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A Higher Power

06/22/2023 01:22:12 PM


For many years (with a hiatus for COVID) B’nai Torah has hosted regular meetings of several support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.   Many of us have preconceptions of what these groups are about, and who they serve, and it is worth dispelling stereotypes.  This coming week, you can find out firsthand, as the AA chapter will be hosting an “open meeting” on Tuesday, June 27 at 7:00 PM. The meeting being open means that all are welcome, whether they are concerned about addiction, or just want to learn more.   The portion we read this week, Korach, offers some insights as to why these meetings are necessary, and why it is important that they have a home at B’nai Torah.

     The story of Korach is a story of temptation.  There can be many kinds of addiction, to alcohol, to prescription medicine or other substances, to technology and more.  Korach and his followers were addicted, not to any of those things, but rather to the experience of wealth and power.  His followers were not marginal figures; they were respected leaders in the community.  Often we fall back on to a stereotype that only certain types of people are vulnerable to addiction. We say “Jews are not addicts” or “It couldn't happen in my family.” In fact, it is a condition that does not discriminate between rich and poor, young and old, Jew and non-Jew.

       It is incredibly hard to break the patterns of addiction. We can refuse to admit that we are not in control. Korach and his followers ignored multiple warnings until they were literally swallowed up by the earth. Often, those facing addiction will face setback after setback, sometimes enabled by well-meaning family and friends, and continue digging that metaphorical hole, until they finally “hit bottom” and find themselves in a situation so dire that they cannot climb out without help.

    It is not just Korach and his followers who were swallowed up, but their entire households.  Those have suffered addiction know that has the potential to harm not only the addict, but also those around them.  AA gives strength to those struggling against addiction in their own lives.  Al-Anon provides support to those who have had their lives disrupted by the addictions of those around them. 

     Though these two groups are independent of B’nai Torah, we go above and beyond to make sure that they have a home with us.   AA as an organization is non-sectarian, referring only ot a “higher power,”  but some meetings will take place in churches, and some groups have a specific Christian bent.  Having an AA meeting in a Jewish-friendly venue removes one possible source of hesitation, and undoes stereotypes about who can/should participate.  The AA meeting is the only outside activity which we allow to take place at B’nai Torah even on a Jewish holiday, because for those who need that meeting, it is literally pikuach nefesh- protection of their very lives.

       Hosting these two groups is just one key aspect of how we serve the needs of those who are fighting addiction.  We partner with groups like HAMSA or the Berman Center, and we also think about what happens in our own congregation. Our portion last week foreshadows the story of this week by ending with the commandment of Tzitzit- the idea that special fringes on one’s garments might serve as a protection against temptation “lest you turn after your hearts and your eyes.”  The phrasing of the verse teaches that our hearts are vulnerable before we even open our eyes.  A key teaching of the addiction community is that those who are addicted need special strength when faced with the situations that had previously been conducive to their addictive behavior.  As a congregation, we sometimes host event where alcohol is present, or even featured, but it is important that we provide alternatives and options so that those who need to avoid it can feel comfortable. 

One only has to look around to see the toll that addictions have taken on families in our community. It is critical that every now and then we take the time to notice, and to remind ourselves of the tools that are available for those who need them.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784