3.11.2009

Step 3: Goodness

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-d as we understood Him.

G-d's Care

We have established that the G-d spoken of in The Steps is first and foremost a G-d of Power. But power does not necessarily denote beneficence. G-d may be strong, but is He good? In the 3rd Step, where we find the first use of the actual word G-d, we also find the answer to this question. G-d is not just the epitome of power; He is the essence of goodness as well.

The Third Step enjoins us to “turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-d….” The word "care" is significant. Step 3 is a surrender step – in recovery parlance what is called "turning it over” or “letting go and letting G-d.” In theory, one could just as well be enjoined to surrender to the power of G-d or the authority of G-d. If G-d were only all-powerful and not also good, that would still provide amply sufficient cause to submit to Him. Yet, The Third Step adds a vital dimension to the recovering addict’s concept of G-d. We “turn it over” to G-d not just because He’s stronger than we are, but because He will take better care of us than we can.

Jewish tradition discusses the idea that, at least in theory, G-d could have chosen to relate to us only as a Power. In reality, however, He chooses to relate to His creation from a position of kindness as well. The Midrash says, "At first, G-d had thought to create the world solely with the attribute of stern judgment. He foresaw, however, that the world would not endure that way and thus coupled with it the attribute of compassionate mercy." In other words, if G-d were to have created a world in which He were present only as a Higher Power but not as a source of Caring, that world would not be able to last. In other words, a world in which G-d is all-powerful but not kind is an entirely hypothetical construct; it cannot actually exist. The reality of the continued existence of the world is in and of itself testimony to G-d's kindness.

Knowing and Nurturing




The word "care" has two important meanings. One is attentiveness. To "care about" something means to pay it mind, to be concerned. It is the opposite of indifference. Another meaning of care is nurturing. To "care for" something means to look after it.

When we speak of G-d's attentiveness, we are referring to his omniscience. "Does He that made the ear not hear? Does He that fashioned the eye not see?" (Psalms 94:9) If G-d is aware of anything, then He is aware of everything. For the Infinite, there is no such thing as having His attention divided or being preoccupied, overwhelmed or distracted. G-d who knows His creation knows every detail therein with intimate knowledge.

Maimonides goes as far as to consider this matter a tenet of faith: "G-d knows the actions of people and does not ignore them. It is not like those who say (Ezekiel 8:12), 'G-d has abandoned the earth.'" Those aware of the historical context of Maimonides' writings know that this declaration of G-d's omniscience was a direct refutation of the popular thinking of the time that held that G-d was unconcerned with the affairs of man. This view of a lofty and aloof G-d was carried down from the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle whose ideas still dominate Western attitudes of today. They believed that G-d's eternal unchangingness necessitates that He be unconscious of a temporal world which is continually in a state of change. The Jewish view, in contrast, dismisses this argument offhand. G-d being Infinite and One does not exist apart from creation, rather creation exists within Him. As such, G-d, in knowing Himself, knows His creation. In the words of Maimonides, “All existences besides the Creator – from the highest [spiritual] form to a tiny gnat in the belly of the earth – exist by virtue of His reality. In knowing His own reality, He thus knows everything.”

Recovering addicts are asked to do no less than step aside from the role of playing G-d in their own lives and place themselves unreservedly in G-d's care. Program literature voices this sentiment in no uncertain terms. “Abandon yourself to G-d as you understand G-d.” (Alcoholic Anonymous, p. 164) How can a person – particularly one who is used to trying to control every aspect of life – possibly find peace by surrendering to a G-d who is indifferent or unknowing? The G-d who keeps the recovering addict sober, sane and alive is a G-d who can be counted upon to care. And this care is not relegated to only certain aspects of life. If one were to believe that G-d has limited or selective knowledge of His creation, then one could only release to G-d those things that G-d deems relevant or interesting. (And who can know a thing like that?) But the addict’s recovery is based upon his or her freedom to release everything to G-d and to be able to do so without reservation. Surrender that is conditional, incomplete or reneged on is deemed “taking back one’s will” – a sort of “anti-Third Step” or “Third Step in reverse,” as it were.

This brings us to the second meaning of the word "care." Caring also means nurturing. The idea of G-d as Caregiver is just as central in Judaism as that of G-d as Creator or King. Indeed, as noted above, a world without G-d’s compassion and kindness could not exist. Furthermore, G-d’s goodness is not just a necessary component of the creation but the underlying impetus for its existence. As 16th century mystic, Isaac Luria, explained, G-d created “in order to bestow goodness upon His creations, for it is the nature of the Good to do good.”

It is interesting that Judaism, particularly the Kabalah, uses blatantly feminine terminology in describing G-d’s role as Nurturer, evoking images of G-d as a loving mother. G-d’s Immanent Presence, “Shechinah,” is a feminine name for G-d. It is this name that is used in describing how The Divine Presence accompanies Her children wherever they go, even into the darkness of exile, as in the Talmud's statement: "See how beloved are Israel before G-d, for in every place where they were sent away, the Shechinah went with them."

When viewed in this light, the act of giving oneself over to “the care of G-d” is one that brings on strong feelings of comfort, peace and security – feelings that are pleasant for all people but essential for the person in recovery. It is said that addicts have little tolerance for discomfort, hence, the intensely felt reflex to self-medicate which can be triggered by the slightest feeling of uneasiness (or even by none at all.) The remarkable efficacy of spiritual consciousness as a means of recovery may in large part be explained by the serenity it offers which is so direly needed by the addict.


Everything is Always Good


By combining what we have learned about G-d in Steps Two and Three, we have begun to recognize a “G-d of our understanding” who is – in theological parlance – omnipotent (Power), omniscient (cares about) and omnibenevolent (cares for). But now we are faced with a problem. If G-d is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, then why is there suffering in the world? In other words, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” This is hardly a novel question. Throughout the ages, much ink has been spilled in attempts at resolving this conundrum. Thankfully, we will not rehash any of those arguments here.

Anyone who knows a good deal of people with quality, long-term sobriety has certainly noticed a remarkable characteristic that all such people seem to share – an almost uncanny equanimity to life’s ups and downs. All the more astounding is how opposite this is from the addict’s nature which, as we have mentioned, is abnormally irascible, moody and hypersensitive. It seems that the recovering addict no longer searches for an answer to the “Why do bad things happen?” question. Indeed, he or she may have long ago come to regard it as quite a non-question. The real question is, “Do any bad things happen at all?”

There is a common epiphany – no doubt part of the “spiritual awakening” described in Step 12 – in which the recovering person comes to question whether or not anything that happens in his or her life can truly be deemed bad. The recovering addict seems to have overcome the infantile notion that if I don’t like something, then it can’t be good and if it’s good, then I am sure to like it. In other words, “Who am I to second guess G-d?” In the Talmud, this sentiment is eloquently expressed by the adage of Rabbi Akiva who used to say, “All that the Merciful does, He does for the good.”

A story is told where this attitude of his was once put to the test.

Rabbi Akiva was traveling and came to a walled city where he sought shelter but the people of the city refused to let him in. Rabbi Akivah said, “All that the Merciful does, He does for the good,” and went to sleep a field outside the city walls. Rabbi Akivah had been travelling with three items – a donkey, a rooster and a lamp. Soon, a lion came and devoured his donkey. Rabbi Akivah said, “All that the Merciful does, He does for the good.” A cat came and ate his rooster. Rabbi Akivah said, “All that the Merciful does, He does for the good.” A wind came and blew out his lamp. Rabbi Akivah said, “All that the Merciful does, He does for the good.” In the morning, he discovered that during the night, a band of marauders had come and attacked the city. Had he been allowed to sleep there, he would have met the same dismal fate as the others. Had the marauders heard his donkey bray or his rooster crow, he would have been spotted; certainly, if they would have seen his lamp, they would have found him right away. Thus, all of the seemingly unfortunate events that happened that night saved Rabbi Akiva’s life. Indeed, everything that happened was all for the good.

The moral of the story is that man, with his limited vision, cannot possibly see the true significance of earthly events. He must therefore withhold his subjective evaluation of things and instead accept the events of his life with the faith that G-d knows all, can do all and is the very essence of good.

The Baal Shem Tov, father of the Chasidic movement, taught that nothing happens in this world by chance. Rather, G-d carefully orchestrates every detail of His creation by means of “hashgachah peratis” – literally “individualized supervision” but more loosely translated as Divine Providence. “Even when the wind carries a fallen leaf from one place to another,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “That, too, is hashgachah peratis.”

I once heard an alcoholic speak emphatically about letting his “H.P.” run his life. I couldn’t figure out how he knew about the concept of hashgachah peratis let alone the Hebrew term for it. Later, it dawned on me that “H.P.” meant “Higher Power.” Then even later it dawned on me that isn’t any difference.



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Shais Taub

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1 comment:

CJ said...

Thanks Rabbi, I'm enjoying your posts!!

Cori