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The Opposite of Addiction

Rabbi Yehuda Septimus

If you think about what television was like 20, 30, or 40 years ago and what it's like now, there is very little in common between the two. But there is one small line at one fixed hour that has been standard since the 1960's and has stood the test of time and hasn't changed: "It's 10 pm; do you know where your kids are?"

The line is important. But there is a problem with it. The problem is simple; if it took that advertisement to get you to think about where your kids are at 10 pm, then you’re already behind the 8 ball. You're already in reaction mode.

There are dozens of interpretations of what Moshe did wrong in the incident of his hitting the rock in this week's parshah, but Rashi's answer is still the standard answer. Moshe was punished because instead of speaking to the rock, as God had commanded him, he HIT the wrong. What precisely is the difference between hitting and speaking to the rock?

I was at an event for one of our beautiful neighborhood shuls, Kehillas Benei HaYeshivos, this past week, and I heard the following explanation from the keynote speaker at the event, R. Yaakov Salomon, a noted psychotherapist, speaker, and author, and father of one of our neighbors and friends, Shmuel Salomon.

R. Salomon explained the difference as follows: Hitting is a reaction; speaking is an interaction. What is the DIFFERENCE between reaction and interaction? A reaction is a reflex, a habit, or a gut response to something or someone. It does not involve significant thought or feedback from the reactor’s environment. An interaction is the opposite. It doesn't happen automatically, based on a sudden and ingrained response but rather based on a thoughtful and creative process of feedback between the reactor and the event to which he/she is responding.

By hitting the rock Moshe was showing that he had lost one of the important qualities that made Moshe the ideal leader. In contrast to past rebellions, Moshe was responding to THIS rebellion in a reactive way, by letting his anger get the better of him, by modeling a method of response to challenge as one of reaction, rather than INTERACTION. 

In labeling the Jewish People as morim, as rebels, he was doing precisely the same. When we interact with someone, we take an approach of openness, trying to understand what their concerns are and where they are coming from. When we label people in response to their words, we define them by the very words that are supposed to be the beginning of a conversation and a source of connection.

To quote Rabbi Jeffrey Miller quoting his son Rabbi Avi Miller:  “Moshe himself had hardened like a rock; he was stiff and stilted like the wooden staff.  He was dejected, lifeless, and alone.”  That is not a leader who is ready to lead a People into the Promised Land.

The approach of good leadership – toward our communities, toward our children, or toward ourselves – is always the interactive rather than the reactive approach. When we succeed at developing interactive rather than reactive relationships – with the world and with others, with HKBH and with ourselves — it is precisely the challenging moments, like the complaint of BY in this week's parshah, that can become the opportunities for growth, insight, and deeper mutual understanding.

When we are working on a model of interaction rather than reaction, we have the safety, the space, and strength so that difficulty can make us better people. Suddenly, hurt can be transformed into playfulness; fear into curiosity; anger into energy…

This Shabbos has been chosen by the larger 5T Jewish community, under the leadership of Rabbi Yaakov Trump, as drug awareness Shabbos. There are also many reasons for the addiction crisis, specifically the heroine epidemic that our community is currently experiencing.  

We need to educate ourselves. I urge everyone to attend the community-wide drug awareness panel discussion taking place at Beth Sholom on July 16th. And as the first step, we need to confront and digest the fact that the problem exists.

Because until we confront the problem head-on, we WILL be in reactive rather than interactive mode, like the parent who waits until 10 pm to start wondering where their kid might happen to be at that moment and whether and how they will remain safe.  And when it comes to addiction, the stakes are too high for a reactive response. 

There are numerous factors that contribute toward addiction: Genetic predisposition, psychological factors, environmental influences, and, most importantly, starting alcohol, nicotine or other drugs at an early age. But there is also a broader educational component to the problem, and part of the educational challenge is teaching our children be interactive rather than reactive with the WORLD.

This is not simply a matter of character, of middot: of not losing our cool reactively, or not following the herd reactively, or not avoiding responsibilities and difficult situations reactively... This is fundamental to our children's wellbeing. Because when we react rather than interacting we also more likely to turn to hopelessness when our quick reactions fail to produce results – as they so rarely do. 

Teaching our children how to integrate and manage challenge rather than trying to escape it cuts to the core of the challenge of addiction. When we or our children experience moments, or extended periods, of darkness, we need to model and help them see light and seek out connection.

One thing is for sure, young people will not stop dying due to a reactive response... it needs to be both proactive and interactive.  Which requires hard work, from parents and from all community members.

Most of all, it requires love and real human connection. For every tragic story, there is a story of hope, of someone overcoming addition. And there is one refrain that cuts across every one of those stories; it is a connection with someone who REALLY cared, who really took the time to get to know the person suffering from the addiction, and who made it absolutely clear that they were not alone.

"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety," goes the new wisdom in the mental health world; "the opposite of addiction is connection."

But to give our children connection, we must be responsive to them, interactive rather than reactive. May we face the challenges of drugs and alcohol today head-on. And with HKBH's help, may we build the responsive connection necessary to overcome those challenges.  


Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784