Rabbi Shais Taub and Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman hope the new Haggadah will help increase awareness about addiction and reduce the stigma attached to the disease and those who suffer from it.
F.or those in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, certain traditions can be challenging. On Purim, Jews are expected to drink until they cannot distinguish between wicked Haman and righteous Mordechai. On Passover, we are instructed to drink four cups of wine during the seder. A new Haggadah helps recovering addicts meet these challenges and find new meaning in the traditional seder.
The Four Cups: A Recovery Haggadah is edited by Rabbi Shais Taub, author of the Jewish recovery classic Gd of Our Understanding, and coordinated by Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman, co-director of Chabad in Peabody, Massachusetts. Using anecdotes and personal stories from alcoholics that Taub collected over several years, the Haggadah exemplifies the distinct connection between the exodus from Egypt and the journey from addiction to freedom.
“Only a slave can understand freedom,” said Rabbi Benny Greenwald, director of The Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, a program of Friendship Circle of Michigan. “Addiction is a form of enslavement.”
The Four Cups is interspersed with commentary based on the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “Big Book.” The section on “Searching for Chametz (leavened food items)” is augmented with remarks on “Revealing Our Defects of Character,” part of the personal inventory process in Steps 4 and 5 of the 12 Steps of AA.
Greenwald explains that chametz, such as bread made with yeast, represents the ego, an inflated view of the self. Conversely, matzah is considered the bread of faith and healing, a symbol of humility. To achieve inner freedom, it is necessary to remove the “hot air” and fill the space with spiritual, not material, pursuits.
“Matzah is filling, physically and spiritually,” Greenwald said. “Having faith and humility are the first steps in leaving ‘Egypt’.”
The book provides a recovery-oriented perspective on the four sons described in the Haggadah – the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one and the one who does not know how to ask. While the traditional text outlines the best way to respond to each child, The Four Cups adds the following explanation:
“When it comes to the child who doesn’t know how to ask, we are told the parent is supposed to initiate by telling them the story of our redemption.
“We know that there are those who still suffer, who aren’t even able to reach out for help.
“When we suspect that we are talking to such a prospect, we do not wait for them to initiate. Rather, we tell them the story of our miraculous redemption, and we hope that it will resonate with them – if not now, then perhaps with the passage of time. “
“When we help a newcomer, it’s important to recognize where they are and tailor our answers according to the person,” Greenwald said.
He takes the allegory a step further and describes a fifth child, one who does show up for the seder. While this child may be suffering from alcoholism or another form of addiction, we should reach out with an offer of help and a message of hope.
“My addiction led to five years in prison,” said Jim. * “Before, I couldn’t relate to the story of Passover because I never experienced slavery or persecution. Now I know how it feels to be a slave to something I couldn’t break free of on my own. “
Taub and Schusterman hope the new Haggadah will help increase awareness about addiction and reduce the stigma attached to the disease and those who suffer from it.
The Four Cups: A Recovery Haggadah can be purchased at https://fourcups.org/ or at Amazon.com.
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
The Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House provides support and guidance to individuals and families struggling with addiction, isolation and other life crises. Contact Rabbi Benny Greenwald at firstname.lastname@example.org or (248) 788-8888, ext. 206, or visit www.friendshipcircle.org/friendshiphouse/
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