Title: Recovery in the Torah
By Rabbi Chaim Tureff
With almost 130 million books in print since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440, the odds are low that a new book release is going to have a material impact. Dr. Chaim Tureff’s Recovery in the Torah is poised to beat the odds. What he has accomplished is simply transcendent, far more than any other book in your library of books containing collections of essays on the weekly Torah reading.
If you were going to read or recommend one self-help book this year, Recovery in the Torah should be at the top of your list. It stands out quickly by paving the way for any person in any religion – or no religion at all – to uncover a path through the wisdom of the Torah that can lead them to live a better, if not the best, version of their life.
At the most superficial level, the book is a sefer presenting a biblical exploration of how the many faces of addiction (and its antidotes) are reflected in the Torah. Parsha by parsha, the reader discovers one critical story, law or phrase that speaks directly to the person suffering some form of addiction or the person helping the addict recover.
Dr. Tureff has found a uniquely compelling way to build a bridge between a lifetime of personal anecdotes, Jewish teachings spanning 2,000 years, and the many trials and tribulations addicts face every day: the suffering inside the addiction, the feelings of helplessness, the denials to friends and family, the challenges on the road to recovery, and most importantly, the support system of the 12-step recovery programs and the sponsors that make it all work.
As noted Hollywood writer David Saks (also one of the founders of the Happy Minyan) said in one of his weekly schmoozes, we have to go deeper to unpack what makes this debut book transcendent. Tureff uses the addiction framework as a prism through which to also reach a much larger audience – people who are unaware that certain habits mask addictive behaviors.
Addiction is an interesting phenomenon in the human experience – especially today. Although it has always existed, until the last century society didn’t have a vocabulary to properly address or describe addiction, let alone treat it adequately. Only in 1987 was addiction classified as a disease by the American Medical Association.
Why does this matter? Depression and suicide rates keep rising. As much as addictive behaviors showcase indicators, it’s possible that addictions may be one of the root causes as well. Addiction had historically been associated with substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, and food) and more recently included sex, video games, shopping, gambling and internet. As more types of addictions become labeled, an unintended consequence unfortunately arises.
With the rapid advances in technology in the last three decades and the pervasive vacuum chambers of social media obsession, people are slow to recognize that they may be trapped in a cycle of unnamed addictive behaviors having almost the same experiences as typically defined addicts.
The author has found a way to use the Torah to transcend the limitations and boundaries of how the world currently thinks about addiction. He has opened a very big door to a more technologically exposed and even sophisticated audience to see addictive behaviors in their own lives. He is giving people who may be experiencing an unnamed addiction a new vocabulary to self-diagnose and perhaps even get treatment for their experiences and feelings of unfulfillment, unhappiness, anxiety, or depression.
Ever since human beings left the Garden of Eden, life has not been easy. For the person struggling with any type of adversity – especially when one is an addict, the once normal challenges become practically insurmountable. It is in the face of this helplessness that people choose to abuse a substance of choice to numb the pain or simply be distracted from the stressful situation.
“One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.” This is an oft-repeated phrase in the book. It’s repeated in 12-step recovery meetings worldwide. There’s a reason people describe TikTok and YouTube as rabbit holes, because once you start watching one video, you literally get sucked in and a few minutes turns into a few hours of mindless surfing.
Every chapter packs a punch, so it’s hard to choose one chapter without diminishing so many others. I will share one example to illustrate the point:
Imagine you are Noach, and the entire world has been destroyed except your immediate family. All your friends. Your cousins. Other clans you knew. All your social relationships are simply gone. All your material reference points are annihilated. It’s like being dropped off in a new city with no money in your pocket and not even a Chabad center nearby. You simply can’t get oriented.
Noach was for all intents and purposes emotionally destroyed. What he does next is almost blameless to the modern mind and should not surprise anyone in a similar state of helplessness. He drowns out the pain with alcohol. Am I reading his pain into the text or is it more reasonable to describe this descent of a man who was once Ish Tzadik B’dorotav (a righteous man in his generation)? His decline unfolds in just a few verses.
Chazal did not have the vocabulary to talk about emotional abandonment. It’s not meant to be a criticism of our Rabbis and traditions. Their lens was often focused on understanding and reconciling the text and extracting halachot. Thousands – or even hundreds – of years ago, people did not talk about “emotional situations” the way many of us do now. The world has changed in terms of how people interpret and describe their experience. The Torah though has not changed at all. What’s evolved is our ability to uncover the messages. The stories were always there for us to see the “whole truth” once we had the tools and the language to describe what we were reading and seeing in our mind’s eye.
Tureff has given us this vocabulary and this 21st-century perspective. He has written a book that could not have worked in a previous generation. In my world of digital marketing education, we help our clients understand that the best way to sell something online is to deliver the offer and the value that matches a prospect’s need, desire, timing and ability to pay. If he had written this book a generation ago, it might have failed. He would have been speaking a language foreign to so many people – especially to book reviewers like me.
This book should be read by those who know they are or once were addicts. This book should be read by those who want to help addicts. Most importantly, this book should be read by those who are not so very happy and are open to the idea that they could experience unlabeled addictive habits. If you read this book, you will walk away with at least one tactic for living a happier, more fulfilled life. Isn’t that reason enough to read or recommend it?