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Say No to Drugs

Say No to Drugs

And All Other Artificially Induced Highs...


Rabbi Mendel Futterfas was imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for the crime of assisting his coreligionists in escaping the USSR in the dark post-World War II days. Many of his fellow inmates were professionals and intellectuals from the upper-crust of society, imprisoned because of the ostensible "threat" they constituted to Soviet ideology.

This group often wondered how Mendel maintained his cheerful demeanor despite the sub-human conditions which pervaded the camp. When they posed the question to him, he instantly replied:

"You are all dejected because your incarceration prevents you from materializing your life's goals. My goal in life is to serve G‑d. And that—I can do wherever I may be!"

Most of our supposed sources of happiness are a subtle form of escapismAside for the damage caused to the body by illegal or other mind-altering substances and excessive consumption of alcohol, as well as their potential for wreaking damage on relationships and careers, they also invariably disappoint those who turn to them in order to fill a void in their lives. In the end, they solve nothing; they only offer a temporary escape from melancholic feelings and/or one's sense of inadequacy and lack of accomplishment. Indeed, even at the moment one is experiencing an artificial high, the problems don't disappear. Even if one succeeds in momentarily removing all worries from the conscious mind, they always lurk in the sub-conscious—never allowing the person to find complete solace. As a wise person once said, "People imagine they can drown their troubles in drink; little do they know that their troubles float..."

But "escapism" isn't relegated to the world of hallucinogenics. On a deeper level, most of our supposed sources of happiness are—to a certain extent—a subtle form of escapism. They are an escape from who we are; an attempt to find happiness from without, instead of finding true happiness within. While we chase transient possessions in our pursuit of happiness, we imagine that the reason for our emptiness and lack of happiness is our failure in achieving our goals. Happiness and utopian bliss are certain to wash over our lives once we've earned our first few million... If only we knew that it is all an exercise in futility. I once saw a quote from mega-millionaire Hollywood icon Jim Carrey, saying that he wishes that everyone had what he did—just so that they could see how meaningless it all is!

Happiness comes not from possessions. While one can find a certain measure of happiness in one's accomplishments, such happiness is also incomplete. For our accomplishments will never fully meet our satisfaction. Ultimate happiness is happiness with who we are, contentment with our very identity.

Jim Carry, said that he wishes that everyone had what he did—so that they could see how meaningless it all is!During the High Holidays—and specifically on Yom Kippur—we connect with our innermost core, the essence of the Jewish soul which is eternally and unconditionally connected to G‑d. It is precisely because of this unconditional bond that G‑d annually grants us a full-hearted forgiveness, despite our behavior in the previous year. During Yom Kippur, however, the atmosphere is too somber and intense, and we are too involved in serious repentance, for us to savor and appreciate what transpires during those awesome moments. It takes a few days for our incredible fortune to sink in: Connection to G‑d is who we are! And because this is our very identity, absolutely nothing can alter it—attempting to disconnect a Jew from G‑d would be akin to attempting to transform a cow into a horse!

"Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful our heritage!"

So for seven days we forget about all else. We leave behind our home and possessions—and all other imaginary sources of happiness—and go out into a flimsy non-weatherproof hut. We sing, rejoice and say l'chaim; we're happy because we finally focus and what's really important in life—our own selves!

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Anonymous Marysville,, WA October 1, 2012

Connection to G-d This article profoundly demonstrates the fervent relationship the Jewish people have with G-d. G-d is our Rock, Shield, Deliverer, Father, and to most of us, He is KING! Reply

Karen A Chambers Bakersfield, Kern via October 13, 2011

Sikkot I am a 53 year old mother that is converting to Judism, and I have a 16 year old at home and a 20 year old still here. My son is an alcoholic already with ADD Bipolar disorder. He smokes marijuana for his bipolar disorder. But he can't stop drinking on his days off. He is scaring me because my dad is an alcoholic and so is my husband's father. I will read this to my son. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (Author) October 2, 2009

To Fab: I wrote this piece several years ago. This year, when I re-read it, the same idea struck me -- that perhaps I should change the final line to something to the effect of what you suggested.

On the other hand, what is "our real self," if not our intrinsic relationship with G-d?

That is actually the point of the article, that our relationship with G-d is not something we have to create; it's actually who we are. Reply

fab ft lauderdale, fl October 1, 2009

feasts Rabbi: your last word should be: 'our relationship with G-d.' As what is the most important.

Alexandra: the high of sukkot is to be carried all year long. The 3 feasts are a daily walk! They train you once a year to refresh your memory on the sequence you must go thru daily: you realize you make a mistake, you repent, cleanse yourself of false beliefs, go back within to find G-d in your heart. When you do (y. Kippur) you "graduate" and are united to G-d again. He forgives you because he wants you to be with Him.
Now you walk with G-d and He is with you, guiding each of your steps. (Sukkot). Every day, every step. if you do so, then each time you become annoyed, then you will find satisfaction with He who fulfills your heart with true joy. This is what R. Mendel did. G-d is our shield and our great reward, what comes near to His glory that we must prefer? Keeping the Sukkot high all year round everyday is a test of your relationship with Him. Seek Him first who is your life. Reply

Anonymous Davis, CA September 26, 2007

enslavement With all due respect, Rabbi, let me point out that addiction is very serious, not just some pesky habit easily avoided. Once under the lash, not succumbing is equivlent to "just saying no" to the Egyptian taskmaster. Taking a long walk out into the desert to escape cruelty is insane, unless you have a host of others doing the same. Thank G-d, we do! Reply

Alexandra New York, NY September 24, 2007

As Kohelet says... The ultimate high of the holiday of Sukkot will also pass, and we will be left again with our dissatisfaction, struggling again to understand and achieve our purpose in this sacred mundane world... Reply

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