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Recovery Blog

The Next Right Thing

February 8, 2009

According to the Talmud Tu B'Shevat (15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat) is the New Year of Trees. Human beings and trees share a defining characteristic. The Hebrew word describing the plant kingdom - Tzomeach, also means growing. So, Tu B'Shevat is a time ripe for looking at what growth is all about.

My wife and I are both directors of Chabad Project Pride in Montreal. It is a Chabad House that deals exclusively with issues surrounding alcoholism and addiction, serving addicts and their family members. Here we witness miraculous stories of growth. For example, Bob and Esther are both eighty years old, and they have a middle-aged son who is an active drug addict. He was terrorizing his parents - stealing, lying and taking advantage of them whenever he could. When Bob and Esther came to us, we suggested that they needed to learn how to set up boundaries to protect themselves. We taught them simple things like taking back their credit cards. They resisted for a while, arguing that they can't because they have been letting him use their card for 35 years. Well, four months have gone by, and not only have they changed, but they have grown so much that they now help other parents to make changes. When an eighty year old couple changes patterns that have lasted half a century, it carries a message of great hope. When I am convinced that I am stuck and that I will stay stuck, then I buy into the erroneous thinking that there is no chance for change.

How did Bob and Esther learn to grow? They had the humility and courage to seek help and do the Next Right Thing (NRT). It wasn't a long-term strategy nor a long distance race, it was like the first steps of a baby. The baby takes the chance, defies the odds and takes the next step. All the parents have to do is hold out their hands so the baby will be reassured that it's not alone. So, at Chabad Project Pride and Chabad centers world-wide, we hold out our hands, open our hearts and make sure no one feels alone.

What gives the strength to that baby or that couple to do what they have never done before? They don't know what the next challenge will bring. The baby can fall, the couple can fail, but they both yearn to be free. Free to grow, free to change, free to do the Next Right Thing. The desire for freedom gives the strength to try the unknown and the motivation to change. The support and the structure of an accepting community allows for the changes to stick for the growth to continue.

So the next time you see a tree, pause and ask yourself - Am I growing? Am I changing? Whether the answer is yes or no, the strategy is still the same. Get in touch with the yearning to grow within you. Get some humility to seek out guidance and then muster the courage to change. Reach out to those extended hands and keep moving forward. Sounds like a lot? Sounds like too much? Don't buy into that thinking! Just do the Next Right Thing. Now, that is growth! Happy Tu B'Shevat!

Sacrifice of the Will

February 1, 2009

The 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is an auspicious day for two reasons. It is the yahrzeit of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, as well as the anniversary of the day that our Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, officially accepted the mantle of leadership.

The previous Rebbe’s legacy is one of actual mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice. Living in the Soviet Union, the previous Rebbe risked his life on a regular basis for the sake of Judaism. It was the Soviets who killed millions of people that they suspected of practicing Judaism – or being different in any way. The previous Rebbe would openly defy any attempt at comprising the Torah. He organized underground Jewish schools, sent clandestine ritual slaughterers to provide Kosher meat and assisted thousands with the performance of a Brit.

Our Rebbe assumed the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement while living in the United States (which he often called the “Kingdom of Kindness”). The U.S. was and is a place of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and most importantly of all, freedom of religion. So, the Rebbe’s leadership was not one where actual self-sacrifice was needed. Nevertheless the Rebbe did bring about a revolution in Jewish life. Through his thousands of emissaries around the world, the Rebbe brought the light of Judaism and the practice of its principles to the farthest and darkest corners of the globe. He demanded of himself and his followers the sacrifice of will. There is no need to put aside our lives, but we need to put aside our will to do G‑d’s will.

When speaking to my friends in recovery and telling them about the difference between these two giants, my friends unanimously agreed that the Rebbe’s life and leadership was an example of the Third Step: "Made a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of G‑d."

Step Three is not a one time deal. We need to take this step continuously. Many times a day we stop, and ask G‑d for guidance on what His will is for us. Whether G‑d answers isn't the point, the point is to get into the habit of checking ourselves. We pause and consider if what we want to do is what G‑d wants us to do. That pause is an act of humility. It’s a holy moment, a moment that the angels are in awe of. Then we go ahead and do G‑d’s will instead of our own, for this is the ultimate act of becoming a vehicle for our Creator. Let's let ourselves be used by G‑d because it’s the most useful thing we can do.

The Rebbe taught us that we should thank G‑d that today we don't have to sacrifice our lives — but more than ever we do have to sacrifice our will. We need to learn to put self-centeredness in its place. As a matter of fact, part of the Third Step prayer says, "Please relieve me of the bondage of self." So, the next time that my alarm clock goes off, right there is my opportunity to put aside my will (go back to sleep) and do G‑d’s will (get up). It becomes less about me and more about doing the right thing. It sounds so much easier than standing up to the Soviet Empire; yes, but this is a constant challenge that we are confronted with many times each day. It’s not as dramatic, but it is what G‑d’s will is for us today.

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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