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Bechukotei: LSD Part 2

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As can be expected, last week’s article, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, elicited quite a number of responses, most positive, some critical, many of them posted online in the comments section on the article. The harshest accusation came from one reader who felt that my article may have been “irresponsible,” influencing someone to want to try a “life altering experience.”

In order to make my intentions perfectly clear and not leave any room for ambiguity, here’s the letter and my response:

Dear Rabbi,

Unfortunately your article on L.S.D. influenced a dear friend of ours to want to “have a life altering experience,” a creative and inspiring trip. This is a grown educated woman in her forties who missed out on the sixties. I wonder what the effect and curiosity and Pandora’s Box you may have opened, not intentionally, with some of your younger readers. I feel that your article seemed a bit irresponsible and made the “unknown” possibility attractive.

Best Wishes, M.A.

Hi M.

Thank for writing and bringing to my attention my article’s influence on your dear friend. I am truly sorry and surprised to hear that the article caused someone to want to try LSD. I’m thinking how anyone could have come away with such a thought after reading in no unclear terms that drugs are dangerous and harmful. Even if their use induced a deeper awareness, they are like administering drugs to a comatose individual. How could that inspire someone to try LSD?

In general, the ideas I wrote about are basically the concept of teshuva – the power of return. One of the most powerful gifts bestowed upon humans is our ability to change our pasts and transform even “intentional sins” (zedonos) to merits. This is not a license to sin, as the Talmud specifically states that “one who says I will sin and then do teshuva, their teshuva is not accepted” (even in that case, the Tanya says that if the person insists and persists, his teshuva will be accepted). But AFTER THE FACT – as emphasized in the article several times – we have the capacity to elevate our past experiences (even if they were outright Torah prohibited sins of the worst nature). We don’t elevate the sin itself; that has to be destroyed. We elevate the spark within, and the results of the experience (see Tanya chapter 7).

Anyone deriving from my article that LSD is appealing is equivalent to someone drawn to medication because it revives a comatose person, or that one can transgress Torah, because there are balei teshuva who elevated and transformed their transgressions.

I take seriously the responsibility of writing about this sensitive issue, especially with younger readers who may not be able to distinguish between the abovementioned nuances. But on the other hand, I know from personal experience as well as from the many positive responses I have received to my article, that this topic is an extremely important one to address. And just to condemn outright all those that had psychedelic experiences and all those that rebelled, even if their behavior was self-destructive, does not seem very productive and would not resonate much, and above all – it would be simply incorrect: The Torah perspective categorically rejects the fatalistic view that we are victims of our mistakes, condemned to be haunted by our pasts, powerless to do anything about it. We have the great responsibility and opportunity to transform our pasts; to discard the peel as we eat the fruit through teshuva.

To avoid writing about this topic because someone may mistakenly be enticed to try drugs is the equivalent of not writing about the power to transform past sins through teshuva in order not to appear like we are glamorizing the process and giving someone the impression that sins are acceptable.

I would even venture to say, that anyone trying drugs is probably prone to it before reading my article. It’s hard for me to imagine that my writing alone should cause someone to do that. But I stand corrected if I am proven wrong.

Based on your note, my plan is to write a follow up e-mail to clarify these points, so that no one comes away with the wrong conclusions.

Thank you again for writing, and I welcome any further thoughts you may have.

Feel free to share my words with the person influenced by my initial article, and with anyone else you see fit.

Blessings and best wishes,

Simon Jacobson

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6 Comments
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Steve
12 years ago

Dear Rabbi,

I had an incredible life altering experience using LSD 30 years ago. I was in the military on weekend leave, under the influence I was initially very confused, had lots of questions about life. I managed to get back to my hotel room, turned on the TV at 2 AM in middle of nowhere and the movie
10 Commandments with Charlton Heston came on. In the midst of my confusion it appeared that Moses spoke to me with about some very important virtues, it was called the 10 Commandments which has helped steer me throughout my life. Shabbat Shalom.

Steve

Yitzchok
12 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson:

Having read your first article regarding LSD, You have made your point with utmost clarity, whereby there is no excuse for a young woman who is allegedly intelligent and mature to use LSD and then cite your article as the reason. As far as I am concerned, what you had to say is most interesting, indeed–that a person who was spiritually comatose could be brought back to Torah by the singularly drastic necessity, perhaps, of the drug LSD, which only goes to show that HaShem works in mysterious ways. Most of us Baalei Tshuva, who were also somewhat anesthetized spiritually could be revived by far less physically extreme measures, such as the inspiration of Chasidus. The stuff works! And it doesnt interfere with ones biochemistry in ways that are dangerous.

I dont see where you are in any way responsible for the decisions of mentally sound adults. In any case, the RAMBAM teaches, in Moreh Nevuchim that even HaShems holy words can be distorted by people with agendas.

Have a good Shabbos.
Yitzchok
New Haven

ivan
12 years ago

Dear wisdomreb,

I confess, I did not read your article on LSD but I fully understand the concern of the individual who is writing to you. Several years ago, out of concern for kids, an elementary school principal brought in an ex addict/convict to talk to the kids and explain to them all the struggles and hardships he had to go through before he rehabed himself. The effort seemed as a great success, especially because of the positive reception by the students. But that year, many of the kids wrote in their year-end essays on what they want to do when they grow up, that they would like to grow up to be ex-convicts.

The reason why I am telling you this story is because, when it comes to those who he was entrusted to educate, the school principals good intentions is not what matters. What matters then is the effect of his naive actions. And it would not have been right for the principal to excuse himself by explaining that the kids should have known better, they were not the ones who created the problem.

So, it is not relevant that you would even venture to say, that anyone trying drugs is probably prone to it before reading my article., and it is not relevant that Its hard for me to imagine that my writing alone should cause someone to do that.

Also, no one, I imagine, is asking you to avoid writing about this topic because someone may mistakenly be enticed to try drugs. Maybe people just want you to be premeditated and careful how you write about it, in your wisdom reb.

Ivan (a long lost friend).

David
12 years ago

Dear Rab Jacobson, we meet in Caracas long time ago and me and my family are proud and happy to share your weekly comments and your deepest thoughts in torah every shabatt diner.

It’s always easy for the retarded to take the wrong ways than to become closer to torah, it’s much easier to justify a sin than to become in teshuva.

We, the jews, are definitely a hard bone to eat 😉 … but your never ending work will change AM ISRAEL to better paths.

Keep up with your hard work.

Your friend

Eliezer
12 years ago

Shalom UBrachah, Reb Simon:
> We have not been in touch for a quite a while, I hope all is well be
> ruchnious and ve gashmious! I am contacting you in connection to your
> recent writing on LSD. As somebody that once worked with you, I feel
> compelled to offer some clarifications on the issue.
>
> As a classical mind-altering drug, LSD has profound impact in both our
> perceptions and our consciousness. I have used it before I became a baal
> Tshuva. One of the most dramatic effects of LSD is the way it changes
> perception, for example, colors become remarkably sharper. I do not know
> of any information indicating that the physiological processes associated
> with color perception get sharper, what I believe it happens is that
> interference from the brain mechanisms that process color perception get
> weaker, so the connection between the retina and the brain centers that
> see color get cleaner. This is clearly associated with the well known
> LSD effects in the removal of social inhibitions and of ego control. As
> a G-d loving Jew, I welcome in principle any way to get closer to Hashem.
> So if I am seeking an experience in which I can perceive G-d as clearly as
> possible, then LSD is a desirable agent: my ego gets out of the way and
> any perception of G-d existence will get to my brain clearer.
>
> So the question comes up: what is the difference between a Tzadik reaching
> Atzilut naturally and a naive, untrained Jew that takes a very large LSD
> dose looking for G-d? There are several important differences. Our naive
> Jew has no navigation tools to distinguish between getting closer to
> Hashem, and the myriad of other possible destinations, so he could be an
> easy pray of dark forces. Another key issue is that the ratzo veshov
> mechanism of his neshamah is very likely to be impaired by LSD, because
> inhibitory mechanisms are impaired, so our LSD-propelled traveller would
> lack the essential impulse in his/her neshama that is activated when
> getting ever closer to Hashem, when it is imperative to come back, least
> one gets completely melted in the light of the Kadosh Baru Hu. In that
> sense, LSD is very dangerous.
> Lastly, the Tzadik would be able to get close to Hashem in an harmonious
> and ever lasting fashion, the naive LSD traveller will lack any harmonious
> rhythm that will guide his/her journey.
> To some up: I would not take LSD to become an accomplished pianist. A
> chasid invests in his/her avodah to refine his/her emotions and develop
> the essential training to get close to Hashem naturally and frequently. In
> cases of extreme emotional blockage, an LSD experience might open some
> gates, but it should be a last resource.
>
> Be bracha and ahavah,
>
> Eliezer

meira
12 years ago

Dear Rabbi,
Thank you for your last week essay.
You made us to turn back to our values that almost have been lost for few decades. We were fond of Salinger and his hero Holden Caulfield gave us a great shot against arrogance and all that media brainwash we have today. LSD is just cover-up for more important issue that you aroused in your article: search for ourselves.
Sorry for those who missed the point!
Have a good Sabbath!