Recovery Blog

Control Freak

October 19, 2008

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

All I remember is the last name of the person.

It happens to be Cohen...

The “Find” option on Microsoft Outlook takes forever —and comes up with 12,372 results.

The time has come to install Google Desktop.

Installation time: Under one minute.

The promise: Will find anything that is on your hard drive in seconds.

The catch: Needs to "index" your hard drive.

Indexing is taking forever.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Indexing Status... 4%

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Indexing Status... 5%

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Indexing Status... 5%

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Indexing Status... 5%

Forget about Google Desktop. I'm going back to the 12,372 results.

Why is my computer so slow?

Let's see if I got a new email.

Hey, the market is down again.

My screen is frozen.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Indexing Status... 5%

OMG, this is driving me nuts! ... I hate my computer.

What's wrong with Google?

I'm going to find out what’s wrong with Google.

Indexing Status... 5%... What's that in red?

Indexing while computer is idle only


The more I think I control, the less I am in control.

I need to find an email; and I need it now.

Too Bad.

Nu. Get Into the Sukkah -- and Out of Your Head!

October 13, 2008

The time of Sukkot is also called "The Season of Our Rejoicing." There are three Festivals a year — Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. On each one we are commanded to "rejoice on your holidays." So why is Sukkot especially singled out as a time of joy — more than all of the other holidays?

The answer is that on Sukkot when we get inside of the Sukkah, we are actually enveloped in a mitzvah! And when we look around, what do we see? A bunch of other people we know. Because the Sukkah embraces every one of us equally, it allows us all inside.

Sukkot is about group unity, about sharing space with others, and about being in harmony with the people around you. And that's why — more than any other holiday — Sukkot brings us such joy. That’s because the Sukkah won't allow you to isolate. You've got to leave your home and go into the Sukkah. You've got to be in that space with everyone that the Sukkah takes inside.

Such a formula for happiness is no secret to the recovering addict. We know that the worst place to be is locked up inside our own head. To find joy, we need to get outside of ourselves and connect to others. We’ve got to stop feeling "apart from" and start feeling "a part of."

This Sukkot we have eight wonderful days to experience the holiness of this special mitzvah time. This experience forces us to get outside of ourselves and enter into an experience of being interconnected with others.

An All Controlling G-d

October 10, 2008

I was talking to a recovering addict the other day who has some long-term sobriety, but is now struggling again. I asked him to tell me about the G‑d of his understanding.

"Kind, compassionate, forgiving, all-knowing," he told me. "What about in control?" I asked.

I told him that for me (just me, forget that I'm the Rabbi for a minute), the first and most important quality I must attribute to the G‑d of my understanding is that He is in control. Kind, compassionate, forgiving and all-knowing will not keep me sober. I have to know that G‑d is in absolute control.

If I weren't an alcoholic, I might be happy with a caring G‑d. But caring doesn't cut it for me. What good is it to be cared for by a G‑d who is wimpy and incompetent? At least for me, that doesn't do much for my serenity. "G‑d loves you" won't keep me from crumbling under the pressures of reality, but "G‑d is in control" will.

When I speak about control, I am not talking about G‑d controlling me. My free choice is the only thing to credit or to blame for my actions. I am talking about G‑d's control of the universe.

We do not live in a chaotic universe. G‑d is perpetually re-creating the world; He creates something from absolute nothing every single second. He is putting everything just where He wants it. Nothing escapes His attention; no detail is neglected. The world is constantly being guided and cared for.

That kind of control is what the Baal Shem Tov taught us when he explained how G‑d's providence extends even to a little leaf falling from a tree. When I start to forget that it's all from G‑d, I get resentful and scared. When I remember that it's all going according to plan, I feel serenity.

The situation may not be to our liking, but it's all perfectly under control!

Searching and Fearless

October 7, 2008

"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." - Step Four

Working on Step Four at this time of year is highly appropriate, as we are busy trying to focus ourselves and our energies. Let us spend a few minutes analyzing and meditating on the words "searching" and "fearless" in Step Four.


On the evening before Passover, we search our homes by the light of a candle for all chametz, leavened bread. Chametz may not be consumed on Passover, and so we remove it from our homes. The story is told about the Alter Rebbe - Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, whose search for chametz lasted the entire night — even though he had only one room.

After completing his search, the Alter Rebbe offered a mystical interpretation of the words of the Mishnah, the source of this tradition: "On the eve of the fourteenth, we search for chametz by the light of a candle," He interpreted it as follows: Thirteen is numerically equivalent to the word echad — "one." Oneness is identified with the knowledge of G‑d. On this level, there is no need to search — because it is all perfect.

Fourteen refers to our emotional attributes, the seven attributes of the animal soul and the seven attributes of the G‑dly soul. When we look at our own emotions, a search is needed. The search must be "by the light of a candle," a reference to the soul. As it is said: "The candle of G‑d is the soul of man." This internal search must encompass one's entire being, just as the actual search for chametz must probe into even the "holes and cracks" of one's home.

In other words, the Alter Rebbe spent hours searching within his own character. How relevant to our recovery!

How often do we get caught up with I? I need this, or I need that. When we consider ourselves as our own god, we leave no room for improvement. In fact, in our eyes there is nothing wrong with us. This idea can lead us down the negative path, to take that drink: I am my own god and, therefore invincible. We know where that will lead us. And, my friends, it is only our soul, our light, that can make that ultimate and true search.

Also, as we search for our character defects, we also find our unique and blessed character-traits. These need rigorous work and refinement, to be really useful to us. When we achieve that, then the search process is real. Then we are at peace with ourselves.


When the holy Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, was only five years old, his father Rabbi Eliezer died. The last words his father said to him were, "Yisrael, my son, you have a very holy soul; don't fear anything but G‑d."

Fear is okay when it is G‑dly. Constructive fear can only stem from our relationship with G‑d. It is G‑d’s way of keeping us straight and guiding our conscience. When fear comes from our own insecurity, it is selfish, dishonest and ignores our flaws. Before we start an internal search, we must rid ourselves from that fear, and embrace the fear of G‑d.

May we all be blessed with peace of mind and peace of heart and health in this coming year.

Atonement or Forgiveness?

October 4, 2008

Contrary to popular misconception, Yom Kippur is not only about being forgiven by G‑d. Forgiveness you can get all year round; Yom Kippur is primarily about atonement. Big difference. Forgiveness means that after I make my apology, I'm off the hook. Atonement means that I am engaged in hard work to restore the relationship to its original state.

The word for atonement in Hebrew is kaparah, which also means "wiping up." If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven. But the stain is still there. Atonement only comes when I get the carpet cleaners to come clean your carpet.

And this is exactly what we do in the Ninth Step. Amends are not apologies. Making amends means trying to remove the stain, making things right again, and eventually even restoring the relationship to how it originally was. If an apology will make the person feel better, then we may include an apology in the amends. But the main thing is that we make it up to the person in a way that is significant to them.

Our amends to G‑d are not an apology, but rather a sincere attempt to restore the relationship on His terms — the way He likes it. Of course, if you just come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then that's not really an amend. The making of amends is a long-term project where we show the one we have harmed that we have honestly changed and changed permanently. When we behave differently all year round as a result of our Yom Kippur amends, then we are proving that we really atoned.

Let Go - Or Be Dragged

October 2, 2008

Educating the community about addiction saves lives! People get to hear that this is a Jewish issue and that there is help available.

Lara is a Jewish girl who was raised in a violent home. She was always told that how the family looked was more important than reaching out for help. She went to the best schools and lived in the nicest neighborhood, but Lara was terribly lonely. She was traumatized by years of isolation.

Drugs became the answer. She had "friends" — finally a “family” to be with. Her drug use got worse and worse, and her so-called friends turned out to be part of the problem — not the solution. Finally she ended up alone contemplating suicide. She hit bottom and then came to Chabad Project Pride for help. We became her new family. Finally safe, she took to recovery with all the excitement of a child getting a new toy. It has been a year since she walked through our doors, and she is not only sober, but she is shining as she helps others.

On a recent morning she spoke to a group of women about her struggles and her miraculous recovery. She mentioned the violence in her home in passing, but with intensity; she was obviously still struggling with her family relationship. As usual, after her talk people approached her to tell her how much they were moved. A little old lady with a thick Eastern European accent reached out and touched Lara and said, "My dear, I was in three concentration camps. Let go, my dear. Let go." Lara cried, I cried and then the two Jews — one young and one old embraced each other, and the healing was tangible.

With Yom Kippur around the corner, let us search our hearts. Is there anybody anywhere that we are having difficulty forgiving? How about ourselves? As we think of who, let’s write the name down and try to heed the holy lady’s advice. Either let go — or get dragged down. G‑d sees this effort and rejoices as we come a little cleaner for this Yom Kippur.

We did our part and now G‑d will do His. Like they say in AA: "Without me He won't – without Him I can't."

Contact your local Recovery Rabbi and join a Jewish Recovery Community:
Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Meir Kessler
Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Mendel Cohen
Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shais Taub
Montreal, Canada
Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger
New York, NY
Rabbi Yaakov Bankahalter
Reading, PA
Rabbi Yosef Lipsker
West Bloomfield, MI
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson
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