March 26, 2020


3.27.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Welcome to Recovery

A message from people in recovery to people not in recovery.

When we addicts give up dope, or alcohol, or gambling, or video games, or sex, we have to admit we are powerless over that thing we want so badly – over that thing with which we’ve had the most intimate relationship of our lives.  It’s scary. Terrifying. If not that thing, then what? What can there be if there’s no dope, or alcohol, or gambling, or video games, or sex? The whole world changes because we can’t do what we’ve always done anymore. We just can’t.  We’re powerless.

So now.  You – all of us – are being told you can’t live as you once did.  We have to give up free movement of our bodies. Give up the lives we once knew.  Give up hugging and a night out and weddings and even Passover seders. We are powerless over this virus.  We can wash our hands and social distance, and many of us will still contract it. Likely, most of the people reading this note will contract it.  Likely, all of us will know someone who dies. It’s scary. Terrifying. If we can’t live how we once did, how will we live? The whole world is changing because we can’t do what we’ve always done.  We just can’t. We’re powerless.

Welcome to recovery.

Here’s what we want you to know, friends.  Recovery has taught us that we are not at the center of the Universe.  Our needs are not the center – even completely legitimate needs, like toilet paper.  We can, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “feel jailed in the confinement of personal needs.”  We can become so obsessed with groceries and food that we become trapped in a mindset of scarcity, and our fears can run us.  Run by our fears, we would eventually use, drink, lie, steal, and hurt ourselves and others. Friends, you may not use or drink to excess, but all of us lie, steal, and hurt ourselves and others in a mindset of scarcity.  A friend’s babysitter brings the kid to a gathering of lots of kids in the park, then tells the kid not to tell their parents. People don’t keep their distance on sidewalks or in grocery stores, and then more and more people get sick.  This is how we behave when we think our needs are at the center of the universe.

But what is at the center is Something Bigger.  I might call it my Higher Power, or God, or the Universe.  The name isn’t important. What is important is that I recognize that there’s Something Bigger than Me and My Needs.  Heschel teaches: “to defy our own interests, though they seem to be vital and have long been cherished, we must be able to say No to ourselves in the name of a Higher Yes.”  Saying No to ourselves – No to hoarding, No to ignoring social distancing, No to our former way of life – is freedom from the jail of our personal needs.

This is the message of parashat VaYikra – literally, “and God called” – in which God calls upon Moses to relate torah to the Israelites, specifically who brings what sacrifices and under what circumstances.  This is how God calls to Moses. How does God call to you? Today?

Heschel teaches that each of us not only has needs, but we are needed.  God needs you and you and you and you as you are.  To admit that I am powerless does not mean that I am worthless.  Power and worth are not the same.  To admit I am powerless means I matter as I am without trying to be something I’m not.  It means I am inherently worthy, inherently needed, inherently called.

Today, what is God calling you to do?  Each of us is called to a Higher Yes – as we are.  I cannot stop the virus, but I wash my hands for two full Happy Birthdays.  I cannot stop the virus, but if I’m not an essential worker, I can flatten the curve by staying inside.  Or if I work in essential services, I can get creative about keeping people safe and alive. If I’m a healthy person, I can volunteer to deliver meals to someone who doesn’t have food.

To admit I am powerless is itself empowering – though it doesn’t feel that way in early recovery.  Because it means I am a part of Something Bigger. Heschel would say, a spoke in the larger wheel.

Each of us is needed.  Ask yourself: How am I needed today?

Keep coming back.  It works if you work it.


People in Recovery