The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity


Nine Days Minus One

A few days ago I bumped into an old friend whom I have not seen for 34 years. He was my high school classmate, and back then we were close friends.

I could not control my tears – not over meeting my friend after all these years, but over the state he was in. Unnaturally thin and jittery, (I shall call him) Michael was clearly a junkie. He had an awkward smile on his face and I saw that we would not be able to have an honest conversation.

He was such a promising student. Bright and creative, shy and gentle, we always thought that Michael would do some great things with his life. Here he stood before me on a street corner nervously rolling a cigarette, shifting eyes, a mere skeleton and specter of the Michael I once knew and admired.

To my question “Where do you live?” he sadly answered, “I don’t have my own place, I move around. Housing in New York is expensive…” “Are you working, earning an income?” “Yes, I’m eking out a living here and there.” I offered help, but knew that Michael would not follow up.

I touched upon some of the deepest beliefs that we shared together, back when we were teenagers in Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway. But Michael was detached. He spoke about the past as if it was not about him.

He was far gone, in a different orbit. Had I tried to hug him he would have recoiled.

I will never forget the Shabbos walk we took together so many years ago, when Michael began sliding. At the time he was trying to convince me to join him in, what he called an innocuous, game of gambling at cards. As we walked down Eastern Parkway he asked if I minded that he lit up a cigarette. Always the gentle soul, Michael was being sensitive to my sentiments about Shabbos. I chose not to answer, and Michael took that as an ok.

As time passed I noticed the visible differences in Michael as he became consumed with the “weed” and his daily routines began to orbit around his next “hit.” Conversations, usually so stimulating, began to dull. His usual clarity and sharp wit became an afterthought. He would spend hours in his basement apartment all alone. He was slipping and slipping fast, in a vicious ruinous cycle.

It was the first time I was ever exposed to the utter wasting of a human being due to drug addiction. Nothing else matters. You look forward to nothing as much as the drug and its effects. “It” becomes your nurturer, your best friend, the one you turn to in times of need, the final recourse when all else fails. Every minute of your waking hours – and even asleep – every decision, every move, is determined by the next “high.”

And then, perhaps worst of all, is the loneliness. A loneliness that I cannot begin to imagine – and one that demonstrates how utterly destructive this “lifestyle” can become – you are all alone with your obsession, with your compulsion, only you and your dark desire. And every time you succumb, the lonelier it gets. At some point the human psyche must snap into a submission to this “new reality” simply to be able to survive and not be overcome by sheer shame and desperation.

Once caught in this mad whirlpool, there seemed no way out for Michael. And then we graduated, each of us going our own way.

Now, 34 years later, he is still controlled by the dark demon within. He lives in world of shadows, seemingly always on the run. Escaping what? Himself above all. Why they call it “substance abuse” seems odd; it’s not abuse of the substance, but of yourself.

What happened to this young man that I knew? And to so many others like him?

— As I am writing these words I realize that they may come across as judgmental or condescending. That is the farthest of my intentions. We all have our vices and ugly corners. We are taught that seeing a fault in another is like looking in a mirror: It is a reflection of our own shortcomings. Michael for me is a mirror image of the dark obsessions that we all are capable of falling into. —

What happened to Michael and what happens to each of us when another force takes control of our lives?

Your inner dignity – what the Kabbalists call Malchus – is damaged.

And that’s why I chose to write about this subject today. We now stand in the Nine Days, the saddest period of the Jewish calendar, due to the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that took place during these days, culminating with Tisha B’Av (this Sunday) – the saddest day of all, when the Temple actually went up in flames.

Annually this period is honored as a time of mourning and grief over our losses. Tisha b’Av is a 24-hour fast day (beginning at night), the lights are dimmed, we sit on low stools and recite lamentations.

As continuously discussed in this column, we are not simply grieving over past events, but over all forms of destruction in our lives – every form of grief and loss evolves from the rupturing of the bond between spirit and matter that occurred when the Divine presence in the Temple no longer found a “home” in our material universe and was compelled to go into “hiding.”

Each of us has an indispensable soul within, which is the ultimate root of all confidence and sense of purpose. Our convictions, hopes and greatest dreams flow form our inner “malchus’ – a profound sense of dignity and majesty that stems from the Divine image in which we were all created. It is the feeling that “you matter” and you have the power to achieve anything you set your mind to.

In contrast, what is the root of all destruction? The annihilation of malchus – when this dignity is violated.

The Arizal explains why the Fifteenth of Av is the greatest of holidays (“there were no greater holidays for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur”), because its full moon follows and repairs the “destruction” of the “moon” (Malchus) on Tisha b’Av, when the Temple was destroyed. The greatness of the ascent is in direct proportion to the depths of the descent that precedes it.

Looking now at my old friend Michael, meeting him during these Nine Days, I see with my own eyes how his malchus/dignity was destroyed. Destroyed on a conscious level. Once that part of you – your purest element, the one that feeds your sense of self-value – is compromised, it’s just a matter of time that your life begins to spiral downward out of control, in one form or another.

For some it takes on the shape of raw dysfunctionality. Others are creative enough to find ways to remain functional (“functional addicts”) to some extent, and learn how to “cover their tracks” as they maneuver their way day to day. Variations are as numerous as people themselves. Seeing someone use their creative juices – not to mention the energy, time and money wasted – for such machinations is, of course, one of the saddest things to observe. Often arrogance is one of the mechanisms used (usually unintentionally) to cover up low self-esteem (a weak sense of malchus).

The question, however, begs: What could bring someone to compromise their own sense of self-worth? Who in their right mind would allow their inner dignity to be violated? Human nature is such that we would anything to not allow ourselves to be humiliated, let alone to allow our entire dignity to be undermined.

The answer is obvious from the question: At the outset no one ever damages their own malchus/dignity. Any such damage is always initiated by someone outside ourselves: A parent, an educator, an adult – anyone that we may have trusted can hurt us, especially in our most vulnerable and impressionable childhood years.

Not along ago, I conversed with a psychologist who specializes in youth at risk, focusing primarily on kids in the religious Jewish community. I asked him for his experienced opinion on why some young adults break away from the lifestyle and traditions of their own families and communities. None of us are immune to temptations and challenges. In most cases people learn to cope with their vices – some carry them undercover, other carry on dual lives or worse – without a need to break away ostensibly from the larger community. Why then do others make an actual public and pronounced break – they cease to be openly observant or some other manifest expression of changing their lifestyles? Are they simply more honest? Do they have greater temptations than the norm? Is it due to their upbringing? Is it genetic? Do they lack certain coping skills, and if so, why? Or is it perhaps the other way around: They are smarter and actually deny faith due to their philosophical skepticism?

His answer startled me. “First I considered all the factors you mention – honesty, intelligence, family – but I came to realize that they cannot account for most cases and don’t reflect any patterns that point to one cause or another. There are children from excellent families as well as broken ones that remain within the community. The same is with both skeptics and conformists, and the other identifiable categories.

“People are natural social creatures. They gravitate to groups and communities, and in most instances loath total isolation. They crave peer approval. Even non-conformists (which is a minority in any group) need social interaction. Most people, even radical individualists, will usually maintain their social identity, identifying with the communities of their upbringing. In most cases, only a radical jolt to the psyche will cause someone to explicitly break away from their peer group.

“In my experience I am slowly coming to the conclusion that in many of these cases the radical jolt began with some form of sexual molestation, in which the child’s inner dignity was violated. When someone is hurt on that level it defiles the innermost, intimate dimensions of the psyche; it drives the child into silence (out of shame and fear he will not speak about the abuse with parents or teachers), a silence and loneliness that eats away, like a cancer, at the child’s inner dignity.

“In many such instances a child has enough resilience to absorb the blow and come out intact. But in sustained abuse, or if it is a particularly sensitive child, or other unique factors, the violation – and the related shame, silence and loneliness – will jolt the child into another orbit, making him susceptible to further radical changes.

Then, when you add pot or other drugs into the equation – which a young adult may take recreationally; or due to escapism; to relieve the inner anxiety and shame; out of mediocrity and boredom and the search for a high – these drugs diminish natural inhibitions and thus can actually alter human personality, including the need to remain within ones family and community structure.

“So, combine all the above, coupled with hormones and other natural factors – the volatile combination, ignited by the jolting catalyst, can actually cause someone to make the radical jump and abandon their past.

“I know that this is a radical theory, which may be impossible to substantiate, due to the fact that most victims do not acknowledge or may bee unaware of the effects of their own experiences.”

“So, what do you suggest?” I asked the psychologist. “Zero tolerance of any form of abuse in our schools, homes and camps. Absolute and unequivocal action must be taken to not allow any such behavior, and to immediately take action if any such report is made, and not push it under the rug due to ‘inconvenience’ and scandal.”

Whether you agree or disagree with this psychologist’s ideas, it definitely provides food for thought. Obviously, great care has to be taken not to stereotype anyone and try to over generalize and develop formulas without regarding the complexities of life. Not everything can and needs to be explained. Yet, due to the serious crisis – and so many beautiful souls adrift – we are behooved to look into these issues and see what preventive medicine can be employed in our homes and schools, and what interventions need to be immediately deployed once there is a violation.

I know that this is a heavy – and terribly sad – topic. But when else to speak about it then in the Nine Days…

The lesson of these days teaches us the terrible consequences of malchus/dignity violated. But awareness of the problem is half its cure: It also instructs us how to repair the rupture: Just as dignity (malchus) on earth was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, we have the power of the full moon on the Fifteenth of Menachem Av to restore dignity, and with even greater intensity then the original.

For the sake of our children and their future we need to address these issues head-on, and come up with both preemptive actions as well as appropriate methods to rebuild dignity once it was compromised.

Parents and educators must know that we carry great responsibility and power – with life and death consequences – in cultivating and nurturing the dignity and souls of our children. And this begins not when the child is twenty, ten, or even two years old. It begins at the moment of birth, and even at the moment of conception.

We live in a profoundly insecure world; malchus/dignity is the most lacking dimension. Even if we may have plenty of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, love, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility and bonding (the first nine sefirot) – they are only nine, as in the Ninth of Av; without the tenth – and most important – dimension, we are missing the foundation of all life: inner security, self-worth and dignity that makes all the other nine worth their weight and imbues us with the confidence to use our nine faculties with conviction and sense of urgency and destiny.

Now the challenge is: How do I convey this to my friend Michael and to so many others?

I am open to any ideas.


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15 years ago

Although I only met few people who have in similar situations as your article describe, for some reason, I understood or had great empathy, enough to be quite aware of having the inner dignity violated.

For the drug addicts, it appears that they are trying to filled that empty spot with something that can provide immediate gratification. I used to think this is foolish but then I tried to investigate deeper into why people will reach out for something that can only provide temporary sustainment. Im still at the learning stage, but so far, I am starting to realize how important the concept of relationships and being true to yourself is towards healing ones pains.

15 years ago

I know say LChaim to Michael and all of Life!

15 years ago

We all have that awkward smile in one extreme or another dont we. I learned a meditation that helps melt away the grim gulf of thought that keeps us from love in even what seems unlovable.
Start by loving yourself and having a compassionate heart towards yourself in all your own strength and weakness. Then have a loving and compassionate heart towards the ones that you have an attraction to those people and things that you are drawn to. Then have a loving and compassionate heart to those people you are neutral to for they too are here under the desire of G-d. And last but not least have compassion and love for the people that have qualities that you are repulsed by and give them love and compassion. Send a beam of light from your heart to theirs. I too am sending Michael unconditional love. The Malchus of the collective body of the Jewish peoples has been in repair for a long long time and when we finally do get to see the reparation made by our individual and collective acts of lovingkindness we will all be in awe. Yes give him a big hug, in your minds eye and if you see him again maybe really give him a big hug like we all might give to our long lost love. I am hugging him with my heart full of love for the sake of holding another human being with my heart overflowing with love.
Simon I am always sad when I see the pain that gets passed on to another soul. I have a brother that is in some of the condition of Michael and I just love him. I treat him like he is my brother that I love. I think having pity for them is indignant too. Maybe all the choices that make no sense to me are a design that makes sense only to the Holy One. Maybe Michael and many others like him are unraveled for a Holy Reason we can not really see or understand. All malchus are really in sorrowful condition until the Holy-One is given full kingship.
So maybe this year with the Holy-One in the Holy-Land.

15 years ago

Love him (from afar) and let him know that he isnt judged and that your door is always open to him if he needs you.

15 years ago

I have lost friends to drug abuse………

They are physically in this world but mentally and spiritually more like black holes always taking instead of giving and so lost. They are great potential squandered by drugs.

Some of my friends have come out of this lifestyle.

My simple suggestion is to stay in touch and ensure Michael knows your relationship is strong enough that you will always be there for him. Dont ever be off limits or too busy, dont ever be too important to be called on the phone.Be proactive now and again and check in on him (your effort wont go un-noticed).

And then through constant contact when Michael gives you that tiny slither in the door of his life that he has opened for you, walk through it steadfast and loving kindness, ready to walk the path of renewal and rehabilitation arm in arm.

Just as Rabbi Akiva noticed the water waring away the hard stone, your droplets of love towards Michael will eventual wear away at the hard outer coating he has built to protect himself and he will find truth in your arms.

Remember as the Talmud teaches us that if you save one life…… it is as if you have saved the entire world.

A job worth doing? Unequivocally – YES.

Behatzlacha my friend.


10 months ago
Reply to  Paul

I agree with keeping in contact. Knowing that someone cares about you despite your condition is powerful. Know too that if Michael has been abusing drugs a long time, reaching him will be very hard but not impossible. Prayer is crucial as you know. He must want to change. And changing is very hard. A community is a must. Finding the right one is key. He has, as you have seen, detached himself from the living world.

I found your article very moving and not judgemental. I came out of darkness many years ago. Once you fall in, you come out drastically changed. Finding yourself is a constant project. Love and understanding from you is a brilliant gift for your friend. Can you turn him around? I don’t know. Only Michael knows. Best wishes with that.

Your writing and videos have been so helpful. I’m struggling at the moment since I am alone. You are a voice in the emotional wilderness, so to speak. You may not know, Rabbi Jacobson, how many people you have reached who remain silent. I hope Michael becomes one of them.

15 years ago

I just read the Rabbis narrative about his friend Michael and here are some thoughts.reactions. First of all, when Michael was a teenager, where were his parents? I know from my own experience, that if parents are available, are fully present to their children, the opportunity to slide into some dark hole are minimized.

I know that I cannot save anyone, especially, someone like Michael. We all have to make choices both constructive and bad. And I believe Michael did not have someone who was able to address this dynamic with him. Where were his parents, his teachers? But ultimately, where was Michael in this process?

It is also possible that Michael never experienced love or his interpretations of his family was less than satisfactory. Michael made a decision very early in his life that he was not important, he was a secondary thought. With this internal mechanism in his core of his personality, the dark hole looks quite inviting.

Thank you,

Marv Hershenson, Indianapolis.

15 years ago

Shalom from the Holy City of Jerusalem,

Just a quick thought with regards to restoring dignity.
It really begins with ourselves. Everyone, even the most together person
has experienced trauma in their lives, and this is really where the sense of insecurity
or loss of centeredness begins.
I dont think all the kids off the derech were abused per se, but rather are a product
of the patterns of the previous generations, that were suppressed. I am shockingly aware
of the widespread abuse and it never ceases to devastate me anew, but it is certainly not
the case with even the majority of kids off the derech.
To my mind, the answer lies, more often than not with the parents.
The message very often is do what I say, not what I do.
How many good parents are drinking too much? Or, are popping prescribed drugs?
Successful parents who really have no time for their kids until they get into trouble.
How many are honest and REAL?
Real in the sense that they walk the talk. They really live what they say?
The Rebbe always stressed that the maase is the ikar. Well?
I have tremendous faith in the future generation, as I believe they do want to know the truth
and nothing but the truth. No pretenses. Real.
Our challenge as parents, is to do the cheshbon nefesh necessary to become what we
expect our children to be. In so doing we will lead the way back to the center, our own
and as a consequence the next generations as well.

And a note about Tisha BAv…is it not, in a sense parallel?
As Jews we cry annually for the destruction of the Temple, and
we have been crying for almost 2000 years.
Cant we do any better than that?
With the combined resources of all of the yidden couldnt
we today do more ?
And yet we see Michael/ The Temple destroyed and feel
helpless to do anything about it.
Is it not written that if we are not rebuilding the Temple it is
as though we are destroying it anew every day.
So where are we?
Where is the dignity of the Klal?
How can we have individual dignity when as a nation we
have been humiliated for almost 2000 years since our
Center has been destroyed.
And we continue to be humiliated every day that we
pride ourselves about the achievements of the
State of Israel over the last sixty years
under Jewish sovereignty and sing about
to be a free nation in our own land where
the Temple, the very purpose of returning to
the Land has been overlooked.

Tisha BAv is primarily about the destruction of the Temples,
and then, about more and more tragedy… but the source of all Jewish calamity starts and
ends with the Temples destruction.
Hashem is waiting for His House of Prayer for All Peoples Isaiah 56:7
and until such time none of us can be whole.
May its/and our rebuilding be immediately.

Kol tov,

15 years ago

Michael needs to get into a Torah-centered rehab place; in Los Angeles there is Beit Tshuvah and Chabad runs a treatment center. The problem is that parents are no longer authority figures, but want to be their childrens friends, so no discpline and boundaries are imposed. The children do not feel they matter to their parents. K.

Dr. Twerski
15 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson:
I read your letter about drug abuse with great interest. Perhaps you are in a position to do something about a problem.
The most frequently abused drug–at all ages– is alcohol. Efforts to subdue this problem have not been very successful. No doubt you saw the recent article in Newsweek about the frum youngster who drove drunk and crashed a car on SHABBOS.
In Pittsburgh, I was president of the Chabad shul. I had to walk out from hakafos because of the heavy drinking, even among under-age boys
When I lecture about drugs and alcohol, invariably someone asks, Why do the Lubavitchers drink heavly and let youngsters drink. One woman said her son never drank until at Chabad. I see this as a chilul Hashem.
I have the pamphlet Mashke which contains numerous statements by the previous Rebbe and the last Rebbe zl condemning excessive drinking in the sharpest terms, e.g.,They are disciples of Lot
The Mashke pamphlet was quickly sequestered and taken out of circulation. I managed to get a copy, which I will gladly photostat for you. The chasidim choose what they want to hear.
In todays world of drug abuse, excessive drinking must be curtailed, at farbrengens, Shalam Zachor, weddings, kiddush, and hakafos.
If there is anything you can do to help, it will be a mitzva.
Dr. Abraham Twerski

13 years ago

I have found that giving and sacrificing for a noble cause, sacrificing for something greater than yourself, is an effective way to malchus. It is not about you; it is about reflecting a higher malchus. It is about what you contribute to a higher purpose and the significant effects that you see result from your efforts.

Viktor Frankel expounded on this concept (Mans Search For Meaning). I experience this everyday. I have come to summariz it in the following way:

Quality of life is all about Purpose – what you contribute to a worthwhile, uplifting cause – not what you receive from life. You may be distracted by getting, but ultimately it is what you give that you truly own.
To live purposefully requires discipline.
Discipline is based on and guided by principles.
Living by principles helps you discover the strengths you have and what you are capable of contributing to the Purpose.
Discovering what you are capable of does not make you better or worse. It helps you to appreciate the value of your life.
Lifes value is infinite and innate; it cannot be quantified, created, or destroyed… only endlessly explored.

Another part of the equation is learning to Trust that G-d is in control and will make all things right, even better than before.

13 years ago

I would ask Michael what he needs to restore his dignity.

I would hope that he feels a sense of love for himself that is stronger than what happened to him AND that he trusts in God to help him.

13 years ago

Rav Jacobson,
Thank you for sensitively addressing this topic. Having lost someone very close to me to the ravages of alcoholism, I can say that the ultimate cause of his drinking was depression, and a driving factor of his depression was psychological abuse by his parents.

Everyone must be on guard for himself that he should speak softly and gently to his children, to his students, and to his friends. Every parent, including me, needs to learn shmiras lashon.

Leah Golding
13 years ago

(Surname not for publication).
I was an addict 32 years ago. 31 years ago I went cold turkey, and have not been addicted to any substance since.
You talk about sexual abuse, but physical abuse in my situation went to the core of my being, bringing me to a stage where I wanted the abuser to die, then I tried to suicide. Getting over it all? Never. Being strong and able to withstand problems? Yes. But how?
My life was normal, or so it seemed until age I brought my fourth baby home from hospital to find my husband had taken up with another woman and was unspeakably horrible to me. The abuse was unbearable,including physical abuse and broken bones, so I went to my parents who sent me straight home, telling me to cook him nice dinners and to be pleasant. I omitted to tell them about the physical side of the abuse. I was too ashamed. He had been a very good husband, a good father and a good son to his parents, in fact exceptional. But it all changed.
I had married at 18 against their wishes. Yes, be was Jewish. As far as they were concerned he was the enemy,not what they had planned for me and whilst by marrying him that was all that I could expect. All the men I knew were rude to their wives: my father, my brothers, the boys I grew up with. It was a sort of superiority complex that women had to live with, and even today I see man after man making derogatory comments to their wives, or having affairs on the side.I still dont believe that the majority of men are well-behaved.
My husband spent his time at home demeaning me and yelling that he wanted a divorce. I was devastated, not understanding how I could be home with a new baby and have my whole life taken away from me. He turned up at three in the morning, yelling and waking up the children.
I felt absolutely terrible, lost a lot of weight and went to the doctor. Pills were the answer for fixing it all. Those pills were addictive, unknown to the medical profession, but that is a another story of a court action that somehow fizzled out.
The pills relaxed me, made me peaceful and non-judgmental as the older children ran the house with a housekeeper and I took increasing amounts of pills, eventually spending my most of my time lying in bed. I rang my husbands sister who told me to confront this woman, leaving scars on her face. It was a financial matter too – my husband had the most expensive car in town and she was a waitress working her way around the world. He was a good catch – financially. I got in the car, seeing double and did just that. The police sent me to a mental hospital where I was given electric shocks against my will. I could not eat the treife food and ended up with sores all over my mouth and face from the medication that they forced me to take – I was allergic to it.
After about ten days I played their game, pretending that I was cool, calm and collected, and was released.
I went back on the addictive pills going from doctor to doctor for another prescription, but during further physical abuse I hit back hard, almost killing my husband. He was very badly injured. This time I made certain that the police would not find me and I ran away, leaving my children with my heart breaking. I got in touch with a friendly doctor who arranged for a psychiatrist to give me a clean bill of health.
The police told my husband that he deserved what he got, did not charge me at all and put him in touch with the friendly doctor after finding out that there were four children at home.

After much discussion my husband sent the woman back overseas, deciding to right his wrongs. But by then I was a full-blown addict. I had no feelings. I could not hear the music when it played. Life had no meaning. The more that I slept the better because when I was awake the memories were terrible and the physical pain of rejection was too great to bear. I tried to die by taking more pills a few times but it did not happen.
What brought me out of it? A ghost from the past, my husband who showed that he really cared and was honestly sorry for hurting me. He told me of being plied with a whole bottle of wine every day and that the woman had trapped him in ways that men respond to which an exhausted mother just after birth cannot compete with. He claimed that he could not remember being physically abusive.

Going cold turkey took five days and five nights. I do not remember counting; it was all a blur. He and the doctor sat with me as I shook, vomitted, writhed in agony and hung on to that little slither of love that was extended to me. The children were not even in the equation for me. Whilst I was an addict I felt that I was worthless of their love because I was ugly, stupid, and everything else that I had been called. I did not have the strength to even consider their welfare.
I was not furious any more. When I first found out I considered divorce too, but then I did not want my children growing up with a stepmother whose behaviour was that of a prostitute, or with a father who could be manipulated by one or more women like that. But when I was an addict they slipped out of my consciousness.

Why did I cooperate and go cold turkey?
It goes back to my upbringing – to do the right thing and to know what is normal and what is not.
The issue of abandonment came in here. Unlike the victims of sexual abuse I was being offered sincere regret, things were going to be put back into place again, things were going to be right. I was eager to forgive, because I blamed the other party for taking my husband away from his family. I saw my husband as a victim too.
It took years for me to have any feelings towards my husband. I enjoyed my children and rebuilt myself as a person, refusing to take even a headache tablet for over twenty years.
It took about five years to get to the stage where we had re-established the relationship as I got my feelings back, celebrating it with the birth of two more children.
I have continuously strengthened myself, made new friends, taken on bi-weekly shiurim, done good deeds and community work and added to my professional qualifications. There have been difficult times, both financial and in bringing up children but we now stand together as one and overcome challenges.
There was a lot of work that I had to do, and a system that I used to do it to get to where I am today.
The first move that I had to make was to let it happen and to cooperate, however weak I was, I did have hope.
When I got on my feet and put on weight I then began to help others less fortunate than myself, but far away from the drug scene. This helped put my troubles into perspective. There is always someone worse off than you.
Thirdly I learned how to communicate better with my husband, to let him know in a nice way, including my body language if anything was troubling me.
The most difficult for me was the fourth matter and that was in the bedroom department. I needed professional advice, because the prevailing view in western society is that of the church which had influenced me even though I was born a Jew . Judaism on the other hand believes that sex is for both procreation and enjoyment. That was a tough one for me, but I must say that it was not insurmountable.
Filling my life with enjoyable activities also helped.
But the single and best way that helped me was the unqualified caring love from my husband when I needed it most,at the lowest point in my life.

I meet many addicts through my work. Most have been rejected by everyone they know. Even brief encounters in the street are not met with a nice word, instead the other person crosses over to the other side. It is understandable that the family stands back and keeps out, but when you meet a past acquaintence who is now an addict and have the opportunity to be there for them – do it. You may just be the turning point in their life.

The alternative is probably a death sentence.

Batsheva Dor
12 years ago

I would talk softly to his soul with great respect and love and call her back to life…nurture and heal the split from his core…
Michaels soul left because of too much suffering and isolation. His soul needs to be retrieved.

Each one of us has a story, for humanity has for thousands of years been travelling far away from the heart and the connection with the Source and living in fear, not recognizing the divine force within. With humanitys jouney into separation and darkness we had to adopt to in our quest for survival by separating from heart connection, from our deep nature, our cycles, into alienation …

Norman Siller
12 years ago

Excellent article/commentary. I too was in the throes af addiction for many years. Even after the help and love of many chabadniks in S. Florida and Orlando, I still every so often (Actually was almost 3 years clean)go off. Why is something else I need to address. But for now understand this. If it wasnt for the love these people had for Hashem and their belief in the universal good of a jew, (of man in general)they probably would have rejected me the first time I had a negative influence on their lives. But they continued to believe in me as a person; As a jew. From this love, this caring for a fellow jew I regained my own dignity as a person and as a Jew. And with that dignity came the ability to overcome my lust for addictions. My ability to be a better person who tries to improve the world instead of someone who only wants from the world was opened. Of course, blessed is Hashem from where the reciprocal waters flows. Plus a lot of AA as well. But withot my regaining some selfworth, some selfdignity,If all I got was rejection instead of the right kind of help, help that made me feel better as a person, as a good and decent member of this world, I doubt if I ever would have given up my addictive lifestyle. I am not saying to be someone who inadvertantly supports an addict just so he can get high at a later time. But be someone supportive of the inner good that that person has. Be someone to bring out that inner good. Charity can help a person get by for the day. Or it can help a person restore his dignity, so he can get by tommorrow.

12 years ago

Weed: a natural plant,
Human: naturally needs social approval
Abuse: natural human instinct (by weakness, no-less)
First swig: natural move by attempting to fit in
Substance abuse: naturally follows
Deterioration: naturally follows
Destruction: the natural end to this natural path.

As a religious person myself, Im torn about Michael, but Im caught between the un-natural, (against the tide of nature and society stay safe, and follow) Torah vs. the path Michael chose – which this un-godly world is made of. There are not a lot of people like you who can put it in a seemingly unconventional well-communicated way that you do.)

Marc Lerner
12 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson,
I want to share with you an article I wrote geared toward a person facing death. I re-wrote it geared toward a person facing a challenge they cannot control. Because I was directing myself to an English-speaking audience, I used the Latin roots of words. I do feel this answers the question “what can I tell Michael?” I also feel a logical answer is not as appropriate as directing him to an experiential solution.
Thank you. I appreciate your articles,
Marc Lerner

Consciously Embracing Life Experientially in the Midst of Challenges

When a person faces a challenge they cannot control, like a drug habit, they need to learn to focus on the silence beyond their thoughts. We have been conditioned to focus on thinking our entire life, but there isn’t a comforting thought that really prepares us for that challenge. That preparation develops throughout a lifetime by developing qualities like confidence. Confidence, which in Latin comes from “con fide” or “with faith,” determines how you face that challenge. Real confidence doesn’t change your challenge; it just determines how you deal with it.

Many people rely on their beliefs, which are an excellent resource, but in Latin “belief” comes from “to allow”. So your beliefs allow you to let go of your thinking mind and allow a deeper wisdom to meet your challenge. If that truly happens, your thinking mind can really serve you, but when you focus on thinking, it is easy for things to bubble up that don’t serve you.

In your subconscious mind you may have fears, unfinished business or emotions like anger that arise when they are inappropriate. So my focus is to help a person stuck in a struggle look beyond their mind-made reality. In the silence beyond their thoughts exists what I call the Wisdom of the Body. This is where powerful inner resources are found completely free from ego’s limitation. This is where we have a direct connection to Ha Shem.

With no fear or anxious thinking, you can approach challenges with love in your heart. That puts you into a receptive state of mind where you accept challenges free from limitations. Imagine someone you love or your relationship with God to fill up your heart and be confident.

Our breath gives life to whatever we breathe into. A complete breath is where we breathe into silence. The root of the word “worry” comes from “choke”. When you breathe into anxious thinking, it cuts your breath short and you choke. Breathing into silence is the best antidote for worry because you are giving life you to a reality beyond your limitations. Many people do that naturally when they feel love, but when you are in a struggle, you have to take control.

This is how people can learn to take control of breathing when they face a serious challenge: First, stretch out your dominant arm. This arm represents your thinking mind. Next, with the other arm, which represents your breath, breathe into silence by having that hand go beyond thinking. Negative thoughts mean nothing unless you breathe into them. Breathing into the silence beyond thinking activates your inner wisdom. So instead of an anxious ego dealing with your situation, inner wisdom takes on that challenge.

This says nothing about what you think; it just focuses on what listens to your thoughts. Breathe into thoughts and you give them life to interpret your challenge. Breathe into silence and you give your deepest wisdom life to deal with your challenge. If you do this before you go to sleep and upon awakening, it becomes a habit. Then, by a simple breath, you trigger a reaction where wisdom comes alive. It takes time to develop this habit, but in dealing with a challenge you cannot control, it is time well spent.

The quality of life does not depend on the health of your body; it depends on your focus.

Marc Lerner is author of A Healthy Way to be Sick and host of an internet radio show of the same name. On Healthy Way to be Sick, you can download e-books related to each show episode. The larger book specifically deals with avoiding negative thoughts. Go to: to view archived shows and an overview of his work.

Barry Schechter
12 years ago

Dear Rabbi:
There is no dignity like the dignity we receive from Kaddusha, especially the kaddusha of Shabbat. Even the most distant, the most apathetic the most antagonistic Jew is always impacted by this kaddusha. It fills a person with identity. I know your friend is distant and has been there before, but if you can arrange for him (when you can) to be at a shabbat table he may be able to grow out of himself (at least for a moment, an hour, a day) and get back into the community that deep inside of himself is what he is still apart of and what can still define him for who he is, a holy Jew.

Shabbat Shalom, Barry Schechter

12 years ago

All forms of abuse and degredation destroys our psyche, not just sexual
abuse. Unfortunately some of our children, the smart nonconformists of them, are dealt with extreme shaming, degradation, mental and physical abuse on a daily basis from a young age at our talmudei tora. That needs to be halted immediately.

12 years ago

It is imperative that we not outsource responsibility for how we turn out. Granted that there is much input in ones life from external sources, but in reality the impact that these have on us is determined by ourselves.
If we remove our own causality in our lives, not to be confused with what happens to us, but what we choose to do
with those events then that is the first
step to compromising our integrity and by extension our dignity.
We learn to be victims by dint of the
long process of maturation during childhood throughout which we are helpless and defenseless.
It is during this period that we most need empowerment from those around us to
have us come to the realization that we are capable and competent and appro-priate.
As you pointed out, remarkably, many of us go through similar experiences, yet we come out on the other side of them feeling differently about ourselves. This is a function of the choices we make about ourselves in the process.
If the above is not valid, then what of tshuva and transformation? What are we returning to if not the essential me? As you pointed out in past essays, we can
transform the past by transforming ourselves.
I can not speak about Michael since his makeup internally may be chemically challenged, and that requires pharmaco-
logical attention. However, if its purely psychological, then Michael requires to be reminded of who he is, who he could be, and often.
There is a village in Africa that has an interesting tradition. When one of the members of the tribe (about 3000 people)
breaks the rules, the entire village stops, forms a circle, and the transgressor is put in the center. For the next three days, each tribe member in the circle has to say something positive about this person. It is said that this ritual is done only once every five years.

Simply Jewish
11 years ago

Today is 2012, the article was written 2008. Firstly, lets hope that Micheal is ok. Secondly, words are good, but actions are better. Offering help is great. Giving help is better. Shortly, take Michael to your home. He has none. Help him to take a shower. Give him a cup of soap. Dress him in clean garmets. Make a clean bed for him in
your home. Then sit with him and listen. Then take him by the hand and enroll him in the rehab programm. Talking is wonderfully. Hands on care is more effective. Yes, it takes more time and greater efforts. Healing others is not an easy thing to do.

So, what to say Michael?

Michael, once we were friends. And I did not see for so long. But, I still care for you and i am troubled by what I see. Therefore, I would like to invite you to my home and do whatever it takes, whatever you need to help you. Would you come with me, my dearest friend? Would you be willing to allow me to walk into your life and offer to you my hand? Here it is.

Then follow his progress and do not let him go out of your sight till he is stable and working. He needs to know and feel that there is someone who actually cares for him beyond just words.

Sara Feigah
10 years ago

(please insert after the first sentence of yesterdays comment if possible.) Verbal abuse some believe is worse than physical abuse because like sexual abuse it is a direct attack on malchut. Verbal abuse is a form of groundless hatred and if perpetuated by a parent or a Nanny caring for a child or a teacher and continued over time it may destroy a child or even an adult. If sexual, verbal or physical abuse perpetuated continuously can destroy a person how can we heal such a person? To heal such a person requires a great deal of kind words accompanied by much chesed,many,many kind actions because there is always a part of the soul that the abuser cannot touch and through perpetual kindness we can bring to the consciousness of an abused person that part of him that the abuser could not destroy.

10 years ago

Knowing is half the battle as you say—-instead of denial. Once accepted, internal and external boundaries can develop by mirroring with empathic and perceptive person or group. Hope and elusive faith is needed as well. AND a willingness of the person. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to be willing to change. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Shalom.

Stuart Feldman
10 years ago

Not minimizing the importance of professional help, the dynamic of one person identifying with another is an extremely powerful tool. I am blessed to have survived and now thrive as a result of my addiction. I speak to Yeshiva students in L.A., share my story, and quite often I hear them tell me that they have felt the same way that I did. I welcome the opportunity to share my experience with you in the hopes of helping others.

10 years ago

Never under estimate the power of listening.

10 years ago

Right before I got to your paragraph about what you thought the radical jolt was, I had the same thought. A serious fracture occurred in my life around age 3-4 involving a molestation incident; I only have pieces of a memory. I have often wondered why I had so much promise as a young girl, so many creative gifts, and I stay in survival mode. The inner malchus has a hard time rising to the surface if youve spent years living in fear, etc. I thank you for bringing attention to this serious issue. Even in our community, we are not immune.

Sara Feigah
10 years ago

Abuse comes in many forms. Sexual and physically violent abuse would be the most completely destructive but simply not understanding or listening to a person can lead to them rebelling. When parents are in conflict about core values a child can become hopelessly confused. When a teacher suposedly a role model does not understand, dislikes or undervalues a student, the child may rebel. When a childs background differs from the majority in his/her class a child may feel alienated and different, later deciding to follow a different life style. The key is loving and understanding the essence of each child and thus supporting his/her dignity in both words and actions so he/she becomes proud of their malchut, feels loved. It is one thing to say all this having been a parent and grandparent and looking back and seeing when I got it right and when I missed the mark but quite another thing to get it right all the time. We all need continuing encouragement to see how important malchut is and to understand exactly what it is and I thank Rabbi Jacobson for his moving article and for all those that commented after it.

Stephen Moskovitz
10 years ago

The spiritual realms, are found in altered states. The pain of suffering in the here and now is real and felt by everyone. The Yom Kippur clearly indicates that we are all sinners. When one is in the mind that doesnt mean one is connected to the body. We are all Michael and finding solace in the mundane world of Today is impossible. The only way is to get out of the Rat Race and find a third rail of survival.

Sitting in the Dust
10 years ago

Speaking from experience, malchus is destroyed for a child reared in some ignorant strain of christianity. We are told we are evil sinners, guilty and not fit to live or be loved. A child grows up inwardly dejected and becomes suggestible when trying to qualify for love and worth.

3 years ago

wow thank you so much! This might not help Micheal but it helped me!

Irene Elaine hill
10 months ago

I understand where your fraind comes from I too was a victim of child abused and I too am a recurving addict I sow no way out In my addiction as an adult I saw no way out and lost my children in the process. You just got to be onist .with this fraind let him know he is loved point him in the direction of help you pray and the show of friendship of love and genuine concern.and let him know that G=d has not forgotten him. and most of all don’t give up hope some make it out I did and my life is better for it.

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