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Naso and a Higher Power

06/13/2019 04:31:01 PM


Every Tuesday night, our congregation hosts an AA meeting, for those recovering from addiction, and every Wednesday night, we host an Al-Anon meeting, for those who have been impacted by loved ones facing addiction. I’m sometimes asked why we make space available for these programs at some of our busiest times, even on holidays when we normally do not allow outside groups to use our space. The answer, on a basic level, is that these programs are pikuach nefesh- they are literally life-saving for those who need them, and having them available at a synagogue is essential.

When I was growing up, there were many in the Jewish community who asserted that addiction was not an issue for Jews or were embarrassed or ashamed when it is brought up. In fact, our Jewish tradition understands that addiction is a real challenge that must be overcome in our community. One of the places that that is reflected is our Torah portion, Naso, which includes the commandments surrounding Nazirite, one who takes a vow to refrain from wine and strong drink.

One way of understanding the rule of the Nazirite is that the Torah is trying to balance the blessings and curses of alcohol. To some, who are able to enjoy in moderation, it is a blessing, “gladdening the heart," as Psalm 104 says, and helping to increase the holiness of sacred times as we use it on Shabbat and holidays, brisses and weddings. Unfortunately, for others, this blessing can become a life-threatening addiction that impacts families and communities. The Nazirite law is one way that the Torah provides a support system and a ritual framework for those who need to abstain.

Today we have an increasing understanding that addiction and abuse are just as common in our own community as they are in any other. The dangers include both legal and illegal drugs, as well as other temptations. What most of them have in common with alcohol for the Nazirite, is that they have legitimate, even holy uses, but there are people for whom they can be deadly.

Our Jewish tradition has many resources that go beyond Naso, and recovery programs can be part of the solution. Alcoholics Anonymous speaks to a “higher power” but is not a specifically Christian program. In fact, the 12 steps of the program correspond very closely to the steps of the teshuvah process of repentance laid out in Jewish thought. On the other hand, some groups do meet in churches, and for some Jews seeking assistance at a church may be uncomfortable. Furthermore, some groups may indeed assume that everyone attending is approaching their recovery from a specifically Christian perspective.

And so, we host "Jewish-friendly" versions of these groups each week, as well as partnering with important addiction resources in the larger Jewish community like HAMSA and the Berman Center. I want everyone to understand that as a congregation, as a Jewish community, we recognize and support those who are affected by addiction. Our brothers and sisters should not feel that they have to leave our Jewish community to seek the support that they need.

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784