequate nutrition. One cannot do tzedaka unless one has the means to do so. This is not selfish prayer.