Judaism and the 12 Steps: A Message for Everyone

What can Judaism offer to the spiritual journey in recovery?  The more I learn about Judaism and the more a learn about recovery, the clearer the answer becomes.  Jewish wisdom enriches the spiritual journey of recovery in many of the same ways Judaism deepens any of our spiritual journeys.

In Jewish recovery author and teacher Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s discussion with us at Rodeph Shalom last night, “The 12 Steps: A Message for Everyone,” he spoke about how the core foundations of Judaism, Torah, community and God, can support someone in recovery and can support every one of us in the struggles of life we face.   I’d like to share some of my take-aways from Rabbi Olitzky’s teachings.


We each bring our own experience to Torah and Torah exists not when it sits in the ark but when we engage with it and see our own lives in it.  We recently celebrated the festival of Passover and the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom and Torah.  With the Egyptians at their back and the Sea of Reeds before them, the Israelites need a miracle, and that’s when the waters of the sea part.  The Midrash (classical Jewish legend) teaches that it was not until one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, stepped into the sea and the waters came to his nostrils, with immediate threat to his life, that the sea parted and the Israelites could pass through the waters to dry land.  What was required to reach dry land?  Hitting rock bottom and taking steps forward.

We might function in many different groups through our day and life, but real community, meaningful community, is what connects us.


Twentieth century thinker Martin Buber taught the I-Thou approach to connection.  He taught that our connection to God exists in relationship and that depth of relationship can be reflected in our connections with other people.  When our connection to another is so real and complete, we experience true relationship and true community.

Relationship with God

Ideally, Jewish liturgy and services lead us to prayer.  In dialogue with God, we maintain a relationship with that which is greater than ourselves.  We tune into divinity, deep truths, spiritual connection.  Picture the Eternal Light in the sanctuary as a reminder that no matter what our mistakes, God always keeps the light on.

These examples of Torah, community, and relationship with God as a support system to recover and to the challenges of life are just the beginning.  For more inspiration from Jewish sources, read some of Rabbi Olitzky’s books.  And to continue the journey here at Rodeph Shalom, please be in touch with your ideas about how you would like to connect with and be supported by your community.  My door is open for one-on-one and I hope you will be in touch to share whether you might be interested in a support group guided by Torah study or by a discussion of our Jewish approach to the higher power.  May we continue our journeys together and with meaning.