Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Compulsion to Do an Aveira Must Be Treated Like an Addiction

In her second post about my and Rabbi Maryles' posts about some of the factors which are related to Jews going off the derech, Frumhouse wrote that the key to increasing the chances of Baalei Teshuva staying on the Derech is maintence in all areas of life. In the course of her comments, she wrote:

As an example, an ex-smoker might feel momentary relief in a cigarette during a stressful moment, but the pain of addiction and fear of cancer will be a quick reminder of why they quit in the first place. The drag of a cigarette can never be as sweet as those first puffs taken in ignorance of the consequences. Additionally, there will also be the sting of personal failure ingested with each inhale. Similarly, imagine the frustrations of a chronic dieter who struggles to lose weight, reaches a modicum of success, only to give up the difficult fight and pack the pounds back on. These analogies illustrate why I believe that BTs who go off the derech are never truly satisfied with their choice to revert back to their former lives. I realize that I am likening becoming frum to overcoming an addiction. However, I believe that this diagnosis is correct for many of us.

Although she seems somewhat appologetic for comparing doing aveiros to addition, I think this is a very accurate analogy. Addiction is not only about alcohol and narcotics. It is about not being able to resist any kind of compulsion and not being mevatel one's self, nullifying one's self, to G-d. For instance, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski has a Twelve Step Program for those with low self esteem. Groups also exist for Gamblers, Debtors, Clutterers and Workaholics.

When a person finds comfort in things that he knows are harmful to himself and others, he shares the same root problem that alcoholics and other addicts face. Doing aveiros in thought, word or deed fall into this category as well.

We could start other "Anonymous" groups to address these problems as well. We could have:

  • Shul Talkers Anonymous
  • Lashon Hara Speakers Anonymous
  • Bitul Torah Anonymous
  • Shmiras Ha'Einayim Anonymous

Let's say a person can't stop himself from talking in Shul, even though he knows that it's wrong and that he's passing up on the opportunity for davening to Hashem as well as the fact that he's distracting others. Or let's say that whenever a person's on the train, on the street or on the computer, he can't seem to stop himself from gazing at things that he is forbidden to look at. In either case, or a multitude of others, no matter how many times he tries to stop doing it, and no matter how much he knows that these things are destroying himself spiritually, he just can't seem to stop doing it.

As a summary, the twelve step programs take the following approach to this situation:

* admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or
* recognizing a greater power that can give strength
* examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member)
* making amends for these errors
* learning to live a new life with a new code
of behavior
*helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.

The first step is admitting that you don't control what you're doing wrong. There's no way to progress if you still see yourself as in the driver's seat, and that you "can stop doing it whenever you want to." The idea is recognizing that without turning to Hashem for help, you also cannot progress. As the Gemara in Kiddusin 30b says, "ואמר ר"ש בן לוי ... ואלמלא הקב"ה עוזרו אין יכול לו," "Reb Shimon ben Levi says that without Hashem's help [in conquering the evil inclination/Yetzer Hara], one cannot conquor it."

Whatever it is that a person can't stop himself from doing, he should view himself as being just as bad off as someone with an addiction. As long as one doesn't recognize the seriousness of his faults, he won't be able to even take the first step in correcting it. After that, one must turn to Hashem as their source of help and constantly recognize his faults and work to correct them.

May Hashem help us recognize our faults and turn to Hashem to help us correct them!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.


Anonymous said...

A Rav and his Rebbetzin, formerly of Monsey and now of Bnei Barak, developed the following 13 steps as a Torahdik approach to 12 steps. There are 2 versions:

13 Steps:

1. We admit that we behaved powerless over food/shmiras halashon/kaas etc. - that our life became unmanageable because of it.

2. Came to realize that there is a void within that is the forces behind this insane behavior, and it is waiting to be addressed.

3. Came to know that Hashem Yisborach will help us, as we take responsibility to address it.

4. Made a decision to turn our will over to Hashem Yisborach through learning and living HIs will through the Torah Hakadosha.

5. Came to make a loving, brave and searching inventory of ourselves.

6. Were entirely ready, through remorse to have Hashem Yisborach help us remove our shortcomings, and assist us in our self-work.

7. Chose to confide in a trusting and caring person to help us see things, clearly, and for loving guidance.

8. Admitted with truth and honesty the nature of our wrongdoing, first to ourselves and then to Hashem Yisborach.

9. Came to appreciate the importance and gift of prayer and trust in Hashem Yisborach for success.

10. Made a list of persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them.

11. Made direct amends to such people, except when to do so would injure them and others - (according to Halacha).

12. Continue to be self-reflective, taking personal inventory and promptly address our issues as they arise.

13. In recognition of our true selves and G-dly potential we continue through prayer and understanding to learn about and get close to Hashem Yisborach and live His will in all of our endeavors.

13 steps version 2:

1. Finding in oneself the desire to learn the meaning of truth, and the subservience to the truth.

2. The clarity and conscious knowledge that everything in our lives is only from Hashem Yisborach.

3. Learn to see the constant chesed of Hashem Yisborach in our life. Its precision and magnitude in every detail, and study metzius Hashem through clear perception of His ongoing chesed to us.

4. Understand the meaning of hakoras hatov, of being b'simcha, and the importance of living with thankfulness and praise.

5. Learn the art and potential of trust in Hashem Yisborach.

6. Study the greatness and potential of each individual including myself.

7. Understand the purpose and greatness of klal Yisroel.

8. Learning and understanding the joy and fulfillment of true mesiras nefesh.

9. Understanding the true meaning and virtue of being humble vs. low self esteem.

10. The meaning, the power and the how-to of tefilla.

11. Learn the meaning and depth of the mutual ahava between Hashem Yisborach and a Yid.

12. Understand the great gift and the process of teshuva, and the simplicity of hihur teshuva which completely cleanses one of guilt and guilty feelings.

13. Learning and understanding our destiny as the Am HaNivchar, of Beis HaMashiach and techias hameisim.

frumhouse said...

I did not know that these Torah-inspired 12 step programs existed. They seem like they could be helpful, and also show that the "addiction" comparison is not a new one.

Although I hear what you are saying about turning control over to Hashem - who is ultimately in control anyway - I also sense that this approach can lead to not taking responsibility for one's actions. I am specifically referring to this quote:

"The first step is admitting that you don't control what you're doing wrong. There's no way to progress if you still see yourself as in the driver's seat, and that you "can stop doing it whenever you want to." "

You follow this up with what I think is the real crux of the solution:

"The idea is recognizing that without turning to Hashem for help, you also cannot progress."

While we need to turn to Hashem for help, we also need to to do our own hishtadlus and not rely completely on emunah. I think there needs to be a parnership between the two.

But, I do agree with how you have further fleshed out the concept of aveiros as addictions.

Great post!

Neil Harris said...

Great post.

yitz said...


Also Rebbe Nachman, early on in the first few (3 or 4) Torahs in Likkutei Moharan addresses the issue of speaking to your friend or your Rebbe about what your yetzer hara wants you to do as a means of removing the depression that comes from embarrassment at even having to deal with a particular ta'avah. So there's Torah support for the 'sponsor' part of the idea.

Also in the way the Baal HaTanya phrases tzaddik v'ra lo (see yesterday and today's tanya in the daily tanya) one can learn out that as long as a person is fighting (and winning) the battle with addiction, the best they can accomplish is tzaddik v'ra lo. And the relationship between love of HaShem and hate of sin seems really relevant here.


I think I understand where u are coming from, but I would disagree, the only way to accomplish this is through genuine prayer to and emunah in HaShem.

I stress the word genuine, meaning you have to be honest with yourself that you are really working at it -- but as long as you think part of it is still in your hands, you are just making the same mistake again.