Devar Torah for Parshas Shoftim 5781

Are You an Alcoholic?

I am not. But this week’s Torah reading (Parshat Shoftim) has something to say to all of us, and something that many alcoholics already follow.

The opening verse of this week’s Torah reading says:

Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourselves in all of your gates…

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040 – 1105) gives us the simple explanation of this verse: Appoint judges in all cities who will determine if people have committed sins, and appoint officers to mete out punishment for those found guilty.

Rabbi Gavriel Friedman takes this one step further, based on teachings of the “Baalei Mussar” (people who work hard to act properly, keep the commandments to high levels and treat others well). He says that the “gates” listed in the verse is referring to the 7 entry points in a person’s head (2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, 1 mouth), and that “appoint for yourself” means that YOU YOURSELF must act well to guard these orifices.

Rabbi Friedman then describes an acquaintance of his who is an alcoholic; I, too, have a friend from 30+ years ago who falls into this same category, so I understood firsthand what he was discussing. My friend describes himself as an alcoholic. Not a FORMER alcoholic, but in the present tense. During the time I knew him in the USA I never saw him drink alcohol. When he received a gift box of 8 bottles of fancy alcoholic beverages from one of his clients, he gave it to me! At the time he was actively going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, constantly working on himself to stay away from alcohol. This is something that many recovering alcoholics do throughout their lifetimes in their never-ending battle against alcoholism.

What is the difference between this person who is an alcoholic and everyone else? My friend has identified alcoholism as his problem and is working on correcting it. Nearly everyone else thinks that they don’t have a problem.

But in reality, they do. It might not be alcoholism, but it could be:

  • Addiction to drugs
  • Addiction to viewing inappropriate materials
  • Inability to control sexual urges
  • Inability to refrain from forbidden foods
  • Inability to refrain from forbidden speech

Whatever it is, most people in the world think they are without flaws. Therefore, they are not doing anything to improve themselves.

My friend and Rabbi Friedman’s friend will tell you that the fight against alcoholism is never-ending. An alcoholic must constantly be vigilant each and every day, guarding his mouth and preventing any alcohol from entering his body. He will work with friends who will encourage him to continue fighting, give him advice, and help him if he should have a temporary fall into his addiction.

But we non-alcoholics must be equally vigilant, albeit in different areas. We must guard our “gates” and only let permitted items through.

One final thought: DEFUND the POLICE is all the rage in the USA. Right or wrong, everyone has witnessed the “mostly peaceful (sic) riots” that destroyed billions of dollars of property in many cities. Without a police force to ensure compliance with laws, things can get crazy.

So too, if we are not vigilant in identifying our problems and then guarding ourselves 24/7/365/120 (120 is years), life can get pretty crazy!

Emulate the behavior of these recovering alcoholics: Figure out what behaviors need improvement (ask a friend for help!). Then determine a methodology to correct these behaviors. It might take a lifetime to do this, but your life begins with TODAY,

Based on a class given by Rabbi Gavriel Friedman entitled “Are You an Alcoholic?” 21-Aug-2020


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