"Normal" doesn't necessarily mean "healthy". A cave dweller thinks that darkness is normal, and can't fathom the beauty and the benefits of sunlight. In the same way, tranquility is so elusive today that many people don't even consider it a realistic emotional goal. Yet, if we want to escape a lifelong fate of emotional darkness, we desperately need to find a way back into the "emotional sunlight" that is the birthright of each and every one of us.
A good example of this confusion between "normal" and "healthy" comes from the American Psychological Association. In their position paper on anger, they conclude:"Remember, you can't eliminate anger - and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival."
These words strike me as most peculiar. They seem to assume that we all live in a dangerous jungle, where only the biggest, angriest inhabitants manage to survive. In fact, I can testify from my own personal combat experience in one of the world's most elite military units that anger clouds decisions and lowers effectiveness. If we're talking about survival, an angry soldier is far less likely to survive that a calm one. A good soldier has to be cool-headed in order to function at an optimal level. An angry soldier, by contrast, is a menace to both himself and his brothers in arms. And if that's true in the high-stress battlefield arena, it's certainly true on the city streets.
Most of conventional psychology's anger-management programs are based on the faulty assumption that "containable" anger is a good and even necessary thing. For example, the APA suggests that with anger management therapy "a highly angry person can move closer to a middle range of anger in about 8 to 10 weeks". Translated, that means that you won't break windows anymore, but you'll still be gritting your teeth, clenching your fists, and maintaining your candidacy for heart disease and strokes.
The basic flaw with this approach is easy to understand once you realize an important truth about anger: Fundamentally, anger is an addiction. And you can't "manage" an addiction - as any drug, tobacco, or alcohol rehabilitation specialist will tell you. An alcoholic can't limit himself to two Bloody Marys a day, just as a heavy smoker can't cut back to five cigarettes a day. The results are not permanent! Addiction management requires a huge amount of sustained willpower. Why invest so much physical and emotional energy when better options are available?
Oh, you'd like an example of a better option than substances or anger management? Try combining walking with personal prayer. The Trail to Tranquility will also make a dramatic change in your life for the better.
Five months ago, I was interviewed in New York City about the painful subject of child molesters and what to do about them. In the aftermath of the Leiby Kletzky ob"m tragedy, this interview is more timely than ever. You'll see and hear me declaring in a loud voice that anyone - rabbi or otherwise - who helps cover up a case of child molesting is an accomplice to the crime. From now on, may we only hear good tidings, amen!
People often ask me what's wrong with casual smoking of hash or marijuana. I'll tell you what's wrong – these "light" substances are, to a certain extent, even more dangerous than heavy substances, because the problems they pose are not immediately obvious. A heroine addict is not likely to marry, and if he does, it probably won't be an orthodox Jewish marriage. But a person who smokes marijuana appears to function normally. He usually holds down a job and gets married. Yet he will be greatly challenged in attaining Shalom Bayit, (marital harmony), may have greater difficulty in educating his kids properly, and find it almost impossible to serve Hashem (God), with his entire heart. The marijuana eventually affects his brain, and he may even reach a point where a joint takes precedence over his wife and children – and even Hashem! Marijuana causes people to become lethargic, lose their initiative, shirk responsibility. Basically, it causes people to lose their ability to function properly. Ultimately, they become slaves to a vicious master – their habit.
People who are slaves to their habits give the habit precedence over all else. As a result, they may behave cruelly and take extreme measures to fulfill their lusts, even to the point of letting their wives and children go hungry. Alcoholics are known to be self-indulgent; even when they don't have the money to pay the electric bill, they come up with money to purchase beer and wine.
Addicts – even functional ones, whether hooked on alcohol or drugs – see only themselves. They are the arch-prototype of egotists. Whenever I encounter a married substance abuser, I tell him categorically – it's either your wife or your habit. You can't have both. A wife needs a husband who's a giver – addicts are takers. They have no qualms about taking what doesn't even belong to them to satiate their urges...
Read the article in its entirety here at BreslevIsrael
Not long ago, I received the following email from "Gershon", a young man in Israel that's just been discharged from the army. Gershon is searching for a real connection with Hashem, but a major obstacle is blocking his way:
...the last thing in the world I want is to be attracted to other men, yet I am. You can't imagine the emotional energy I've exerted over the last 3 years trying to hide this. I don't know who to turn to. Rav Lazer, you must help me...
Gershon's not alone; other people also dream of leaving same-gender attractions behind and moving forward to complete Torah observance, marriage, and children. Are their dreams realistic? Is it possible for a person to develop inherent heterosexual potential if he or she suffers from intense same-gender attractions ?
Elaine Silodor Berk and Arthur Goldberg, Co-Directors of JONAH, say YES, loud and clear. JONAH is a friend in need. If you want to beat the rap of same-gender attractions, or have a loved-one or friend that you'd like to help, check JONAH out. You can call their message center at 201 433 3444. You'll be glad you did.
We get a lot of mail here at the Beams, but the following letter from our dear friend Moe is one of the best eye-openers we've seen in a long time. Moe's candid self-evaluation is remarkable. His courage in overcoming a nasty substance habit is an example for everyone. Moe is proof of what Rebbe Nachman says (Likutei Moharan II:110) that free choice is simply desire - if you want to, you do! At any rate, Moe is our monthly hero here at the Beams. Let's pass him the microphone:
Dear Rabbi , I am a huge fan of your site, as I read it daily, and also a big fan of the Teshuva movement! Some things have been troubling me when reading some of your letters, especially the ones about substance abuse with Marijuana leading the pack.
I would like to sum up my history as quickly as possible. I am the youngest of a large family, and Hashem has blessed me with loving parents. We grew up in the conservative movement but with strong traditional values. Instead of having a childhood full of joy, I grew up in a house of sadness. My oldest sister passed away o.b.m. when I was only about 2, from an illness, and my parents and siblings grief was so overwhelming, understandably, and I had little attention. Well, years went by and all the siblings left home by the time I was 9. With both parents working, I became a latch key kid, spending many hours of solitude. By age 12, I was smoking Pot daily, drinking on the weekends and filling my void of companionship with music. Hashem blessed me with musical talent and started playing in Bands by the time I was 17. My drug use also increased, experimenting with Cocaine, LSD, and Opium while continuing To Smoke Pot daily. By the time I was in my twenties, I had seen friends pass away from Drug Overdoses. This got me to stop the hard stuff, but not the pot..It felt so good, it would relax me, get rid of the nausea I had from a chronic nervous stomach, and really let me get into my music. But the down side was, I was getting more and more introverted, a lot of sinus infections and sucked out a lot of money from my wallet.
My Father was a heavy Tobacco smoker and I visited him in the hospital after he had a third of his lung removed from smoking. Even after seeing him on a respirator, I still didn't get it! I went home and smoked more than ever. Anytime I ran into difficulty, my trusty best friend (my pot Pipe) was waiting for me. And it sure relieved my problems, at least pushed them aside for a while. But what I didn't realize was that my problems didn't get resolved, just put on the back burner. Do you know what happens when you put food on to simmer on the back burner on low...eventually it burns into a charred mess! Well, even with my monkey on my back, Hashem blessed me with a wife and 2 beautiful Kids! I still couldn't kick my Pot habit and after 3 years of marriage, I came home to find my wife and children gone. I realized that I had hit bottom and I still continued my 28 year old pot habit.
Finally, with the help of yourself, (you had told me that if I wanted true peace, I would have to come out of the fog that I was living in, that the pot was preventing Hashem's Divine Light from entering me, and that I could not get close to Hashem if I was living behind a thick fog), And I was forced to change, I went through legal troubles to be able to see my kids and the lawyer told me that now I would have to give up the weed! I cried for weeks, not only was I missing my kids, but the fear of giving up my best friend (the Pot) was overwhelming!! To my astonishment my life dramatically changed..(by the way I forgot to say that the last 6 months I smoked, I really wasn't enjoying it..I was feeling paranoid and lethargic as well as a lot of anxiety, and my creativity (especially with my music) was suffering, but with habit some things are hard to break. It was like eating fast-food and feeling nauseous when you are done but you still go back the next day and order the same thing! With a lot of prayer and starting to put only Kosher food in my system ( non- Kosher food also puts a coating on the body, not allowing Divine Light to seep through), I quit Pot cold turkey...it was hard for the first 2 weeks, mentally harsh and physically ill... Chronic Pot users go through flu- like withdrawal symptoms when quitting! (And they sat Pot is not physically addictive-yea, right!) but then it got easier! I also went through a year off old suppressed feelings coming to the surface!
I have to tell you, this made me want to pick up the pipe again, but my love for my children and my children's love for me was stronger than my cravings! To my astonishment my life dramatically changed..There was no more barrier between myself and my kids! What an overwhelming feeling! My interpersonal relationships grew stronger, and my ability to handle stress went up 1000%. I am now living a Torah observant lifestyle and Hashem has now blessed me with a new wife, I am very involved in my Kid's lives and my music career is stronger and more creative than ever! I have now been weed free for over 2 years! I Thank Hashem for giving me such inner strength and for people like you, who genuinely reach out to help others. I just want to tell those who battle substances, that Hashem took us out of slavery a long time ago, and we do not need to be slaves anymore..Life is so much better without the Monkey on your back..It's all about trust and faith..real EMUNA, and the treasure chest is waiting for you without a locked lid! Thank You, Thank You Rabbi. With much Love, Moe from the U.S.A.
The Talmud offers practical homiletic advice on how to survive under extreme stress:
Rabbi Akiva sailed from Israel to Cyprus. Before he left port, he saw his prize understudy, Rabbi Meir, board an older vessel, also sailing to Cyprus. In the midst of their journey, a terrible gale struck the Mediterranean. Rabbi Akiva's heart broke as he gazed into the distance, wincing while the storm lashed into the decrepit craft that carried Rabbi Meir. In a matter of minutes, the latter's ship was utterly destroyed...
A tear slid down Rabbi Akiva's cheek. "What a waste of a brilliant mind!" he lamented.
Several days later, upon reaching the shores of Cyprus, Rabbi Akiva entered a local synagogue and house of study. Flabbergasted, he froze in the doorway. Rabbi Meir was in the middle of a lecture to a group of Cypriot Talmud students. Seeing his esteemed teacher and spiritual guide in the doorway, Rabbi Meir ceased lecturing. "Rabbi Akiva, my honored master, please come inside!"
Rabbi Akiva could barely speak. "M-Meir! Y-You're still alive! H-How did you get ashore?"
"Simple, my master. Instead of focusing on the stormy sea, I rode one wave at a time. I caught wave after wave until I reached the shore!"
* * * * *
Had Rabbi Meir attempted to battle the entire tempestuous sea, he would have expended his strength in a short time. Instead, he used the centuries old formula of "divide and conquer" - Rabbi Meir knew that he couldn't overcome the sea, but he could surely cope with one wave at a time. Even more amazing, he arrived ashore before Rabbi Akiva!
The 2nd-Century CE sage Rabbi Meir teaches us the secret of staying on top when we seem to be buried under an insurmountable load of stress. Don't fight a whole raging sea, or don't try to move a one-ton boulder that's in your way. Take a 5-lb. hammer, and break chips of the boulder. Before you know it, the boulder - that ton of stress on your shoulders - is no longer there!
The secret of handling an overload of stress is dismantling - don't try to deal with all your pressures simultaneously. Ride one wave at a time, and you'll make it safely to shore, too.