Success and happiness

Like the enslaved Jews needed God to help them escape, recovering addicts learn to rely on a power greater than themselves.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional meaning of Passover, a commemoration of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. During the holiday, we take part in the seder and refrain from eating leavened foods.

For recovering addicts, the holiday takes on an additional dimension, the celebration of a different kind of freedom. And, according to Rabbi Benny Greenwald, director of Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, there are many similarities between Passover and the ongoing journey of recovery.

“Addicts are tied down to something, enslaved by something they don’t want to be tied down to, whether it’s a substance or a self-destructive behavior,” Greenwald said. “They can’t break free by themselves, just like the Jews in Egypt couldn’t free themselves.”

Like the enslaved Jews needed God to help them escape, recovering addicts learn to rely on a power greater than themselves.

Brain chemistry also plays a part in keeping people enslaved to addictions, explains Eleanor Aharoni, certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor.

“With all addictions, the brain dictates and remembers patterns. The pleasure-seeking cells in the frontal part of the brain remind people how good they felt drinking, using drugs, gambling, even overeating. When people try to break those patterns, the brain reacts and goes into physical and emotional withdrawal.”

Aharoni adds that while withdrawal is difficult, it is necessary in order to break the pattern of addiction.

Recovery begins when an individual admits powerlessness over an addiction that has caused life to become unmanageable. Rabbi Yarden Blumstein of Friendship Circle draws a parallel between this step and the Egyptian Pharoah’s inability to surrender control, even in the face of 10 plagues.

“No matter how bad it got, he wasn’t willing to let go, to admit his powerlessness and recognize a power greater than himself. It destroyed everything around him,” Blumstein said.

In much the same way, holding onto the idea that an addiction can be “managed” wreaks further havoc and prevents the addict from achieving the abstinence necessary for recovery.

“For years, I tried to control my drinking,” said Rachel W. who has been sober for 16 years. “When I finally surrendered to the idea that I was powerless over alcohol, I felt free for the first time.”

Another parallel between Passover and recovery can be found in the traditional search for chametz (bread and other leavened products) prior to the holiday. In Jewish mysticism, according to Greenwald, these foods represent the ego, an inflated sense of self. Matzah, which does not rise, represents humility.

This ties into an important component of a 12-step recovery program, performing “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” In the same way, we rid our homes of chametz, recovering addicts identify their character flaws and begin the process of eliminating them.

For Sabrina R., belief in a higher power is a vital part of both the Passover story and the process of recovery.

“The lesson of Pesach is to always be aware of how we are leaving ‘Egypt,’ the things we are enslaved to,” she said. “Recovery gives me freedom from addiction. In both cases, faith was essential.”

Gratitude is also key to maintaining long-term recovery. This principle is reflected during the seder in the “Dayenu” song, which recounts all the things God did for the Jewish people, from taking them out of Egypt to bringing them to Israel. Each verse ends with the word dayenu, which translates as “it would have been enough.”

“‘Dayenu’ is a gratitude list,” Blumstein said. “When you’re in recovery and you’re living in gratitude, you understand why half the list would be good enough.”

Greenwald believes Passover is the perfect occasion to achieve freedom from the various kinds of emotional slavery most people experience.

“Take the opportunity to tap into the message and the energy of Passover, Greenwald said. “It involves something deep that lets us break free from our limitations, and, just like our ancestors left Egypt, we can leave the bondage of our perceived restraints.”


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 or (248) 788-8888, ext. 206, or visit

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