Addiction and Jews


By Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff

The catastrophic numbers of drug users, deaths and overdoses only pale to the nightmare of a 90-percent relapse rate. This plague has not passed over the Jewish people.

Does Judaism have anything to offer in the recovery of those battling addictions? Can poring over the weekly portion, mumbling through mincha prayers, tying tefillin, kindling candles and sitting in a sukkah really be the magic pills to eradicating the epidemic of alcohol, drug, sex, food and gambling addictions?  That sounds foolish.

But don’t be so foolish to not understand that Yiddishkeit is indeed the exact shining key to unlocking the elusive chamber that contains the treasure to finally healing the addict forever. In reality, Judaism is the gateway solution; it helps to transform one’s life by discovering the actual purpose of why we are here.

The addict is all about selfishness. It is a nasty dangerous business of self-indulgent, hoggish, egocentric narcissism. The user is devout and devoted; it is his religion. And it’s not a two-day-a-year religion for him. He is orthodox about it. Every minute of the day he is either using or praying to be using. And he will sacrifice his own family, even his only son Isaac. He wants to be high and then get even higher; he wants to be the highest. Which essentially means no one and nothing can be higher. That is his goal and the purpose of his life.

Enter Judaism. The practices, Torah, texts, stories, deeds and mystical teachings are all about negating one’s self-centered, ungenerous, greedy plots and plans. The negation occurs by serving others, and by serving the highest entity who is higher than the mortal seeking to get high. A complete transformative focus must be the new goal. How can I connect with the Creator who awoke me from my slumber this morning? And how can I selflessly connect to His creations living in my community and world?

The spark of connection is initiated via the mitzvah and the ongoing contact is protracted and propagated through continued acts and teachings that define one’s very purpose in life. Was the whole world created, and survived over the centuries, for me to be born and wake up this morning in order to get wasted? Or is there a deeper meaning as to the very purpose of my life, so I shouldn’t waste it.

“Judaism may work or help in other aspects of life, but addiction is different!” So goes the mantra of some in the recovery world. But we were reminded last month of the commemoration of the prison release of the blessed soul of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe. After being rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940, he arrived on the shores of New York. Upon reaching dry ground, he was told that the Western world has dissimilar and divergent goals and purposes than his sacred old world books.

Schneersohn firmly straightened up from his wheelchair and said, “America iz nisht anderisht!” America is not different.

From a righteous man, who understood what it took to be freed from a Soviet prison cell, who went on to lay the foundation for the global renaissance of Torah, we can learn that recovery iz nisht anderisht. Recovery is not different. We need Judaism.

As Jews, we indeed do have tools that assist us from escaping from our imprisonment. We can rebuild our personal growth, the kind of unselfish growth that leads to discovering our very purpose in this world. Stopping addictive behavior is not about the end of a specific action; it is the complete love, loyalty and purposeful enthusiasm for a new all-consuming positive stimulant.

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff has lectured in more than 600 cities worldwide to communities, campuses and corporations. He is the founder of the Center for Jewish Addiction Rehabilitation and the director of the Florida-licensed Tikvah Lake Recovery & Spa.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here