Reprinted with permission from Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional & Contemporary Sources, edited by Dayle A. Friedman (Jewish Lights).
Treatment for the multifaceted problems of addiction focuses on the thinking and the behavior of the addict. The pastoral caregiver is the professional best able to address the spiritual aspects of addiction. His or her task is to frame the problem of addiction in a spiritual context and to help the addict replace an addictive pattern with spiritually oriented thought patterns and behaviors.
The pastoral caregiver can frame addiction in a spiritual context by using biblical and midrashic images. For example, the pastoral caregiver might present the story of the Exodus of the children Israel from Egypt as a model for the journey from addiction to recovery. Egypt (mitzrayim in Hebrew) literally means the double narrow place; it is the place where the Hebrews were given over into slavery. Addiction comes from a Latin root meaning “to give oneself over.”
Addiction to substances or experiences is slavery, addiction is astate in which one is powerless and out of control. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is also the personal story of each addicted Jew emerging from his or her narrow place, tempted repeatedly to backslide, but struggling always to reach the promised land of recovery, serenity, and spirituality.
Awareness of God
The great Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav taught that cravings and addictions destroy our awareness of God, and destroy the awe of God that every Jew has deep within his or her heart. Addictions are at one end of a continuum. Every day, each of us has thoughts and behavior we don’t want, such as anger, jealousy, or cravings for food, wealth, or sex. We can become enslaved to any of these experiences because they appear to offer pleasure, prestige, or salvation from what we think ails us. Our normal, everyday cravings can become addictions when influenced by the right combination of genetic predisposition, unusual stress, or extended consumption.