I read an article by a rabbi criticizing the Twelve-Step Program. Rather than responding to each point, I would like to discuss a broader issue.
Addictions to immoral behavior and inappropriate material are now epidemic, even among frum people, and are destroying families. The following communications show the caliber of people who are being affected.
I’m a twenty-one-year-old yeshivah bachur. I went to prominent American yeshivos all my life and am now learning in a famous yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. Modesty aside, I was at the top of my classes and shiurim, widely respected by my friends and rabbeim. I planned to learn many years and go into chinuch. I would find a perfect shidduch quickly, some rosh yeshivah’s
daughter, raise a beautiful family, and spread nachas all around. A perfect life awaited. I was the frum community’s model son. As far as anybody knows, all this is still true.
When I was in the first year of beis midrash, my parents brought the Internet into our home, and my secret life began. To condense the story, I was quickly hooked on devarim as- surim. (Let’s not kid ourselves. Like every person on this planet, I was always curious, and all the blockers my parents set up fell away quickly, without their knowledge.)
Like any person that becomes addicted to something, I quit many times, once for a whole year, for months, many times, I buried my head in the Torah to save myself as best I could. But it always came back. Going against everything I’d ever learned, I continued. I slowly trained myself to shut God out whenever I wanted to. That led me to more aveiros, Rachmana litzlan.
I was a heimishe, chassidishe yeshivah bachur who belonged to a Chassidus and put on a shtreimel at my wedding. I knew that my behaviors were completely prohibited according to the Torah, and this caused me terrible emotional pain and made me feel like a hypocrite leading a double life. To thwart these behaviors, I davened, I learned, I cried. I gave tzedakah, I went to mikveh, I fasted, I pleaded to Hashem. I went to kivrei tzaddikim, I made nedarim and even shevuos. I wrote letters to gedolim asking for help, and many more things. To no avail. I could not stop. It got worse, to the point where I was unfaithful to my wife. Gevald!
After promising myself to stop after each bout and contin- uously slipping, I gave up on everything and lived internally a not-religious life with an exterior image of a heimishe chassid.
I was even thinking of leaving my family and Yiddishkeit com- pletely.
I was introduced to Twelve Steps support groups dealing specifically with these issues. I felt I was not alone. Others suffer from this problem. I listened to what these people were saying and doing in order not to fall back into old behaviors.
Today, after a few nice years in these support groups, I am still married to the same person — we have a wonderful rela- tionship. My Yiddishkeit and Chassidus are real, not external. My rebbe, a tzaddik and leader of a Chassidus, knows what I went through and encouraged me to go to these support groups. I am grateful to Hashem for every moment of recovery I have today.
It is easy to be critical of anything, including the Twelve Steps meetings. Rashi (on Shemos 18:1) praises Yisro for say- ing “ve’atah sechezeh” (Shemos 18:21), whereby he suggested to Moshe Rabbeinu to set up a judicial hierarchy. The Likutei Yehoshua asks, “Why does Rashi not mention Yisro’s earlier remarks [Shemos 18:18], where he said to Moshe, ‘What you are doing is not good?’ He answers that anyone can criticize. Yisro is praised for suggesting a solution, not for criticizing.”
These letters are typical of what we find with frum young men, b’nei Torah, who have fallen into the trap of immoral behavior. To me, the most vexing question is, “What went wrong?”
I have said that if I had to develop a recovery program based on mussar, it would be, word for word, the Twelve Steps. Why, then, did b’nei Torah who learned mussar become lust addicts, and why do they recover with the Twelve-Step Program?
The Talmud relates that the students of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai came to visit him before his death and requested a berachah.
Rav Yochanan said, “May your fear of Hashem be as great as your fear of other people.”
The students were taken aback. “Is that all you can tell us?”
Rav Yochanan said, “Yes. A person will refrain from doing something improper if he thinks someone may see him, but is not stopped by the fact that Hashem sees him.”
Students of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai were great Torah scholars, yet they were derelict in yiras Shamayim.
There were always purveyors of schmutz, but a decent person would not risk being seen in one of these places. However, in the privacy of his home or office, or of his hand-held screen, he is not deterred from watching inappropriate material by the fact that Hashem sees him. The current Internet addiction epidemic, affecting some yeshivah and kollel students, who are otherwise observant of mitzvos, indicates a serious lack of yiras Shamayim.
After stating the centrality of ahavas and yiras Hashem, Rambam asks, “How is this to be achieved?” He answers, “If a person were to contemplate the great and wondrous works of Hashem, he would come to appreciate His infinite wisdom, and this would result in his desire to know Hashem, which will lead to ahavas and yiras Hashem.”
Where is Rambam’s suggestion implemented? Where are Torah students apprised of the wonders of Creation? David HaMelech devoted Tehillim 104 to the wonders of Creation. The navi Yeshayah said, “Raise your eyes on high and see Who created these.” The pasuk in Tehillim says, “The heavens declare the glory of Hashem, and the firmament tells of His handiwork” (Tehillim 19:2).
I suggested to a mechanech in Israel to get National Geograph- ic videos and show the students the beauty of Hashem’s work, and
to bring in lecturers who can tell the students the mind-boggling intricacies of Creation. He recently told me that this has had a major impact on his students’ learning and attitude.
Mussar is powerful and potent, and it would certainly be ef- fective if it were learned the way it was intended to be learned. Rav Yisrael Salanter said that mussar must be learned with hispaalus, with an intense emotional quality that a person feels it has made a change in oneself. An intellectual knowledge of mussar does not accomplish much.
We have an intellectual knowledge of aveirah goreres aveirah, but it is only an intellectual awareness. A recovering alcoholic was at a party and was served punch. With the first swallow, he realized that the punch had been “spiked.” He called me in a panic. He knew that even an accidental swallow of a small amount of alcohol could trigger a relapse.
“What should I do?” he asked. “Should I put myself in the hospital? I don’t want to lose my wife and my job!”
To him, aveirah goreres aveirah is real. An accidental swal- low of a tiny bit of alcohol can lead to his destruction.
If a frum person said or heard lashon hara, does he call his rav in a panic? “What should I do? I did an aveirah! I’m afraid that this could lead to other aveiros! I could end up, chalilah, being mechallel Shabbos or eating treif.” He doesn’t do this, because “aveirah goreres aveirah” are just words.
When a person who is sincere in recovery leaves a Twelve Steps meeting, he has the feeling, “If I deviate from this pro- gram, I will die.” When a person leaves a mussar shiur, does he have the feeling that if he neglects to follow the teaching of mussar, he will die?
Yes, if one learns and practices mussar the way Rav Yisrael Salanter did, it will be effective.
It is naïve to assume that one can get yiras Shamayim by performing the mitzvos. Listen to what Moshe Rabbeinu says:
Now, Yisrael, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, to go in all His ways [i.e., to have good middos] and to love Him, and to serve Hashem with all your heart and with all your soul, to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees… (Devarim 10:12–13).
Note that Moshe Rabbeinu placed yiras Shamayim and mid- dos before performance of mitzvos.
Internet addiction is a deadly cancer that is a serious threat to the survival of Yiddishkeit. The Satan has the Internet as a powerful weapon. Torah leaders must concentrate their efforts on how to instill yiras Shamayim in “frum” people, and how to repel the yetzer hara. Whatever is being done at present is not sufficient.