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Can Hallucinogenics Aid Spirituality?

Can Hallucinogenics Aid Spirituality?

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Question:

I've heard that certain tribes used various narcotic substances to help achieve a mystic state. Here in Arizona, the Peyote Indians are well known. Is there room for this in Jewish practice?

Response:

I haven't found a precedent for such use in Jewish literature. In fact, in the Talmud (Pesachim 113a), Rav advises his son to avoid narcotics. Rashi, the classic Talmudic commentary, explains that this is because they are addictive and waste away a person's money. As far as achieving spiritual heights, I've copied below a letter from the Rebbe written in 1965 to a student in Cambridge, MA, when LSD and other hallucinogenic narcotics were beginning to be of interest to many people. Basically, the Rebbe's point is: Better to achieve a high through learning Chassidut.


I am in receipt of your letter of _____, which you write in the name of your friends and in your own behalf, and ask my opinion regarding the new drug called L.S.D. which is said to have the property of mental stimulation, etc.

Biochemistry is not my field, and I cannot express an opinion on the drug you mention, especially as it is still new. However what I can say is that the claim that the said drug can stimulate mystical insight, etc. is not the proper way to attain mystical inspiration, even if it had such a property.

The Jewish way is to go from strength to strength, not by means of drugs and other artificial stimulants, which have a place only if they are necessary for the physical health, in accordance with the Mitzvah to take care of one's health. I hope that everyone will agree that before any drugs are taken one should first utilize all one's natural capacities, and when this is done truly and fully, I do not think there will be a need to look for artificial stimulants.

I trust that you and your group, in view of your Yeshiva background, have regular appointed times for the study of Torah, and the inner aspects of the Torah, namely the teachings of Chassidus, and that such study is in accordance with the principle of our Sages, namely "The essential thing is the deed," i.e. the actual conduct of the daily life in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvoth, prayer, Tefillin, Kashruth, etc., etc. This is only a matter of will and determination, for nothing stands in the way of the will.

I trust that you are also using your good influence throughout your environment.

With blessing,

[the Rebbe's signature]

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Simcha Bart Los Angeles February 3, 2016

There is often a blurring of the lines between spirituality and getting close to G-d. Jewish mysticism teaches that we have two souls, both of them are spiritual - yet while one is known as the "G-dly soul", the other is known as the "Animal soul", also spiritual, yet centered on one's own wants and needs.

This means that not every spiritual experience is a means to connect to G-d, it can sometimes be something I do for my own gratification.

G-d told us in His Torah specifically how to connect with Him - Mitzvah is associated with the Aramaic word Tzavta "together" - i.e. a means to become close to and one with G-d that is accomplished through the study of His Wisdom and fulfilling His Mitzvot. I would encourage you to listen to this audio class on this very topic. Reply

Barbara Berman San Rafael January 14, 2016

Can Hallucinogenics Aid Spirituality? I am a bit dismayed by the "party line" aka Chasidic interpretation - Better to achieve a high through learning Chassidut - of this questions. If one alters ones state to achieve a stronger connection to G-d (ie. ecstatic experience) how is this a problem.
I've been studying the Zohar for 5 years - Unless I'm misreading, the point of the study is to help us get better connected to G-d. How can an ecstatic experience, from a non addictive substance, which enhances this process, be a problem. There are many, many ecstatic and altered state experiences described throughout the Bible - starting with Adam and Eve and that troublesome snake and apple. Adam and Eve gave up eternal life in the Garden of Eden for consciousness. If G-d did not want us to strive in our lives for more light and understanding, I suspect that tree would not have been there. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org February 2, 2015

Re:Request for a Source This letter can be found in 'The Letter & The Spirit' - Letters by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 2 p. 345 Reply

YY Israel January 25, 2015

Request for a Source Is this letter found in Igros Kodesh?
If yes, could I have the source?
Thank you so much! Reply

Anonymous August 26, 2014

The importance of moderation I have this one friend... (Or I don't know if he's as much of my friend because of how he's changed, but we haven't hurt each other, so I'm trying to stay open-minded about things.) I don't know exactly what he does, but I think that at the very least, he's done psychedelics that are in legal grey-areas.

The important point is that, yes, (specifically) psychedelics are used to "cheat" and try to elevate thinking for people (and not just my friend). If a person knows moderation and has self control, I think that an occasional/infrequent use can give perspective which would help them learn. But great thinkers are great thinkers while they're sober (for the most part); people who only get "great thoughts" only understand them when they're under the influence of something... because of this, they aren't really "great thinkers" when they're sober -- they just think they're being existentialists and/or shamans, but they don't really have ability on their own. Help is okay, but cheating isnt Reply

Anonymous New York July 29, 2014

LSD is not a narcotic, not addictive, and impossible to overdose on, just like mushrooms and pot. Reply

Anonymous Sharon, MA/USA via chabadofsharon.com November 25, 2010

To Philly - yasher koach (more strength to you), literally! It is wonderful to be elated in a congregation. I sense that though you have never tried any drugs, a certain part of you would like to. I'd just like to give you added strength not to. One, the illegality is not an insignificant thing. That in itself adds negativity to the experience. Two, many who try, wind up never dropping it. What I'd say, if I may, is simply why not enjoy wine, in moderation of course, on shabosim as well as holidays. Or for that matter, a regular meal with special company. Reply

Anonymous Philly, PA November 25, 2010

Torah is a glorious thing I find being in the presence of the congregation gets me elated, it's almost like being on a drug (feeling the positive effects). If something like pot was used ritually in hasidism it would be "interesting" but the words of the prophets would not concentrate in our minds. I've never smoked but I think it could be a way to be close to g-d but not in Jewish practice. Rastafarians use weed in their church but their laws are different from Judaism however I believe worshipers of g-d are all g-d's people. Most mind altering substances are harmful but some could be used moderately and legalized in the U.S. Who am I to speak of this I can't advocate I honestly have never tried drugs but drink wine on the holidays Reply

Anonymous sharon, MA/USA via chabadofsharon.com July 21, 2010

Yes, but it's far better not to use them. Honestly, they can enhance spirituality, but in a temporary way, with negative consequences. I had three trips, months apart, 40 years ago. I believe they lower the noise level in one's brain and thus let you perceive your quieter, more subtle thoughts. But definitely YOUR thoughts. Just as it's better to learn to walk and hike than to always depend on a powered vehicle, so must one learn to perceive spiritual heights without artificial means. LSD could have been great, but the dangers are immense as well. Forced spiritual awakening may not be able to be handled by many. You're ten, and just know that you can handle driving a Ferrari. It will give you the experience of speed, but would you advise it for the ten-year old? Reply

juniper raytown, mo July 8, 2010

subtle difference in usage I think that it is important to note a few facts among the cultures that use variious "drugs" in some of their ceremonies. First, note that none of these are synthetic drugs such as LSD. They are plants and things found in nature. Please let us also note that these "drugs" are not involved in every aspect of these religions, but are used for certain rites, rituals or times. This is not something to get high with every day. Anyone using drugs with the intent to "get high" is likely not on a spiritual quest for G-d anyway. Spiritual insights gleaned during a specific single usage of such plants would just be one part of the experience of their study towards G-d. Notice the vast differences between intent and frequency. Reply

Ding dong February 20, 2010

Check your facts - hallucinogens or psychedelics are NOT narcotics. Plus, most psychedelics are not addictive. Ignorance breed ignorance. And what's with the hypocrisy of approving the use of alcohol but not other substances that alter the mind? Reply

Yisrael Pinson West Bloomfield, MI March 5, 2009

about alcohol I think there is a clear difference in this regard between an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic.
A person who does not suffer from the disease of alcoholism is enjoined to use wine for kiddush and havdala, to make a blessing on wine at a bris and at a wedding, and to drink on purim. The Torah recognizes the value that alcohol can add to a person who is engaged in a spiritual activity. I have doubts that a person can induce spiritual activity through drinking. Reply

John Techno Cambridge, UK March 5, 2009

Hallucinogens Even those tribal cultures that use hallucinogenics - such as the Lapps with the amanita muscaria fungus - do not see them as a 'quick and easy way' to their gods or to enlightenment, but as a tool to be used along the way. The Jewish way to our G-d is honoured by time and has worked in a perfectly satisfcatory way for many generations without hallucinogens, of course, so taking them for such a reason would be unnecessary. Reply

Phillip Zezulak Bloomingdale, IL March 5, 2009

Drugs are the Wrong Way Coming from a Baptist background, we were taught that the body is the temple of the holy spirit and we should not defile that spirit. However, many Baptists say one thing publicly and privately sin like a hungary man at an all you can eat buffet. I am not trying to disrepect anyone of a Baptist faith, but I am trying to say when public feelings and private feelings don't match, people tend to stray far from G-d. It seems to me that the Jewish way is a much more private focus on making sure your heart is seeking G-d. You can't seek G-d with all your heart, mind, and soul if your not in control of yourself. You cannot learn the Torah, memorize verses, think intelligently if your on drugs. Taking drugs is like crying out to Moses, saying we are tired of seeking this promised land, take us back to Egypt, we had a good life as slaves. Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2009

what about alcohol? what about alcohol in this regard? Reply

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