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Parshas B'Shalach - Getting High on Manna

01/14/2022 11:14:55 AM


This week’s Torah message is sponsored by Ronnie and Susan Masliansky of Skokie Illinois in memory of Esther Rochel Bas Nachum z”l (Esther Rose Bogopulsky) and Aharon Ben Avraham Yitzchok z”l (Rev. Aaron Masliansky) on their Yahrzeits this past week.

We all remember learning about the manna that fell from heaven when the Jewish people left Egypt. Perhaps one of the top ten facts kids remember from their Chumash or Parsha class was that manna could taste like anything your taste buds desired. An age-old question was what Bracha/blessing was recited over the Manna? I will be discussing this question at my Shabbos afternoon class this week. Imagine the feeling one would have after eating the Manna: satisfaction, satiation, and total contentment.. The Rabbis explained that Yitzchok asked Eisav for food before he blessed him. Yitzchok understood that a Bracha  given would be more effective on a full stomach. Yitzchok was on a spiritual high and was able to give a Bracha/blessing to him. Some people think that I can be a more effective Oved HaShem - servant of God - when in a state of euphoria. So here is the question of our modern age: Why is it a problem to take a forbidden substance if such substance would help me to serve Hashem better?   

The following message is sensitive and challenging, particularly within the culture and stresses of modern American society.  Every challenge confronting American society eventually filters down to the Jewish community, and the Orthodox circles are not immune to these addictions. The medical use of cannabis is legal with a doctor's recommendation in 36 states, four out of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Twelve other states have laws that limit THC content, while  the recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 18 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use.

It is now an acceptable question from the “frum” community to ask, ”Why can’t I use marijuana now that it is legal?” There are ethical questions asked of Kashrus agencies to give certification to “edibles” and brownies that have a component of cannabis. On the one hand it is a good sign that some are at least asking the questions while others don’t even bother to ask, choosing to just use it. One should not think that rabbis and Jewish organizations are not hanging up posters on the issue of substance abuse and alcohol because they do not know about it or are in denial. To the contrary, Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, principals, and other leading figures who say they do not have any substance abuse issues in their community are either living out of touch or are simply lying. The Orthodox Union and Agudas Yisrael are tackling these issues, unfortunately on a daily basis. This, along with other sensitive topics can be embarrassing to discuss with someone else, especially with their rabbis or close friends. Nevertheless, it is not only important, it is critical to open up, to have a conversation  (albeit an uncomfortable one in the beginning but a very beneficial one in the future) with a rabbi. Unfortunately, most people today do not have a rebbi or a personal teacher in whom they can confide and ask important everyday Halachik and Hashkafik questions. When a person seeks out a rabbinic figure, he/she  is  receiving truthful guidance  connecting to Hashem. This is clearly seen in the Torah.   

In this week’s Parshas B’Shalach the Torah in Shmos 14:31 describes the song of Moshe Rabbeinu, words that were later incorporated into the davening. Every single day during Shacharis,the morning prayer, we recite a section from the Torah known as “Az Yashir”. A few sentences prior to Az Yashir, we mention how the people believed in Hashem and Moshe, His servant. "ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו"   The Mechilta in Parshas B’Shalach explains that ’whoever believes in the shepherd of Israel is as if they believe in the creator of the world’. Similarly, another verse states "וידבר העם באלוקים ובמשה"  “the people spoke with God and with Moshe”. If the Jewish people were able to speak with Hashem, how much more so were they able to speak to Moshe. The Mechilta repeats the reasoning that speaking to the shepherd of Israel is equivalent to speaking to One who said, “let the world be”. Therefore, we need to seek rabbinic guidance on all levels, especially the difficult and critical ones. The basic question is: is it permitted to smoke marijuana?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OB”M discusses this in his responsa Igros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 3, Siman 35. The following is a loose translation of what he writes there:

“It is obviously forbidden to smoke marijuana, as this violates many basic laws of our Torah. First of all, it physically injures the person. Even if there are people who are not physically affected by this, it mentally affects the person as it destroys his mind and prevents him from understanding things properly. This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also cannot pray and properly perform Mitzvos (commandments), since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all. Furthermore, he is creating within himself a very strong desire (addiction?), which is much stronger than the desire to eat, etc. which are necessary for a person to live. There are many who cannot control or overcome this desire. This is a very grave prohibition, as we find that a Ben Sorer U’Moreh [is killed] (See Deut. 21:18) for creating within himself a very strong desire, even though it is to eat Kosher food! How much more so it is forbidden for a person to bring upon himself an even greater desire, especially for something that a person does not need at all…”

It's important to note that medical marijuana is a completely different question where there is great concern to alleviate pain and suffering. With regard to medical marijuana, there is  greater leniency for a specific person and in a specific situation. Every question must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately, obtaining marijuana is almost as easy as it was for the Jews to get Manna in the desert. Billboards and signs have been placed all over the city advertising cannabis. I do not know anyone who uses marijuana in an illegal fashion in our community.  While saying this, I also do not want to be so naïve to think that the problem does not exist within the San Diego Jewish community.  I do want the members of the community to know that I am always here to listen to the silent cries that are often smothered through some form of substance abuse, taking a toll on the user and causing detrimental effects for the family. Rabbis are here to guide people to get help physically, emotionally, spiritually for all of the challenges of life.  This certainly applies to substance abuse.  Every Jew is precious, and we love everyone. Dependency on drugs ultimately leads to harming oneself and one’s family. We hope and pray Hashem protect those who are in danger and give them the wherewithal to serve Hashem with all-natural strength.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782