Our Yiddishkeit Changes in Recovery
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski sent us the following question:
But all this changes when he starts to admit that the elephant in the room is not a Torah or Jewish problem, but a human problem. That he is ill. Now, being sick does not mean he is no longer held responsible for his behavior. As in all diseases, admitting illness is the first and crucial step toward enabling one to start taking full responsibility to do what they must to get well! Finally, his sexual acting out/drinking/drugging/gambling is revealed to be what it really is: far more serious than sinning. It is what the Gemora and Halocha refer to as: "Sakanta chamira me’isura.” Yes, there is a thing that is more serious than sin: a thing that destroys one’s very humanity and sanity. Derech Eretz is truly kodmah laTorah. Sure, when one sins we are told the sinner is subject to a spirit of folly (ruach shtus) - but addiction is far more than that. It’s ultimately a lifestyle based on and tolerant of fakeness and cultivation of insanity. It eventually makes the addict's relationships and avodas Hashem mezuyafim mitochom - filled with falsehood. An addict finally standing at his or her precious Step 1 knows that a double life is no life. If his broken heart and humiliation teach him anything, it is the humility to accept that he has not just failed at controlling his desires, but at living as himself. Life - not alcohol/sex - has become unmanageable (as stated in Step 1). The ruach shtus the Gemora refers to has little to do with addiction. Chaza”l overwhelmingly refer to normal people and their struggle against the yetzer - not to addicts and addiction. This partially explains why Torah, Mussar, Chassidus, TaPHSiC, and even, l’havdil, basic psychological treatment (again, please see ’The Doctor’s Opinion’) often fall flat on their faces for the real addict. Derech Eretz is kodmah laTorah - there is no other way. The addict eventually discovers that he cannot become frum, good, or holy enough to beat addiction. A very painful realization. But this self-honesty is the doorway to avodas Hashem that can be real (please see the first page of ch. 3 in 'Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions' for a nice description of this idea from the point of view of the alcoholic).
Thankfully, our sanity does NOT have to be perfect in order for Torah to succeed with helping people grow - as RMB”M makes clear in Sh’moneh P’rakim, we are all ill to some degree with what he calls cholo’ei hanefesh. But there is a point where derech eretz - humanity and sanity - are lacking to a degree that Torah and avodah themselves become part of the problem. Where the mind is just too twisted to succeed by 'thinking' - what Chaza”l refer to as ‘ein chavush matir atzmo mibeis ha’asurim.’ Addicts seem to be just such people, and recovery is here for us. Thank G-d, Chaza”l did not waste much time expounding on treatment of the small percentage of sinning people who are actually addicts. Instead, Chaza”l passed on to the whole of Israel, a rich and beautiful Torah sheb’al Peh filled with powerful tools for the overwhelming majority of Yidden through all generations: normal, struggling people. And it continues to serve the Jewish People very well, b"H.
But addicts need something a lot more basic than what they have always had. For we are the 'sh'eino yodeya lish'ol' of the Haggada... though we always thought we were the rosho or tzaddik (as others did, too). Derech Eretz is kodma laTorah, and it is Derech Eretz - openness, honesty, and sanity - that we need most, right now.