What does the Torah teach us about addiction?



Addiction is highlighted in the Torah's account of the Revelation at Mount Sinai, where the One Who Spoke and the World Came into Being instructed us not to get so caught up in our subjective assumptions about God that we would carve out and worship an image reflecting those assumptions. In other words, addiction is the act of replacing a truth--or need, or innate desire--with an artificial facsimile that eventually supersedes the very truth it was originally intended to represent. It is often born out of one's struggle and subsequent failure to reach the truth in question, the frustration of which can drive one to such desperation that one resorts to, say, a Golden Calf. And the healing of addiction, in turn, involves melting down the image and lapping it up, internalizing that which had been so unwholesomely externalized, to restore to the essential self what had belonged there all along.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Walking Stick Foundation

Thousand Oaks, CA


It is human nature, declares Torah, to err: "For the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21). Torah also recognizes the corollary: that we have the capacity to change our ways. And so our tradition offers us a path--through sacrifices, prayer or self-examination--to repentance, renewal, reconciliation and recovery.

One of my favorite biblical quotes is from Genesis 4:6-7. God has accepted Abel's offering but rejected the one from Cain. Yet God doesn't give up on Cain. He offers him some straight talk: "Why are you angry? If you are to do what is good, shouldn't you hold your head high? And if you don't do what is good, sin is crouching at the door. It wants you, but you can rule over it."

Temptation is there. Always ready to pounce. Always ready to snare us so that we say the wrong word, or waste time, or self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or too much junk food.

But we can also be the master over it. Not because we resort to prayer or turn to a Higher Power to pull us through--that is not what God says to Cain--but because we can take charge of our own actions.

The first step is acknowledging our human nature. We will fail over and over. We can also make good choices and get on the right path again.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism

New York, NY


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