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Parshas Yisro - Serving God 24/7                        23 Shvat 5784 

02/02/2024 09:02:16 AM


This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Ary & Elena Abramovic in memory of Ary’s father, Daniel ben Fanny and Gedalia on his Yahrtzeit 24 Shvat.

We tend to make use of words both literally and figuratively. For example, the meaning of a word comes from the Old French word figuratif, which means “metaphorical.” Any figure of speech — a statement or phrase not intended to be understood literally — is figurative. For example, you may complain that your hands are frozen, or that you’re so hungry you could eat a horse.  I found some figurative uses of words have infiltrated our lexicon more than others.  One of these words is “addicted”.

Most of the time when we declare we are addicted to something, it is not meant to be literal. Not too many people are going to come out and reveal their shortcomings and weaknesses, especially, G-d forbid, addictions. Nevertheless, I do surmise that often when someone uses the words “I am addicted “to something, it may be closer to being used literally rather than figuratively- and typically the implication of the statement is not realized by the individual uttering the exclamation.   To better grasp this, let’s examine the definition of “addiction” and its four stages from Wikipedia.

“Addiction is a chronic dysfunction that involves the reward, motivation, and memory systems in the brain. To separate addiction from other neurological disorders, experts say that four factors must be present... compulsion: overpowering urge to fuel the addiction; craving: the urge to fuel grows as demanding as severe hunger pain, mimicking, and sometimes even replacing a genuine physical need; consequences: despite negative consequences, the behavior continues; control: These factors unique to addiction alone and are classified as the 4 C's.”

The behaviors of most addicts are similar which is why the 4 C's of addiction apply to any type of addiction including not only smoking, drugs, alcohol, and gambling, but also video games and smart phone usage The explanation of the 4 C’s are as follows: 1. Compulsion - Compulsion means that an individual has an absolute and overpowering urge to fuel their addiction. The behavior may start impulsively, but as the addiction grows, it becomes a compulsive habit. By not partaking in the habit, agonizing anxiety occurs, affecting all other behaviors. 2. Craving - The urge to fuel the addiction becomes as demanding as hunger pain, mimicking a physical need. It feels like it is vital for survival. This urge often manifests as restlessness, insomnia, and lack of appetite.  3. Consequences - Even when negative consequences become apparent, the behavior continues. Consequences of addiction include schoolwork, social interaction with peers, relationships, and social interactions, including parent/child/teacher relationships, work, legal and money problems. The fourth and final state stage is Control: 4. Control is actually the beginning of the healing process: the individual learns to control and ultimately overcome the addition.  Control means when or how the individual’s need to fuel the addiction is overcome. In that you control the addiction; it no longer controls you.

At one point I was under the impression that certain addictions had a limit - vis a vis mitzvos, let me explain. During my growing-up years, I knew several chain smokers who had the uncanny ability to stop smoking throughout the twenty-five hours of Shabbos. Today, unfortunately, a growing addiction to the smart phone is now recognized as one of the most serious concerns regarding mental health of the adolescent and teen-age population.  And it’s growing even at the expense of Shabbos. Social media is so powerful that many people cannot overcome the temptation or need to get their ‘fix’ from tapping into their phones even on Shabbos. Phone addiction, and the withdrawal symptoms some people go through, is devastating. What was sacred to the day of Shabbos is not necessarily the case today. The only way to reverse the trend of any addiction is to lessen the dependency and slowly cut down on that which we want or think we need so deeply that it takes precedence over all other legitimate needs.  How do we approach this challenging task? The answer is not found in Shabbos but rather throughout the entire week!

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Yisro records the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten statements/commandments. We know that the fourth is to remember and safeguard the holy day of Shabbos. In Shmos 20:8-9 the Torah states "זכור את יום השבת לקדשו"  “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy”. "ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך"  “You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks”. Then the Torah continues in 20:10 “But Shabbos, is the Shabbos to God your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work”. There is a combination and connection between Shabbos to the six days of work and then another verse about the seventh day.

Rabbeinu Bachya in the name of Rambam explains that we serve Hashem by specifically working on the six days of the week, like the patriarchs who served Hashem in the full spiritual sense through their physical work. They served Hashem through their work, but on Shabbos day itself they served Hashem by making it a complete day of rest. We are commanded to serve and “work” for Hashem by resting through the cessation of the work that we did throughout the prior week.

The treatment of stopping an addiction such as over use of the smart phone, whether it is texting on Shabbos or checking social media, must be eliminated on Shabbos, but to do so, it must begin during the six days of the work week. Working throughout the six days means the labor, going to school, learning and hopefully the fulfillment of doing that labor for parnassah, personal growth, and fulfillment. The ‘work’ we do during the week is not considered an obsession, even though for some, working grows to become an obsession.  Work, regardless of the specific type of work, does not typically grow to become a harmful addiction which negatively affects our health and our ability to interact with others. An addiction, as stated earlier, is a serious dysfunction.  It grows , leading to personal harm, both physical and emotional.  It isn’t the “doing” of something but rather the withdrawal of the temptation. The Torah Temimah asks,” Is it possible to do all the tasks in only six days?” He explains that the act of working on ourselves to rest on the seventh day completes the “all” aspect of work in serving Hashem. Serving Hashem is not only a six day of the week time frame; serving God is a full seven-day process, week in and week out.

Any addiction needs to be worked on every day - including the day when it is obviously not proper. The six days of “work” require that a given amount of focused time must be set up to ‘work hard’ to remove oneself from that vice, building daily, hourly resistance and strength to overcome compulsion and craving.  This is a proven method of attaining self-control through incremental, small measures of time and less use of the challenge. This message is applicable to everyone striving to get closer to Hashem by following in the footsteps of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, serving Hashem All the days of the week both in physical and labor and resting from that same labor stated in the fourth commandment this week!  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784