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Say No to Drugs (And All Other Artificially Induced Highs)

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Holidays » Sukkot » Season of Rejoicing | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Reb Mendel Futterfas, a legendary twentieth century Chassid, was imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for the crime of assisting his coreligionists in escaping the USSR in the dark post-World War II days. Many of his fellow inmates were professionals and intellectuals from the upper-crust of society; imprisoned because of the ostensible "threat" they constituted to Soviet ideology.

This group often wondered how Reb Mendel maintained his cheerful demeanor despite the sub-human conditions which pervaded the camp. When they posed the question to him, he instantly replied:

"You are all dejected because your incarceration prevents you from materializing your life's goals. My goal in life is to serve G-d. And that -- I can do wherever I may be!"

Aside for the damage caused to the body by illegal or other mind-altering substances and excessive consumption of alcohol, as well as their potential for wreaking damage on relationships and careers, they also invariably disappoint those who turn to them in order to fill a void in their lives. In the end, they solve nothing; they only offer a temporary escape from melancholic feelings and/or one's sense of inadequacy and lack of accomplishment. Indeed, even at the moment one is experiencing an artificial high, the problems don't disappear. Even if one succeeds in momentarily removing all worries from the conscious mind, they always lurk in the sub-conscious -- never allowing the person to find complete solace. As a wise person once said, "People imagine they can drown their troubles in drink; little do they know that their troubles float..."

"People imagine they can drown their troubles in drink; little do they know that their troubles float..."
But "escapism" isn't relegated to the world of hallucinogenics. On a deeper level, most of our supposed sources of happiness are -- to a certain extent -- a subtle form of escapism. They are an escape from who we are; an attempt to find happiness from without, instead of finding true happiness within. While we chase transient possessions in our pursuit of happiness, we imagine that the reason for our emptiness and lack of happiness is our failure in achieving our goals -- but happiness and utopian bliss is certain to wash over our lives once we've earned our first few million... If only we knew that it is all an exercise in futility. I once saw a quote from mega-millionaire Hollywood icon Jim Carry, saying that he wishes that everyone had what he did -- just so that they could see how meaningless it all is!True happiness comes not from possessions but from accomplishments. But such happiness, too, is incomplete; just as our accomplishments will never fully meet our satisfaction. Ultimate happiness is happiness with who we are; contentment with our very identity.

During the High Holidays -- and specifically on Yom Kippur -- we connect with our innermost core; the essence of the Jewish soul which is eternally and unconditionally connected to G-d. [It is because of this unconditional bond that G-d annually grants us a full-hearted forgiveness, despite our behavior in the previous year.] During Yom Kippur, however, the atmosphere is too somber and intense, and we are too involved in serious repentance, for us to savor and appreciate what transpires during those awesome moments. It takes a few days for our incredible fortune to sink in: Connection to G-d is who we are! And because this is our very identity, absolutely nothing can alter it -- attempting to disconnect a Jew from G-d would be akin to attempting to transform a cow into a horse!

"Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful our heritage!"

So for seven days we forget about all else. We leave behind our home and possessions -- and all other imaginary sources of happiness -- and go out into a flimsy non-weatherproof hut. We sing, rejoice and say l'chaim; we're happy because we finally focus and what's really important in life -- our own selves!


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Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Hebrew word meaning "to life!" Traditionally, L'chaim is the first word used when making a toast on an alcoholic beverage at a Sabbath or holiday meal or at any festive occasion.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.