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24 June 2000 / 21 Sivan 5760; Issue #279

Addiction to Mitzvot


Ethan Greenwood from London UK wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Since Judaism opposes addiction because it implies a loss of self control, is it therefore also forbidden to be addicted to the observance of mitzvot?

Dear Ethan Greenwood,

Just a minute�I can't answer your question yet...I've got this uncontrollable desire to�to�stick this dollar into that charity box...There! I feel much better now!

Now, what was your question again? Oh yes, does Judaism oppose "addiction" to mitzvot (commandments)?

Judaism encourages behavior which enhances physical and spiritual well-being, and opposes behavior detrimental to physical and spiritual well-being.

If a person accustoms himself to proper behavior, and as a result he is uncomfortable doing what he feels is wrong, that's healthy. Call it an addiction if you want.

On the other hand, if a person falls into a depression because his observance is not up to par, or if his observance expresses itself in counter-productive or destructive behavior patterns -- such as obsessive compulsive behavior -- that's not healthy. Call it a negative addiction.

But that's true of almost any activity or lifestyle: Almost anything can be expressed in either a healthy or an unhealthy way. Take eating, for example: When was the last time you went a day without eating a bunch of food? So, you're a food addict, are you? But you decide whether to stuff your face with chocolate cake ten times a day, or to eat three nutritious meals, or a compromise between the two. Either way, you must eat.

So, you might be right: We Jews are mitzvah addicts. We must do the mitzvot! Done properly, the mitzvot enhance our lives and nourish our souls.

In fact, the Sages have taught us over and over again that unless you approach Judaism with a passion and an intense desire -- unless you are "addicted" to Judaism -- you'll never scale its heights and grow!

Who Knows 19?

In the song at the end of the Pesach Seder we describe the significance of the numbers from one to thirteen as they relate to Jewish life and thought. "Three are the fathers, Four are the Mothers...12 are the Tribes of Israel..." What about the next 13 numbers? And after those? What significance do they have in Jewish tradition?

This week, we challenge to answer: "Who knows 19?"
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Here are some reader responses regarding previous numbers:

17 is the Gematria of "egoz" (nut) and "chet" (sin) without the "aleph." Which is one reason given for not eating nuts during the 10 Days of Repentance. Which shows to go you that you have to be nuts to sin!

Zvi Freund, Kew Gardens

18 is the number of life.

Shoshana, student of Nicola M. Bookey

17 is the gematria-value of "tov" -- "good."

Zevi Saftlas

Yosef was 17 years old when he was sold by his brothers.

Fayge Guzik and "Miller The Genius"

I know 17. 17 is the number of camps in the desert. Each of the 12 tribes formed a camp, plus the four camps of levi'im, plus the Shechina (Divine presence) resting amongst the Jews.

Chezkie Mark

16 mil by 16 mil (or 16 square parsah) is the amount of milk and honey that Reish Lakish found flowing in Tzippori (Megilla 6a). 17 is the length of time Jacob spent in Egypt in his last years.

Philip Silverman

I know 17! 17 words at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar.

Y. Fox

On the 17th of Cheshvan the flood began in the time of Noach. The Jewish People counted 17 yovlot (Jubilee years) from Joshua until the first destruction.


17 is the date in Tamuz on which five calamities befell the Jewish people: The Tablets were broken, the daily burnt-offering was abolished, a breach was made in Jerusalem's walls, the Roman's burned the Sefer Torah and an idol was placed in the Temple.


The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.



You've got to agree that there is definitely something really Jewish about the bagel. Even though the bagel is great, well-baked, great tasting, there is also the hole. The sign that something is missing. There is room for improvement. So that is the Jewish way of thinking, that although we are the Chosen People, there is still much room for improvement.

Izzy Moseson


You recently published a story in which the Arizal emphasized the greatness of mitzvah observance in his day. At the Agudath Israel Convention, November 1976, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein echoed the powerful words of the Arizal:

"Viewed in the context of trends and temptations of contemporary society, the handful of Jews who devote their efforts to Torah study and mitzvah observance have such great worth that they can overwhelmingly weight an evaluation of the entire generation's standing to merit. As for the majority that is sunk in evil -- this has little bearing on G-d's judgement, for the transgressors only act out of conformity with prevalent trends, not out of willful rebellion. By this standard, our current generation is far, far closer to the ideal of 'the generation that is completely worthy,' which is a requisite for mashiach's coming, than were previous generations that had so many tzaddikim in their midst." (The Jewish Observer, Feb-Mar 1977, p. 17-18)

Benyamin Buxbaum


It's always a light in my week to read your mail!


Written by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Mordecai Becher, Rabbi Baruch Rappaport, Rabbi Moshe Yossef and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.

General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

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