By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
Not infrequently, people will say to me, “You know, I take the daily message in your Living Each Day quite personally. It’s uncanny — the message for a particular day is often one that applies to my situation for that day. How could you possibly have foreseen anything like that?”
Needless to say, I have no prophetic powers. The fact is that the words of Torah are timeless and universally applicable. The “unique” message the person read on the 20th of Adar may have been no less relevant and “custom-tailored” for his needs had he read it on the 15th of Cheshvan.
The potency of Torah messages really resides in their authors. In contrast to the secular world, which will accept great scientific discoveries from people whose personal lives are flawed, Torah thoughts are accepted only from people whose lives embodied their ideas. The Talmud quotes God as saying, “I have put Myself into the Torah, and thereby have given Myself to you.” The great Torah personalities emulated God, in that they put themselves into their works. If we are moved by the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim, it is because his writings are essentially an autobiography, his own personality analysis.
This brings us to the effective way of communicating Torah concepts. We are fortunate that we have descriptions of the lives of some our great Torah personalities, and these are available both in Hebrew and English. I attribute my Yiddishkeit more to the accounts of the lives of tzaddikim that I heard from my parents and teachers than to anything else. Their midos became the standard, the values for which I strive, although I am still so terribly distant from these goals. It is the true-to-life behavior that makes the book-learning come to life.
If we are moved by the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim, it is because his writings are essentially an autobiography…
Of course, the Torah set the precedent for this. For all practical purposes, the first third of the Torah contains no mitzvah instructions, but rather a description of the lives of the patriarchs and the matriarchs. It is only when we accept them as our models that we prepare ourselves for acceptance of the mitzvos.
We face challenges in life every day, and while the particular circumstances may vary considerably, the underlying issues in these challenges are but a few; for example, the stresses of insecurity, the fear of the loss of control, or the need to be loved and appreciated. Most of these challenges are normal components of life, and may not require the help of a professional psychotherapist. However, if we have been impressed with the lifestyles of our tzaddikim, we have retained, at least in our subconscious, the ways in which they coped with their challenges: their humility, their control of anger, their consideration for others, their devotion to the will of God as the primary motivation in their lives. If we look carefully, we can see that many of life’s stresses can be managed successfully by applying the guidelines to behavior that we find in Torah writings and that were manifested in the lives of our sages. All we need to do is to see just how we can adapt these principles to any given circumstances.
Little wonder, then, that the teachings of our great ethicists of Chassidus and mussar are relevant to every single day of our lives. No matter where we look in Torah teachings, we will find something that we can apply to the “unique” situations confronting us each day.
Rabbi Dr. Twerski, the founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, is one of the country’s leading experts on alcohol and drug rehabilitation. He is the author of numerous books and a regular contributor to Jewish Action.