Step Eleven: Will

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with G-d as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


Of all the Steps, the Eleventh speaks most explicitly about our relationship with G-d and how that connection is maintained. But aside from telling us how to seek G-d, does this Step tell us more about who G-d is? The answer is a definitive yes. At first reading, it may be easy to miss, but with careful consideration, we can see that the Eleventh Step makes what is perhaps the important statement about G-d to be found in all of The Steps.

Step Eleven reads: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with G-d as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

G-d has a will. With this one word, Step Eleven communicates the most essential component of our concept of G-d.

Step Three, which speaks of G-d’s caring as well as Steps Five, Six and Seven which describe His desire for a relationship with us, both indicate that G-d has a will. But here, in Step Eleven, G-d’s will is explicitly mentioned for the first time. And not only does G-d have a will, but He has a specific “will for us.” G-d wants something from each of His creations.

Need vs. Want

Many philosophical and religious systems view the idea of G-d wanting something to be problematic. How can an infinite and perfect being want for anything? Does this not imply lacking?

Judaism is not troubled by this concept. Indeed, it is the very foundation of Judaism as a covenantal religion. G-d promises to uphold His end of the deal, but He also wants certain things in return. As G-d told Abraham, father of the Jewish people, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.” (Gen. 17:7-9) Again, just prior to the Revelation at Sinai, G-d tells Moses, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession….” (Ex. 19:5) Clearly, G-d wants something.

Indeed, the exact nature of His will – what He wants and does not want – is the very basis of Torah law. The commandments (mitzvot) are not arbitrary orders but an expression of G-d’s desires. Indeed, as the kabbalists describe it, G-d makes Himself vulnerable, so-to-speak, by articulating His likes and dislikes and allowing his creations free choice as to whether or not they will abide by these wishes. As such, Judaism does not view adherence to G-d’s commandments so much as a matter of obedience as a matter of sensitivity to what G-d wants from us. That is not to say that without our compliance G-d is somehow incomplete (perish the thought.) G-d certainly requires nothing. He has no needs. But He does have a will; and this will is no less than the driving force behind all of creation.

Because G-d needs nothing, He also did not need to create. Had He chosen not to be a Creator, He would still be G-d. Yet G-d wants to create. And He wants to create because He wants something from His creations. In the words of the Midrash, G-d made the world because “He yearned to have a dwelling place in the lower realms.” The Chasidic masters explain this to mean that G-d created the world because of a passionate desire to be “at home” in a realm inhabited by sentient beings with free will and ego-consciousness. Why G-d wants this, we cannot know. Indeed, the difference between a need and a desire is that a need can be rationally defended but a desire has no practical reason. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad school of Chasidism, used to say when discussing the nature of G-d’s will for creation, “Of a desire, one may ask no questions.”

Understanding this concept is crucial for the spirituality of the recovering addict. It is not enough that the addict believe in a G-d who has all of the qualities to which the other Steps allude – power, goodness and forbearance. The addict’s recovery is based upon a relationship with a G-d who has a specific will for him or her, a G-d who asks for things and allows Himself to be served. A G-d who wants nothing, who has no opinion or preferences, cannot be served. And without the opportunity to serve, one cannot transcend the self.

Thy Will (Not Mine)

As noted above in reference to Step Two, the problem of the addict is primarily an obsession with control. This is why it is so important to see G-d as a “power greater than ourselves.” But in order to fully address the issue, it must be recognized that the addict’s desire for control is just that – a desire. In other words, the addict has a will. Accordingly, recovery means to realize that G-d also has a will and to place that will before one’s own.

The Big Book says: “We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be… We ask especially for freedom from self-will….” (p. 87) This remarkably parallels the Jewish prayer contained in liturgy for the early morning: “May it be Your will, L-rd my G-d and G-d of our fathers, to accustom us to following Your instructions and to adhere to the fulfillment of Your commandments… Let not our evil inclination have mastery over us… [rather] force our inclination to be subservient to You.”

One often hears those in recovery say, “I had to stop doing things my way because my way doesn’t work.” This begs the question, “Which way does work?” Some may be inclined to give a vague answer like, “The Steps” or “the program” but The Steps and the program clearly tell us that the way that works is G-d’s. First and foremost, the addict seeks to align his or her own will to the will of G-d.

To wit, the phrase “Thy will be done” is found three times in the Big Book of AA. The wording is obviously a direct reference to The Lord’s Prayer from Christian liturgy. But an interesting edition is made to these words on p. 85 where it states, in relation to the Eleventh Step, “Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of G-d’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.’” The context of the phrase and the notable insertion of the words in parentheses – “not mine” – put a quite a new spin on these words not to be found in the original. Here, “Thy will be done” is used as a request to G-d that in all areas of life, His will should overrule our own. In other words, the program is describing a G-d who has an opinion about “all of our activities.” Whether we eat, sleep, do business or pray, there is a way to do it that conforms to G-d’s will. As King Solomon said (Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways you should know Him and He will make your paths straight,” or, in the words of the Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 2:12), “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”

Knowledge of His Will for Us

There are those who concede that G-d may have a will but think it arrogant to assume that we can ever hope to know what it is. Of course, Judaism is based on the idea that G-d has explicitly revealed His will and told His people exactly what He wants. That is precisely what occurred at the Revelation at Sinai more than three millennia and three centuries ago. Some may still argue that this constitutes only a general will, but that G-d does not communicate a specific will for the individual.

In answer:

First of all, the commandments are a specific will for the individual. One cannot perform all of the commandments in every place and at every time. We fulfill the commandments wherever and whenever they are applicable to the situation. Thus, by leading the individual to a particular situation where a specific commandment may be observed, G-d is certainly indicating His will for that person.

I once dealt with a young Jewish man who was suffering from mental illness. It was time for a group meeting and he was nowhere to be found so I went to the dormitory to fetch him. I found him collapsed in his bed. I asked him if he was able to get up. He replied that he was able but that he did not want to. I asked him why not. He told me that he did not want to move until G-d told him to do so. I went to the library and brought back a copy of the Concise Code of Jewish Law from which I then read to him: “When one awakens in the morning, one must immediately recognize and appreciate the kindness G-d has done with him… One should say [the prayer] ‘I give thanks]… and by doing so, he will realize that G-d is in his midst and will immediately get out of bed and prepare himself for the service of G-d.” The young man thought about these words and got out of bed.

Secondly, if we are to believe in G-d’s meticulous providence for every detail in His creation, then we also believe that G-d will show us the right path in every aspect of life. This does not have to come in the form of prophecy or a booming voice from the clouds. G-d’s will can be revealed to us in a number of ways that are perfectly natural and normal. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “Everything a person sees or hears can be taken as a lesson in serving the Creator.” In the words of the Big Book (p. 164), “God will constantly disclose more to you and to us… The answers will come, if your own house is in order.”

“And the Power to Carry that Out”

By deferring his or her own personal will, the addict is promised a new way of life that is infinitely more fulfilling than a life of active addiction. But there are many who are uncomfortable with the notion of such complete surrender. They think it to be a prescription for passivity.

The Jewish view, however, is that submission to G-d’s will is the key to effective living. As the Sages taught (Pirkei Avot 2:4), “Make His will your will so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will. Set aside your will because of His will so that He may set aside the will of others before your will.” From here it would seem that deferring to G-d’s will is not just necessary for the addict wishing to achieve sobriety but a useful suggestion for all people. With self-will, one is limited in his or her ability and wherewithal. One may confront an obstacle or an impasse that cannot be negotiated or overcome. What this teaching relates to us is that by doing things “G-d’s way” rather than our own, we channel the force of the Creator. And nothing can stop the force of the Creator in His creation.

Thus, we return to our first concept of G-d that we gleaned from The Steps – that He is Power. Giving up on self-will in order to do G-d’s will is not passivity. It does not mean that one has no will. It means that one’s will now comes from a higher place than his or her own needs and wants. Judaism sees this as the ultimate level of human existence. Indeed, the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – are lauded as being “chariots” for the Divine Will for they lived their entire lives in a state of complete surrender to G-d. Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes in Tanya that the average person also becomes such a vehicle for G-d’s Presence whenever he or she fulfills any of the commandments.

In this light, submission to G-d’s will means to become a medium that channels the Divine. “The power to carry that out” is this inherent to the act of surrender. In other words, G-d does not just tell us what He wants us to do; He tells us how to become a conduit for His will and His power by doing what He wants.

Shais Taub

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