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A deeper understanding of Yetzias Mitzrayim

Why do addicts need to start from scratch?

GYE Corp. Monday, 09 April 2012
Part 1/3 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

We have previouly discussed how the 12-Steps give us a set of guidelines that are basic foundations of what it means to be a human being - created in the image of G-d. We have also discussed that it is only after our foundations are solid that can we begin to build on top of them and discover what it means to be a Yid, and how we can achieve Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Hashem, Torah and Kedusha.

The question I would like to address today is, why do we addicts need to start from the very foundations? Who said we don't already have foundations? Why can't we focus instead on breaking free of the addiction by developing a closeness with Hashem through Torah, Teffilah, Mussar and Kedusha?

To answer this, I would like to quote Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski in an article he wrote recently on addiction, where he defines what it means to be an "addict":

The ultimate distinction between man and animals is not that man is more intelligent, but that animals are creatures that have no choice over their behavior. They must do whatever their bodies demand. They cannot choose what they should do. Man has the ability of self-control, to choose one's behavior, even in defiance of physical urges.

If a person loses one's ability to choose and is dominated by urges one cannot control, one is indeed an addict. Losing the ability to choose is losing the uniqueness of being a human being, and robs one of the dignity of being human. We pride ourselves on liberty and view slavery as evil because it dehumanizes a person. And that is exactly what happens when we relinquish our ability to choose.

We see from Rabbi Twerski's definition that what defines an addict is that he has lost his very humanity through his addiction. He has sunk lower than an animal.


Now let's hear what our 12-Step expert, Boruch, has to say about this. Boruch writes:

The way I see it, there is one yesod in Yiddishkeit that requires that we addicts use the 12 steps.

Most of us thought that we simply needs more Torah and more Kedusha, and that is how we will be saved from our Yetzer Hara. But as the Navi says in Yeshaya (55:8,9):

My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways, says Hashem. Just as the sky is higher than the Earth so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah (4:1):

One can only teach Torah to either a talmid that we know has appropriate behavior, or someone whose nature is not apparent (see Kesef Mishna). However, if a talmid is on a "derech lo tova" (a bad path) you do not teach him Torah. You first have to return him to the path of "tov" (good) and guide him to the path of "yashrus" (straightness). Then we check that he is sound, and only then do we teach him.

The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) speaks of someone who has Torah without Fear of Heaven:

Rabbah bar Rav Huna said; whoever has Torah without Yiras Shomayim is like the treasure keeper who has the keys to doors of the inner vault, but does not have the keys to the outer doors. How is he to get access to the treasure?

Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l was once asked the following question. The sefer Chovos Halevovos constantly refers to our obligation of hakoras hatov (thanks) to Hakodosh Boruch Hu as being the foundation and basis for our obligation to do the mitzvos. The questioner asked, "I did not ask Hashem to create me, so why should I be grateful to Him?" Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l answered that the Chovos Halevovos was only written for mentschen. It was not written for someone who is bichlal not a mentsch.

His answer was clear. The Chovos Halevovos assumes a certain basic level of character. If someone is so ungrateful that he does have gratitude for his life - the greatest gift imaginable - simply because he never asked for it, then he is not even a mentsch.

The message of the above examples are clear. Torah, Fear of Heaven and Mussar all require, as the Rambam writes, a minimum level of behavior. They were written and given for mentschen.

But as Rabbeinu Yonah says of the sinner in Shaarei Teshuva 1:10, and this is certainly true of the addict who has lost self-control:

How have I become like the animals?... and more, I have not even done as an animal, but sunk to even less then they...

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