Treating Addiction With Jewish Values

Messages from Jewish tradition to help combat substance abuse and other addictions

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Prayer and meditation are perhaps the most obvious tools that the pastoral caregiver can give to the recovering person or family member. The pastoral caregiver can help the individual use the reading and the singing of prayers as a means of expanding awareness and un­derstanding of God. It may be particularly helpful to assist the individual in taking on specific daily practices, such as reciting prayers on awakening and before going to sleep, or beginning to recite birkhot hanehenim, the blessings assigned by tradition to mark both ordinary and extraordinary experiences of daily life.

Similarly, the pastoral caregiver might help the individual develop meditation practices to ex­pand the immediate awareness and experience of the holy, and how to use that experience in the service of mastery of feelings and cravings. Persons in recovery may be strengthened and encouraged by meditating regularly on particular verses, the divine name, or chants from tradition.

In addition to prayer and meditation, connecting the recovering son or family member to the practice of mitzvot can provide a spiritualanchor. The Book of Proverbs teaches, "Know God in all your ways." Keeping God constantly in mind is a spiritual discipline that has great value in the treatment and prevention of addictions. Regular performance of mitzvot accomplishes this. Although "mitzvah" is usu­ally translated as "commandment," we see mitzvah as a deed connecting us to our Higher Power, and thus every mitzvah is a spiritual deed.

For example, mitzvot connected to eating help enhance a person's awareness of God. As part of recovery from food addiction, the pastoral caregiver might teach the use of the berakhah (blessing) to change the experience of eating. In pausing to say a berakhah, the person cultivates an awareness and experience of the Source of all food, thus transforming a mundane act into a holy experience, a moment of connection with God. Regular recitation of the berakhah is a spiritual discipline that can bolster the spirit of the addicted person.

The language of spirituality alienates some Jews. For example, many Jews in recovery feel that Step Three in the 12-step program--turning one's life and one's will over to God--seems more "Christian" than Jewish. The Jewish pastoral caregiver needs to address this issue. Torah, Psalms, and rabbinic and Hasidic literature all stress the concept of surrender to God's will. For example, Pirke Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] teaches, "Do God's will as if it was your will."

In addition, Jewish practices can also be a means of turning one's life over to a Higher Power. For example, Shabbat is a dramatic practice of doing God's will. On Shabbat, we stop doing what we want to do, and do what God wants us to do. We simply rest and allow ourselves to be in tune with creation, enjoying food, family, and community; praying; and studying. Through Shabbat, a recovering person might find an opportunity to experience turning himself or herself over to God in a very positive, and Jewish, context. Pastoral caregivers can help people in recovery begin to embrace Shabbat observance and connect them to community as they do so.

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Rabbi Yaacov Kravitz

Rabbi Yaacov Kravitz is a licensed psychologist and President at the Center for Spiritual Intelligence, Inc.