The Torah Approach
I want to try to clarify some of the fundamental differences between the Torah approach and other approaches. I do not want to discuss any particular approach. I only want to try to add clarity to what the Torah approach is. The things I discuss may or may not be contrary to any particular approach.
We all know that our understanding is limited, and Hashem's is not. There are many things which may seem like contradictions to us but we trust Hashem that they are not. The classic example is yediah and bechira, or in the physical world: "Is light (energy) made up of particles or is it waves?" Just like in physics, experiments will show that they are both true even though it makes no sense at all to our tiny brains; so to in Avodas Hashem "Taamu Ure'u" when you try it it works.
On the other hand, it is of-course simpler to think simple. For example, if you want to strengthen your bitachon, it is simpler if you get the bechira out of the way. But Hashem expects us to strike a balance and have bitachon without getting bechira out of the way.
This type of balance is the key to most of the issues I want to discuss. I will only mention each one briefly and bli neder in the future I will try to elaborate be'H.
1) Religious reasons vs. self-interest.
Why do I want to stop? Is it for me or for Hashem?
According to the Torah there is no such question. Hashem commanded us to choose life so that we should live. We do it because He commanded us; He commanded us because it's our life. We are not doing Hashem a favor by doing a mitzvah, but we are making a "nachas ruach" - "sheomar v'naaseh retzono". We know that the reason He commanded us to do it is purely for our gain and not His. Every Jew has to know that this is a fact, regardless of how well he can understand it. (And there are many levels of understanding)
We don't need to separate our issue from the Torah in order to realize that our good is at stake because aderaba that's what the Torah is all about.
2) Will I be a goner if I mess up once?
This is a tough question. On the one hand, it's so important to run from falling, like death itself. On the other hand, if one does chas vesholom fall, it's so important to be able to get right back up. People may feel that we need to choose one way, but according to Hashem's infinite wisdom you can learn to balance both. When a nissoyon comes up we need to look at it as nothing less than suicide. By the same token, we need to avoid nisyonos like the plague.
But if c'v we fall, we need to look at the moment after, like a new life - a new mission - a new shlichus from Hashem. We need to think " What does Hashem want from me NOW?"
3) Progressive recovery:
The Torah approach is to remove yourself farther and farther away from lust and sin; closer and closer to Hashem. You soon reach a state where "those things" don't talk to you at all. But that does not mean that you can be complacent. Again, balance is the key. Just like in a war, as you conquer ground and move the front lines farther and farther back, you still need to keep your guard up for a surprise attack; so to, as we get farther and farther from the tumah that we were previously addicted to, we still need to always be on guard for a sneak attack.
4) Bitachon vs. Histadlus:
Breaking free from the addiction is in many ways lemaaleh miderech hateva. We need a miracle and bitachon is the way to merit a miracle. Furthermore, the addiction thrives on anxiety [it thrives especially on the very anxiety that it causes] and bitachon is THE answer to anxiety. But according to the Torah, we can reach real, true bitachon, without lessening our hishtadlus at all. (This is a very important discussion; R' Tzadok says that the apparent contradiction is what caused the whole conflict between Yoseph Hatzadik and the Shevatim. I hope to discuss it more very soon)
5) Goals and Expectations:
Here again, we need balance. The higher we set our goals, the farther we will get. On the other hand, high expectations are very dangerous. But the Torah way is to have NO expectations at all - כגמול עלי אמו I'm in Hashems arms - I trust Him totally. I don't demand anything from Him. I will accept whatever happens - once it has happened. But I have no reason to lower my goals or to stop davening for them. The higher my goals, the farther I'll get.
6) Ratzon vs. Bitul:
This is a really major one. It's quite obvious that we all have something big cooking inside of us. We can't just float through life; we were born with an extra dose of deep-seated ratzon - desire - quest - passion. It's also quite obvious that this powerful desire can be -and has been- hijacked by lust. Some people may feel that we need to lessen our desire and try to become like a jellyfish floating in the water botul to the waves that Hashem sends his way. I even heard someone refer to this desire as an essentially negative thing.
It's my understanding, that according to Hashem's Torah, there could be nothing further from the truth. In fact, it is spiritual suicide to ruin this desire. Hashem gave each of us a Neshomoh with a strong yearning because that's what life is all about. צמאה נפשי לאלוקים לקל חי We were put on this world to bring this desire to fruition. In fact, this desire is our true essence. It's a great tragedy if one c'v loses it.
The Torah approach is also bitul. Bitul to Ratzon Hashem as spelled out in the Torah and bitul to whatever Hashem has sent my way including this HUGE challenge known as lust addiction. It includes accepting that Hashem knows what's best for me and it includes thanking Him for whatever He has given me. But Hashem's Torah says that this is no contradiction at all to a powerful all-encompassing thirst for Hashem - this is what Tehilim is all about.
And of course, it works. Not only do they not diminish each other, but they actually strengthen each other.
7) Realizing how weak you can be and how low you have fallen vs. Recognizing your potential and the power of your Neshomoh:
Balance again. The Torah teaches us that we have a very high Neshomoh and tremendous potential. Furthermore, our Neshomoh is our true essence. BUT we also have a guf that is very animalistic. And that guf can take over. It can become "Baal Habayis". We need to know this so that with Hashem's help we can set things straight. If you don't know your potential, you can't realize it.
8 ) Growing from the struggle:
People may feel that thinking about growth is counter-productive. But the Torah view is that the addiction is an indication of what happens when you let the y'h and your guf pull you away from Hashem. The solution is, of course, to make an about face and work on getting closer to Hashem through His Torah. We must learn the lesson that -as the Torah says, "that" way is the way to death and you desperately want the other way.
9) Torah and Mitzvohs vs. Emuna, Bitachon, Dveikus and Bitul :
A very large part of the world claims that Mitzvahs are a distraction from these things. But Hashem says that it's quite the opposite. Of course, we often don't see that the Torah and Mitzvahs are getting us there. When that happens, the Torah way is to find out where we went wrong.
10) Improving self-control vs. Leaving it up to Hashem:(Very similar to #4 but here I'm talking more about the general attitude as opposed to dealing with a nissoyon)
Some people may feel that self-control has proven to be ineffective and therefore they must leave it up to Hashem. According to Hashem's infinite Wisdom, that reasoning is a terrible mistake. If you come to the realization that you have been missing Siyata DiShmaya, you would want to do whatever you can to merit Siyata DiShmaya and investing maximum effort does exactly that!
The problem is that one may feel that self-control, implies that I don't need Hashem, or at least that I am not completely dependent on Him. This is good reasoning for one who hasn't received the Torah on Har Sinai. But we know that it just doesn't work like that. The Gemoroh says that if Hashem wouldn't save us from the y'h we would be gone-finished. In fact, all our Tefilos about this imply that it is totally in the Hands of Hashem. We don't say "Help us return," we say "Return us!" Everyone is totally dependent on Hashem - addict or not.
But our job is still to try to control ourselves. The work is our job, Hashem gives us success. Like the Gemoroh says about Torah "One without the other is not enough" We need maximum effort with davening to Hashem. The Tanya in perek 13 and R' Tzadok in Machshivos Charutz explain [It's also clear from the Kedushas Levi in Vayichi] that the Siyata Dishmaya comes from within - through our Neshomoh. Self-control is always from Hashem, through the Neshomoh and seichel that are controlling the guf.
11) Self-expression, self-fulfilment, and self-improvement vs. Selflessness and "Lishmah":
Some people may feel that you can keep the whole Torah and be a Tzadik by concentrating on self-improvement; but, if you need a special "super-siyata DiShmaya," then Torah is not enough and you need to stop living for yourself.
First, let me say that I hope no one around here feels this way, because it is k'fira. We know that Hashem came to us on Har Sinai and gave us the Torah. The Torah is not a collection of Mitzvohs, rather it is the book of Hashem's wisdom - it is the blueprint of the world. There can not possibly be a better way to live than the Torah way.
So what, then, is the Torah's view on the question of selflessness and self-actualization? The simple answer is - once again - that in the Creator's opinion they are one and the same - whether we understand it or not. Look at any real Tzadik and you will see that he excels in both. He is constantly striving to improve himSELF and at the same time he is totally selfless. R' Chaim Volozhiner would constantly remind his children that "האדם לא לעצמו נברא אלא להועיל לאחרים" - while at the same time his life was most definitely dedicated to SELF-improvement through Torah.
But I think it would be helpful to try to understand how it works. We know that our Neshomoh is a "Chelek Eloka Mimaal", Hashem - kaviyochol - breathed it into us. THE NATURE OF THE NESHOMO IS TO EMULATE HASHEM [AS MUCH AS IT CAN] AND TO GRAVITATE TOWARDS HASHEM. Emulating Hashem includes being selfless. Being selfless is not a trick to get us somewhere rather it's the "Yoshor" way that Hashem created us. Gravitating towards Hashem is not a "Religious issue" but rather it's the "Yoshor" way that Hashem created us. Selfishness and all other bad midos come from the guf (=nefesh hab'hami). And when the guf takes control, all kinds of trouble happen.
Being selfish is -in essence, distorting the way that Hashem made you. The Jew's job is to set things straight. That is Hashem's idea of self-actualization and that is what the Torah is all about. [Once we set things straight we become a "merkava" for the Shechina, which means that we are the vessel - the guf - for the Shechina. See Kedushas Levi Parshas Vayechi on "התחת אלוקים אנכי"]