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The Miracle of Sobriety

by Rabbi Dr. Chaim Tureff

Hanukkah is a miraculous holiday filled with friends and family, lots of fried food, dreidel games, and fun songs – all in remembrance and celebration of how we Jews overcame assimilation and rededicated the Holy Temple in 3597.

The Hanukkah stories of miracles and heroism, including the oil lasting for 8 nights and the Maccabees’ defeat of a much larger army, are ones we readily know. However, there is another lesser-known story from the same time period: the story of the heroine Yehudit who met and feasted with the King, got him drunk (that is an entirely different blog), and cut off his head, saving the Jewish people.

Hanukkah is full of miracles: the big miracles we all know, and those miracles that for many remain below the surface, not commonly known.

Miracles in Our Time

So, what is a miracle? By definition a miracle is, “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”

While many of our Jewish celebrations and texts include miracles, these days people are wary of using the word “miracle.” There’s a feeling now that without a scientific explanation, it isn’t real, and didn’t or cannot occur. But there are miracles happening, everyday — beyond Hanukkah.

All Recovery Journeys are Miraculous

As anyone who has become sober or knows people that have become sober, sobriety is a modern-day miracle. Coming from the torment of addiction, from being in the shackles of darkness and the depths of despair, into a new freedom and renewal of life and living are most certainly miracles.

There’s no question for those affected by alcohol use disorder and addiction, sobriety is a miracle. There is debate, however, as to the cause of this miracle. Did God come down to tell the person it was time to become sober? Was there a lightning bolt or angel at their side to guide the process? Did the Red Sea split like when we left Egypt, or did the sun and moon stand in place as it did with Joshua? Would we even know or understand if we were guided by a hand that we cannot visibly see in a great display like these? Does something so obviously divine and momentous need to happen in order for it to be deemed miraculous?

Rabbi Soloveitchik taught, “It is not always necessary for an event to be miraculous in order to be great, and not every miraculous event is a great event.”

It might be rock bottom that helped guide someone to sobriety, years of trying or possibly a single event; there was something that compelled that person to get sober. Based on Rabbi Soloveitchik’s teaching, to become sober is a great event in and of itself without all the pomp and circumstance. Remember that what is seen and what is not seen can both be miraculous.

A Miracle of Action

The idea that one makes the conscious choice to leave behind years of behavior that has become second nature, that feels essential to our very existence, is not such an easy task. Ultimately, the miracle is that through action, change is possible. The ability to take one day at a time and move forward while going through life with all of its bittersweet moments and hardships (and joys!), without falling back to what is familiar yet ultimately destructive — that is miraculous. The transformation that occurs within and without while working towards sobriety is a great miracle. Others see it in you and ultimately you see it within yourself.

When you are able to go down a street where you used to score or find yourself in situations that stress and trigger you and are able to move forward in a new way without the crutch of your addiction — then you know you are witnessing a miracle.

Celebrate the Miracle!

Life is a process filled with growth. Hanukkah redefined the Jewish people through the rededication of the Holy Temple and fostered Jewish pride. Similarly, sobriety marks a rededication to a new life, a new path. We work to love ourselves again, repair our relationships, and restore our dignity — all of which was so often absent during active addiction. Just as we celebrate Hanukkah every year to remind ourselves of the miracles that occurred, we can joyfully celebrate the miracle of sobriety, including marking the date when we moved from darkness to light, and rededicate ourselves to a life in recovery.

Rabbi Dr. Chaim Tureff endeavors to build human connections and help everyone to relate to one another. He recently published a book, Recovery in the Torah: Models of Spirituality and Healing, and is the founder of STARS, which guides people struggling with addiction by focusing on the spiritual component through seminars, groups, and one-on-one coaching. Chaim is also the Rav Beit Sefer at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles, a spiritual advisor at Soberman’s Estate in Arizona, and a member of the Teachers on Fire Kollel for Mechanchim. He graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill, writing his honors thesis on the relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americans, and received his MA in elementary education from Columbia University and his Ed.D in Jewish Education from Gratz College, focusing on the role Judaism and spirituality play in helping recovering addicts. Chaim was conferred semichah by Rav Dan Channen, shlita, and is an alumnus of the Darche Noam Yeshiva of Jerusalem and Rabbinical College of America in Morristown.

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