Over the years I have often been asked by distressed and distraught parents, when they discovered that their children were on drugs, to provide spiritual or religious support. In their desperation they seemed to believe that if those same children could find religion, they would be cured. “Please speak to my child about G-d and Judaism,” they would plead.
In my younger days I would rush over to the house (or hospital), believing that once a disturbed adolescent was exposed to Judaism, he or she would find an alternative outlet for what they were searching for. I thought that if I encouraged the youngster to put on Teffillin or to light Shabbat Candles, perhaps a new positive addiction would grow out of the old dangerous one.
Needless to say, my tactics were never successful. On the one or two occasions when I thought I was on to something, I subsequently found out I had been horribly manipulated.
As I got a little older and perhaps more street wise, I saw that not only did drug addicts abuse drugs, they also abused religion.
And so did people who were suffering from emotional pathology, abuse religion.
It’s easier to sweep one’s inadequacies under the carpet of religion, than to face or fix them.
A socially inept person could simply bury themselves in books, don flowing garb and limit their interfacing with other human beings, and be regarded as a hero ‘baal teshuva’ of sorts.
Someone with anger management problems could ‘legitimately’ give vent to his or her frustrations, because now they are objecting in the name of G-d.
A rude person would not have to greet another, because they were praying a section of the prayers where talking is not allowed.
And in all these cases they would get away with it.
Religion can be a wonderful guise that papers, with impunity, over many cracks.
The Kotzker Rebbe teaches that an individual who is not ‘chazak benafsho’(strong in character), has to be careful before throwing themselves into religion. (Emet ve Emunah p108, par1.)
He believes that without a solid foundation of strength of character, religion can be misleading.
Giving a distressed individual religion prematurely is dangerous and disingenuous.
Many great teachers, on the other hand, believe that religion builds strength of character. Expose people to religion, they say, and they will grow emotionally and spiritually. The waters of Torah will erode the stubbornness of our failings.
The Kotzker takes a different view: Fix the person first, he teaches. Get the individual stable, strong and functional first. Then, and only then, does the Torah helps them grow.
If a parent asked me today, to guide a child suffering from the plethora of modern afflictions (real or imagined), I would advise them to get their child well first. I would suggest to a mother worried about her son’s addiction problem, to send the child to rehab, first. I would encourage someone suffering from depression to seek professional psychological help, first.
I have seen too many cases where religious guidance is dispensed too soon, and the healing never happens.
Pathology, even if Religious, is still pathology.