The following is a transcript of a talk that Rabbi Twerski gave at a dinner on behalf of the Guard Your Eyes Yiddish division (hitdanoigen.com) in Monroe, New York, in 2011.
Firstly, I’d like to ask for forgiveness because until I was seven years old, I didn’t know even one word of English, but afterwards, I went to school and university, and I forgot my Yiddish. Today, I am missing some of the Yiddish vernacular to fully express the situation that we’re facing, so I’m going to have to speak in English.
A number of years ago, I got this letter from a twenty-one-year-old yeshivah bachur, who ended his letter with the words, “You are reading the last gasp of a drowning soul.” (See the full letter)
When I got this letter, before Guard Your Eyes existed, I had nothing to answer him. Sending him to a psychologist or psychiatrist would not have helped. I have worked with addictions to alcohol and drugs for forty years. No psychologist or psychiatrist can help an addict unless he has a support group. And for this issue, the only support group that exists is Guard Your Eyes.
Here is another letter I got:
I was constantly seeking more and more ways to feed my addiction. 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.
This is the problem that we are facing. And if you look in the sifrei Nevi’im, they were telling the people that if they don’t do teshuvah, there’s going to be a churban — but nobody listened. The false prophets said “It will be all right,” and the problem was ignored.
So the fact that you are here tonight is an enormous breakthrough! The community now realizes that the problem is there! If you would only know in what kind of families the problem is occurring, your hair would stand on end. Chashuve yungerleit, b’nei Torah, who get hooked on the Internet. And if that wasn’t enough, they go on the Internet on Shabbos!
Some say it’s just a taivah, it’s just the yetzer hara. They say, “Tell them to learn Reishis Chochmah, the Tzetel Katan of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech, the Mesilas Yesharim…” These things don’t work. And I’ll tell you my own feelings about why they don’t work. Maybe you’ll laugh at me, but I’ve been in the factory — I was there, and I know what we’re talking about.
I’ll tell you one very simple thing. For the yetzer hara, we can learn Mesilas Yesharim, Reishis Chochmah, and the Tzetel Katan, and they will all work. But this is not a problem of the yetzer hara — this is a problem of the Satan! This is a disease. The Satan himself has infiltrated the Internet, and there’s no way of stopping him. And when the Satan is there, mussar doesn’t help!
There’s a Gemara at the end of Kiddushin (81). Rabbi Akiva would scoff at sinners, so the Satan decided to show him his strength. He appeared as a beautiful woman at the top of a tree to tempt Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Akiva started to climb the tree to reach this woman! Who are we talking about here?! The holy Rabbi Akiva, whom while they were combing his skin with iron rakes was proclaiming Shema Yisrael! But when the Satan decided to test him, Rabbi Akiva couldn’t hold back — he couldn’t overcome the nisayon.
So should we simply tell a yungerman or bachur to just learn mussar or Chassidus, the Kedushas Levi or Noam Elimelech? We’re dealing with the Satan! These people need help!
After the sin of the eigel, Moshe Rabbeinu came to the defense of klal Yisrael and said to Hashem, “Please, this nation has sinned a grave sin and made for themselves a god of gold.” Would a defense attorney go to court and say, “He did a terrible thing”? That’s a defense?! But Moshe Rabbeinu meant to say, “Ribbono shel Olam, just a few weeks ago, they said na’aseh v’nishma, and today, they have made an eigel. This is an aveirah? This is insanity! They don’t need to be punished, they need to be helped! Hence, ‘This nation has sinned a grave sin.’”
We have kollel yungerleit, yeshivah bachurim, people who wear a tallis and tefillin, keep Shabbos, kosher, and everything — and yet they fall so deep into the dirt. Is this the yetzer hara? They’re sick! And sick people need help. Punishing them isn’t going to work.
The letters that I read before…these are letters from people who tried everything! They cried, gave tzedakah, went to mikveh, fasted, prayed, made nedarim, and wrote letters to gedolim asking for help, yet nothing worked! Stories like this come up every day on Guard Your Eyes.
What happens is that when a person goes into the schmutz and to’eivah, he knows that he is losing his connection with the Ribbono shel Olam, and he knows the Zohar says that for zera l’vatalah, teshuvah doesn’t help, so he feels that he’s lost anyway. So what’s the difference?
But we know that nothing stands before teshuvah. What we do with that Zohar is another issue. But “Lo yidach mimenu nidach — No one will be allowed to get lost.” There’s no such thing as “I am beyond being helped.”
How do you tell a person that there’s help? There’s only one way that I know of, and that is to take another person who was there and had the problem and say, “Look, he was helped.” Every time someone comes to Guard Your Eyes and reads the testimonies of people who say, “I was there, I had your problem, and baruch Hashem, I am six months clean,” or “I’m two years clean,” or “I’m four years clean,” they begin to believe, “Maybe there’s hope. Maybe there’s help for me.”
This is not the yetzer hara — it’s the Satan who gives the person crazy ideas. It’s a different kind of mental illness that psychiatrists don’t know how to help. I’ve worked with forty thousand addicts, and yet I’ve never been able to treat one by myself. The only way I’ve been able to help is by sending them to a support group. And when I get somebody with a problem with alcohol or drugs, I get on the telephone and I get two other people who have a problem with alcohol and drugs who are clean and sober, and they can help him.
It’s a problem in the Jewish world, and l’havdil, it’s a problem in the goyishe world. It’s an illness, and “Keivan shenitan reshus lamashchis lechabeil, eino mavchin bein tov lera—Once permission has been given to the Satan to destroy, he doesn’t differentiate between good and bad” (Rashi, Shemos 12:21).
A kollel yungerman called me up recently and said, “My father-in-law is an adam chashuv, a big askan in the community. I went to his house for Shabbos, and I asked him if I could use the computer, and when I got on the computer, I saw [in the history] what he had been looking at. How can I have respect for him now? How can I tell my children to respect their grandfather?!”
This problem reaches everywhere. It reaches into the most wonderful families, where you would never think it was possible. Keivan shenitan reshus lamashchis lechabeil, eino mavchin bein tov lera.
The reason we are here tonight is because our children are at risk. Our grandchildren are at risk. And if we don’t have Guard Your Eyes, nothing else will work. Trust me. Psychiatrists and psychologists can give very little help without a support group. Now maybe someone has other problems that they have to deal with, okay — but for the addiction, only a support group can help.
There’s a very interesting Gemara in Avodah Zarah (17a). The Gemara says that when a person does teshuvah from apikorsus, he has to die. The Gemara then brings the story of Elazar ben Durdaya, who had been with every prostitute in the world until he finally did teshuvah and died in the process. The Gemara questions if we learn from here that teshuvah from sin can cause a person to die. The Gemara answers that since he was very aduk (attached to the sin), it was like heresy.
Is it a coincidence that the word aduk has the same root as the word “addiction”? When a person is aduk in something and you try to take him away from it, he feels like he’s going to die. And that’s why these people go back to it. They struggle like a person who is struggling for air and is drowning. So believe me, my friends, it’s not a question of the yetzer hara.
There is no one who can say, “I am safe, and my home is safe.” No one is safe. And we have to have a way to help these people. Now, baruch Hashem, when I get these calls — and I only get these calls about five times a week — I tell them to join Guard Your Eyes. I tell the wife to join Guard Your Eyes, too (in the spouses’ division). Because the family needs help as well. The wife needs to understand what her husband is going through. And the success rates that they’ve had on Guard Your Eyes is phenomenal—it’s hatzalas nefashos and pikuach nefesh.
And that’s what you’re here for tonight. Guard Your Eyes has a wonderful program, a hotline, a website, and support groups. People want to keep their problem a secret — they don’t want anyone to know they have it. They can’t go to meetings of AA or SA, so Guard Your Eyes provides them with a way to be in touch with others and get chizzuk so they’re able to stop. I truly believe that everybody who helps Guard Your Eyes is saving lives and is going to have an enormous, enormous zechus.
The prophecy of the Rizhiner Rebbe has truly come true. The Rizhiner said that before Mashiach comes, we’ll need to climb up smooth walls with our bare hands to remain an ehrliche Yid. And that’s happening. We’re climbing smooth walls today with our bare hands! But Guard Your Eyes is giving people a little rope, something to hold onto to help them overcome the nisayon and come back to Yiddishkeit. And this not only saves the person himself, but it also saves the family, the wife, and the children.
May Hashem bless you in the zechus of helping this organization that you should be blessed with all good — physical and spiritual.