What you’re really craving: Joey Rosenfeld speaks to our inner addict with the language of the soul
Photos: Elisheva Green
n a drug rehab center in St. Louis, it looks like there’s some kind of kiruv seminar taking place — the group leader has a black yarmulke on his head, full beard, tzitzis flapping out from under his shirt, and an open sefer of chassidic thought in front of him.
Only thing is, the listeners aren’t quite potential baalei teshuvah — they’re non-Jewish drug addicts here on a judge’s orders. And Reb Joey Rosenfeld is helping them heal.
Some people might know “Reb Joey” from his online shiurim broadcast out of his St. Louis home, with his extensive library as a backdrop, or from his active social media presence, where he’s become a rising star as he shoots off highly articulate yet relatable emunah-based teachings into cyberspace and hopes they’ll land on fertile soil.
He’s cobbled together a remote community, a chaburah made up of people from all over and from every profession — lawyers, businessmen, therapists, students, even rabbis and kollel yungeleit — who take comfort from Reb Joey in their own struggles to navigate the inevitable pain and lack intrinsic to the human condition in this world.
“But don’t worry, we’re also regular, fun-loving people who enjoy a kumzitz and hot cholent,” says Daniel, a yeshivish young man now in finance who learned in mainstream yeshivos but who feels the “system” has not been able to adequately respond to the perils of post-modernity. While there are no official meetings between “members” in this worldwide chaburah, Daniel says he believes there are many others like him who feel that the language and metaphors we’ve been taught up to now “have become too narrow to encompass the challenges that have unmoored our collective psyche in 2019. We all live submerged in fantasies, dreams, reveries, desires, hopes, lusts, sorrows, traumas, memories, yearnings, and projections,” Daniel says. “Reb Joey helps us relearn how to relate to G-d through the innerness of these experiences, because today, the heart is the final frontier.”
His wide following notwithstanding, Reb Joey is no white-bearded rav, rebbe, or spiritual mentor. He’s a 31-year-old social worker/psychotherapist, addictions counselor, and Torah scholar whose own spiritual quest directed him to classic works relating to the nefesh and to the writings of the chassidic masters — the primal doctors of the soul.
“I’m not teaching Kabbalah, I’m teaching emunah,” Joey is careful to qualify, “and since my audience runs the gamut from secular Jews to people from Boro Park and Monsey, I’m very careful in explaining concepts and terminology. I’m also very aware of the limitations of my understanding.”
Between 500 and a thousand people listen to his shiurim regularly (“more than I’d get in a lecture hall,” Joey admits); his recent nine-part series on addiction through the eyes of the chassidic masters garnered a weekly audience of over 1,000.
“I just wanted to tell you,” a listener e-mailed him, “that the class you gave helped me confront something that I have been unable to confront for 15 years… because then it would mean that I’m dirty and broken… I want you to know that as a result of your class I reached out to a trauma therapist and I will be starting therapy.”
Perhaps Reb Joey’s greatest attraction is his unpretentiousness and simplicity. He’s just as happy to sit with friends over pizza discussing Torah concepts as he is to get up in front of a packed hall. And even in those more casual settings, he uses the holy seforim to dissect how the pain of this world is inevitable and is in fact an integral part of the human experience. That even though most of us desire, strive for, and even expect a perfect, pain-free life — and then scramble for some kind of salve when that doesn’t happen — the fundamental constitution of the human is that he lacks. And no one can relate to that better than an addict — because, says Joey, an addict is somebody who’s just a bit further along this pain spectrum than the rest of us.
By day, Joey is a drug rehab therapist and inpatient program manager, and he uses these teachings to give hope to those who thought hope was dead, to pull the fallen out of their rock-bottom. Non-Jews included.
“While I’m not affiliated with any particular chassidus,” says Joey, “to my mind Rebbe Nachman of Breslov speaks most closely to this recognition that it’s specifically within a person’s pain or suffering or discomfort that he can come closest to Hashem. Not because that recognition forces you to do teshuvah and become better, but because it forces you to acknowledge that G-d is so large that He’s even found in those places as well. And I’ve found that my ‘clients’ in the center where I work — heroin addicts, hardened alcoholics, and other people who you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley — can relate in a very real way. You see, Rebbe Nachman says two things: that it’s forbidden to give up hope, and that really, there’s no such thing as giving up hope. That even when a person reaches a place where it seems he’s lost hope, even there there’s hope. That’s because that deep, G-dly part of the soul is never detached from Hashem, and can never really give up. I call it the irreducible part of the soul, that no matter how low we fall, as long as we’re still breathing, it’s there.
“And on a certain level, all addiction, from both a psychological and spiritual perspective, is an attempt to numb the anguish of losing hope, to quiet that voice that drives the discomfort by telling you how things should be different, that you’ll never find your place, instead of being totally okay with who you are and where Hashem put you.”
For the past four years, Joey has been teaching the works of Rebbe Nachman and other soul healers to the center’s struggling residents. “These guys all know that there was once someone named Nachman from Ukraine who was a psychologist and spiritual healer who believed in never giving up hope,” Joey says. “I had a client who was graduating after the 28-day inpatient track, and before he left, he came up to me and said, ‘Can you just remind me again what Norman from Ukraine taught about not giving up hope?’ ”
What’s Controlling You?
Joey Rosenfeld didn’t know about these things when he was growing up in New York’s Five Towns, in what he calls a kind of clichéd, affluent Modern Orthodox environment. For elementary school, he attended HALB, and moved on to DRS for high school (“which really takes Torah learning very seriously,” Joey says, crediting his rebbi, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, for first exposing him to the pnimius and the real joy that’s in Torah). It was a life of religious and material comfort, but he says that “if I had to describe my attitude during high school, it would be total disinterest. Pure and utter apathy toward the spiritual concepts that Judaism had to offer. Judaism to me was simply a traditional way of life, and Torah and mitzvos were always just part of the background.”
Listen to Joey now, and it’s obvious that he’s a gifted intellectual with a brilliant mind and a talent for clear, uncluttered analysis. Still, back then he was by self-admission “a horrible student,” with a lot of energy and little patience for the standard curriculum.
It’s an open secret that many Orthodox teens on the fringe experiment with alcohol and other substances, and when Joey hit tenth grade, using was already quite common among his friends. Some of them moved on to painkillers as well. His friend’s brother was a dealer, so it wasn’t difficult for the kids in his chevreh to get their hands on the highly addictive opioids. In his circle though, a lot of the substance abuse went undetected, because 15 years ago, people were still holding onto the hope that “It’s not a Jewish issue” and “Addiction isn’t a scourge in our community.”
“Addiction wasn’t yet the issue on everyone’s mind like it is today,” says Joey, “but we were still a bunch of bored, broken, struggling kids hanging out on Central Avenue.” And what Joey came to discover was that the popular substance abuse among his friends wasn’t so much an issue of addiction as it was one of anxiety and pain.
“We all have anxieties, insecurities, and a host of potentially dysfunctional behaviors, because that’s what life is: Life is painful, and very often puts us in positions where we don’t know what to do with ourselves — we all experience these things on certain level in our day-to-day life. And it causes havoc with our emotional equilibrium, because people think that the standard, the default, is ‘perfect,’ and that pain is the ‘abnormal.’ So then,” says Joey, “the question becomes whether these feelings are controlling and ruining your life to the extent that you have to find relief from them in a destructive way.”
Joey, always intellectually curious, began reading up on addiction — Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s Addictive Thinking was a game changer for him — and by the time he was a high school senior, he became the go-to person for struggling classmates, offering both insights and technical, responsible information about the substances they were ingesting.
There was something else in his background that framed his outlook a little differently from the live-in-the-moment attitude all around him and the general ennui of life on Central Avenue: He is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and although their suffering was never openly discussed, it was never very far from the family consciousness.
His grandfather was Rabbi Israel Rosenfeld a”h, long-time mechanech in Denver, Colorado. “And so,” says Joey, “in addition to the perfect face of Five Towns Judaism, there was also the wrinkled face of my grandfather to whom Judaism was a system that also acknowledges suffering, where good things often come out of brokenness and destruction and catastrophe. For him, any brachah you could make, any time you could daven, these were causes for celebration because just having been able to survive and function was seen as wonderous. It was never taken as a given.”
Rabbi Rosenfeld grew up in a chassidic family in Chust, in the environs of Satmar, yet later forged his personal relationship with G-d in a different shade of Modern Orthodox after the war, even as he maintained a close relationship with Rebbe Yoelish of Satmar. But in the interim, he couldn’t find his pathway, and wrote in his memoirs how a year after the war, as a type of spiritual protest, he ate treif on Yom Kippur. His mother, a fellow survivor and a woman of deep and abiding faith, told him, “don’t be a tipeish, don’t let Hitler win.”
“And then,” says Joey, “he recreated his relationship with Hashem. He brought gratitude into his life, and also a sense of powerlessness — a realization that it’s Hashem holding us up through everything, even the things we think are ‘mistakes.’ ”
Finding G-d in Privation
After high school Joey spent two years in Eretz Yisrael where he attended “OJ” (Ohr Yerushalayim), whose goal, he says, “is to get bochurim to grow into a better version of themselves.” The first year, while his friends were concentrating on the “Israel experience,” he was single-mindedly focused on another project: “Believe it or not, the most important thing I did that year was to learn how to really read and understand lashon kodesh fluently, so that I wouldn’t be afraid of all those books on the shelves surrounding me.” He also became interested in learning the writings of the Maharal.
His second-year trajectory took him forward in machshavah: Who was Rav Kook? Who was the Vilna Gaon? The Baal Shem Tov? Joey threw himself into these texts. He spent a year learning Maharal, and then, back in New York at Landers College studying psychology, immersed himself in the writings of Rav Hutner, Rav Kook, and Rav Tzadok of Lublin.
“This was a whole world of Torah I never even knew existed, a way of thinking that took into consideration the world of emotions, not just what you have to do to be a Jewish person, but what it means to be a Jewish person. What does it feel like to be a servant of Hashem, not only on a technical, but on an emotional level? Desires, retzonos, dissatisfaction, suffering, the idea that past experiences don’t need to be thrown away but are steps to be built on — I was really surprised that our tradition even had all this! I started seeing in the seforim of pnimius haTorah that connection isn’t only about positive experiences, but also involves privation and lack and difficulty. And sometimes it’s specifically there that we have to find Hashem. For the next few years, I spent my night sedorim learning these seforim.”
Joey’s primary spiritual guide since his own turbulent teenage years has been prolific chassidic educator and lecturer Rav Moshe Weinberger of Woodmere’s Aish Kodesh kehillah. Joey has also been part of the chaburah of Stuchiner Rebbe Rav Mottel Zilber, and has never been shy about contacting authors and publishers (including Rav Yehoshua Hartman, world expert on Maharal) to help in his quest for deeper elucidation.
Joey brought the study of the soul into his professional studies as well. As a student of psychology and later, studying for a master’s degree in social work at Wurzweiler, a therapeutic model began to form as he saw two ways people look at the world: One way is to assume that everything (including us) is supposed to be perfect according to our standards, and then when neither we nor the world is perfect and life doesn’t go according to that perfect plan, we become frustrated and resentful. But the other way is to recognize that specifically in our imperfection, in our inability to do certain things, in the trauma that is intrinsic to our lives from the time of Creation, lies the root of true growth. In his professional capacity, Joey hoped for a way to share this message with those who needed to hear it. And it wasn’t long in coming.
After marrying Alana Baron of St. Louis and completing his social work degree, he did a practicum within the Bronx criminal justice system among long-term inmates who were attempting to recover from substance abuse.
“That was lifechanging for me,” Joey remembers. “I was a terrified 25-year-old — white shirt, tzitzis, and black yarmulke — among hardened criminals in a world completely different from my own. How would I impart any kind of morality or values on them? I asked my supervisor if I should even wear the yarmulke and tzitzis, and she told me, ‘Clients see these Jewish symbols and associate them with suffering, survival, and faith. It will resonate with them.’
“And she was absolutely right. Amazingly, faith symbols have been one of the greatest ways of entering into therapeutic dialogue, because it talks to a deep place in the soul. And we’re talking about people who aren’t Jewish, who never learned this language.”
Four years ago, the Rosenfelds moved to St. Louis (“Unbeknown to me at the time, marrying ‘out of town’ means living out of town,” he says), and Joey landed a position at one of the drug rehab centers in the city. Today he’s in charge of the clinical side of the inpatient program.
So, who is Joey Rosenfeld? A closet Breslover? An incognito Lubavitcher? He says he doesn’t affiliate with any particular group, although the study of Rebbe Nachman, Chabad chassidic writings, the works of the Radziner Rebbe, and other “soul doctors,” have all played a significant role in his own spiritual development and have become the mandate for his teaching. His main goal, both in his on-line classes, in the rehab center, and in private practice, “is to present a new way of thinking about ourselves, and in turn a new more redemptive way of thinking about our role and placement within the world. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, ‘You are where your thoughts are.’ ”
Joey has an interesting Torah-driven syllabus for his group therapy sessions. In order to allow those teachings to become more accessible to everyone, he frames the concepts in terms more relatable to his clients: There’s “Morgenstern’s Theory of Doubt,” based on the writings of Rav Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern; “G.H. Leiner’s Theory of the Craving Soul,” based on the writing of Rebbe Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzin; “Kramer’s Theory of the 70 Strengths of Personality,” based on the Vilna Gaon’s writings on kochos hanefesh; and “The Lebovitz Model of Self-Acceptance,” based on the writings of Rav Yeruchem Levovitz.
“I sit there with my sefer in front of me, and they’re meshugeh for it,” Joey says.
Is it proper, though, to take these holy soul teachings and bring them into a rehab center for hardened addicts who aren’t even Jewish? As is his style, Joey clarifies it with another chassidic teaching, explaining how spreading the light of pnimiyus haTorah is part and parcel of the burgeoning redemption “when the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”
“It’s one thing for these holy teachings to find expression on the ‘inside,’ in the spaces of holiness where people are familiar with and interested in them,” he says, “but it’s an entirely separate novelty when these teachings are appreciated by people on ‘the outside.’ It shows that not only do these teachings speak to ‘light’ but they also speak to ‘darkness’ itself — and they provide a deep sense of hope within everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike.”
He explains how the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps were the first modern healers to recognize that addiction isn’t about the drug itself, which is just the external symptom of internal pain — that’s why the detox process is really the simplest part of recovery. It means that real recovery isn’t just about saying, “Okay, let’s take away the alcohol or the drug,” but instead the question becomes, “What are you missing? What is causing you such pain and what is missing from your life, driving you to try to satisfy this undying desire?”
And that’s the same approach he’s found, on a primal level, in the writings of our tzadikim and mekubalim. “Once we recognize and are willing to live with our imperfections and our lacks, only then can we live a life of gratitude, and come to see that what I have in this moment is good enough, it’s exactly what Hashem gave me. What you have is what you have and what you need,” Joey explains. “Whoever you are, whatever you were endowed with, from that place Hashem wants you to serve Him.”
On a practical level, he explains, these ideas are an integral part of a treatment program aimed at helping clients get clean and develop plans for lasting recovery.
He tells of a client who recently returned to treatment after having been in recovery and then relapsed back into heroin usage. “This particular client had a strong history of trauma and anxiety which resulted in a general outlook of abject hopelessness toward himself and toward the world,” Joey relates. “When he came back to treatment after his relapse, he pulled me aside and asked if he could speak to me. He told me that after his relapse he felt so shameful and low about himself that he decided to deliberately overdose and take his own life. But then, after purchasing the heroin to overdose, he remembered a comment I had made in group about the ‘spiritual healer Nakhman from the town of Breslov.’ The client continued, ‘You said in his name that even when a person has lost hope in himself, even when a person is utterly hopeless, there is always a sliver of hope that remains — even in the pit of hopelessness. And I want you to know that as I held that heroin-filled needle in my hands, I couldn’t help but believe that in spite of how terrible things are, there is still the possibility of hope for me to change. That gave me the strength to come back into treatment and choose life.’ This client successfully completed his second bout of treatment and is now a year clean from all substances.”
Cracks in the Structure
In the frum world today, though, there’s often a different subliminal message — no one is speaking the language of vulnerability. For shidduchim, girls are taught that they have to present themselves as “perfect” and boys have to be yeshivish and learners, that women have to hold down jobs, support their husbands in learning, make gorgeous simchahs and huge Shabbos meals and have well-behaved and matching-clothed children. By wiring an entire society to strive for “perfection” — a goal that can never be met — are we also feeding a tendency to turn to addiction when faced with inevitable failure?
“Generally speaking,” Joey says, “the crises we go through are deeply influenced by the context through which we view ourselves. So let’s say if a bochur doesn’t get into the yeshivah of his choice, his reaction will be influenced by his self-perception. If he’s been raised with the expectation of perfection, then this ‘failure’ will be viewed as a severe experience that just reinforces the negative thought patterns he probably already has — that he’s ‘worthless’ or ‘not good enough’ — as a result of the unhealthy expectations he’s been brought up with.
“We need to try and push back against these negative thoughts. Knowing that there are other, healthier ways to think about ourselves — and about the grand narratives of our lives — can relieve the suffering, allow a person to confront reality, and free him to act appropriately and safely instead of being overwhelmed by negative self-talk and self-loathing. Once we move beyond the pain and shame of being imperfect, we can honestly and appropriately approach situations from a position of strength and hope instead of weakness and despair.”
So what happens when things don’t go as planned? If we’re convinced that we’re in control, then we strive for things to be exactly the way we want them to be, and when that doesn’t happen, we become despondent because we blame ourselves.
“But hope,” Joey explains, “is very different from expectation. Hope remains even if I have not gotten or accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. Expectations lead to disappointments because at the end of the day I’m not in control of the results, I’m only in control of the choices I make. When a child, for example, studies hard for a test and fails, the parent should help that child appreciate the effort that was put in, and the very merit of effort remains indelibly etched in the child’s heart and mind.
“People who are still pretending that life has to be perfect are going to be dissatisfied, that’s for sure,” Joey continues. “And there’s so much pain out there — of unhealthy relationships, of being judged in every direction, of not being attractive enough or not having enough money. Our world is more desperate and chaotic than ever before, where we gauge our success by the likes we get and the images we pose, where so much is driven by jealousy, the desire for honor, and temptation. So it’s reasonable that people would want to escape. The fact that addiction is growing in our communities is a sign of that desire to escape the pain of the world — and all of us have something we do to escape pain, whether it’s shopping or gambling or eating or being unkind or feeling like we have to be in control.”
Yet there’s an even deeper pain, which comes on the heels of what we’ve generally assumed, that the world must be “perfect” because Hashem is perfect, so He obviously created a perfect world. And if I don’t see that perfection in the world, there must be something wrong with me. When people feel broken, or are struggling to serve Hashem, it adds insult to injury when they’re made to feel like there’s something wrong with them.
Joey says it’s a combined educational, social, and spiritual problem. “And it’s dangerous,” he maintains, “because no one can be perfect, and only in accepting our imperfection can we be comfortable in our own vulnerability. I recently was contacted by a fellow named Jeff, a baal teshuvah who had grown weary of Orthodoxy as he was struggling with the sense that being religious equals being perfect. I remember what he said because it moved me so deeply: He told me, ‘Now I know that not only is Hashem concealed in the dark moments of my life, He’s truly present in those moments.’
“One of the most important teachings of Kabbalah and pnimiyus haTorah is that this earthly world is not perfect, and that’s not by accident. The world was created in such a way that things can’t be perfect, nor are they meant to be. It’s our job to work and develop ourselves from within an imperfect world, to accept it and do our best in it. Because when someone feels that they’re perfect or that things are perfect, it’s a clear sign that they have not yet begun to look at themselves or the world with eyes of truth. As one well-known modern Jewish poet once wrote, ‘Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ ”
More Than Kugel
Today it’s fashionable to talk about “neo-chassidus,” a so-called movement where non-chassidic Jews have begun to “nosh” on chassidic teachings to give their lives more meaning and connection to spirituality. But Joey Rosenfeld doesn’t consider himself a “neo-chassid,” and according to Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, director of education for NCSY, instructor at Yeshiva University, author of a book on sin and failure in Jewish thought, Mishpacha columnist, and long-time acquaintance of Joey, young people aren’t necessarily thirsting for Kabbalah or chassidus per se — they are thirsty for understanding themselves and how Yiddishkeit should address that inner sense of self.
“With the advent of technology,” says Bashevkin, “the basic question of who you are has become more difficult to measure. Is it the number of likes you get on social media? And when everything can be stored on your phone, why do you need your memory? This is where Reb Joey is illuminating and this is what pulls people to him. He weds ideas in Kabbalah to the contemporary anxieties and concerns that bother us all, reminding us that Yiddishkeit is so much more than kugel and vertlach, but is a framework to understand your life. For this approach to Torah, people are parched.
“But Joey doesn’t only make chassidus and mysticism accessible,” Bashevkin continues, “he makes addiction accessible and understandable. He reminds his audiences that addiction is not exclusively the purview of illicit substances and mind-altering chemicals. Everyone has elements of addiction in their lives. For some, addiction is about developing the emotional callouses that preclude developing meaningful relationships. For others, addiction can become the mindless routines that we use to numb ourselves from our responsibilities. Reb Joey shows us how to confront our most basic human frailty — the comforts that prevent us from engaging more richly in everyday life.”
Perhaps that’s why Joey has shifted his own definitions of success and failure in the realm of addiction, and with life in general. When he started working in rehab, he defined success as full, long-term abstinence. “But what if it’s just an incremental change? A little more insight into self, or a little more desire to be better? Today I know that’s also success. I’ve had parents say to me, ‘Yes, our child overdosed, but we want to thank you for the last three months when we had him back.’ Sure, it can be devastating when you’ve invested so much and then your guy goes back to the street. But that actually reinforces the idea of how real and acute the pain is. So instead of going for ‘forever,’ today I go for moments, humble expectations.
“Because even a moment of success is an infinite spark of light.”
Souls of Chaos
Ask someone to define addiction, and the answer will probably be related to physical dependency on a substance or chemical. But in fact, anything a person engages in in order to escape the pain of life and make it seem more pleasurable, can become the source of an addiction. And don’t we all find ourselves stuck in certain patters and behaviors that need to be undone, yet continually find ourselves repeating them, making us feel broken or unholy? Is there something wrong with us?
“In order to understand the addictive personality, we can look into the holy seforim and how they describe the person who finds himself stuck in the dark places,” Joey explains, emphasizing that every soul has such a point.
“Addiction used to be viewed as a failure of positive choices, that the addict deliberately made those bad choices even though he knew what the horrible consequences would be. But today we see it differently — that when all the circumstances are aligned, it’s as if the addict almost has no choice. He doesn’t choose to destroy his life, but he’s stuck in these repetitive behaviors in spite of his better judgment. So instead of looking at this person as being worthy of punishment, we can look at him as someone with a weakness who’s become stuck.”
Of course, Joey says, this in no way mitigates the addict’s responsibility for the consequences of his behaviors — he’s still responsible to get help, to fix what has been destroyed. But who are these souls stuck in the places that pull them away from life’s responsibilities?
“In seforim of Kabbalah and chassidus, these people are actually described as lofty souls who have found it impossible to draw comfort and benefit from whatever others draw comfort from,” Joey explains. “Instead, this type of person seeks that elusive comfort in something the world can’t really offer, so his craving pushes him to try to experience something that will relieve that pain. In the broken model, it’s a substance. In the recovery model, it’s finding spirituality.”
Joey sees the story in Gemara Avodah Zara of Elazar ben Dordaya, the ultimate sinner, as a paradigm of recovery. He was a person who put all his efforts into finding pleasure in the externalities of this world — he was addicted to his pleasure and to the short-lived relief it yielded.
“The Gemara goes into a deep discussion about the energy he invested in his cravings and the willingness to suffer for the sake of his drug of choice. And this is really a prophetic comment by Chazal, because we know today how much an addict is willing to suffer to get his substance. It seems counterintuitive, but shows us that it’s so little about the drug, and so much more about what the drug represents. If it were truly about pleasure, he wouldn’t put himself into so much suffering to run away from the pain. Elazar ben Dordaya travels the world to reach the culmination of his cravings, and in the Talmud’s profound way of describing the anti-climax of his experience, he comes to realize that everything is nothing. That the desire and craving he’s seeking is like empty air. And at that minute he has a vision of clarity, a hirhur teshuvah, and he’s given a choice — does he want to move beyond this pit, or does he want to become more entrenched in it?
“He experiences that moment, and opens himself up to the possibility of change. At that point, because of his own profound sense of responsibility, he’s no longer able to function in This World and he passes on. Rabi Yehudah Hanasi sees this and cries over the profound potential in the individual who’s fallen so low, and announces that there are individuals who gain their lives in one moment, who access the essence of spirituality in a single movement away from the darkness they’ve tasted.”
How does the “soul of chaos,” the soul that desires more than This World can offer, learn to come to terms and recover?
“The Baal HaTanya, the Mitteler Rebbe of Chabad, Rav Tzadok HaKohein, the Radziner Rebbe, and others all discuss, in their own language, how to fix this,” Joey explains. “It’s called ‘oros tetohu bekeilim detikun, the great lights of chaos in the vessels of rectification.’ It’s experienced in the realization that while what we want is rich and beyond what This World can offer, we must be satisfied with desire itself. Anyone with a craving knows that it’s not quite physical or spiritual, it’s that space that straddles the two — because a craving can never be satisfied, and is not meant to be satisfied. It’s not about satisfying the hunger with some other substance, but the hunger for something larger than what This World can offer, the yearning for something beyond This World, the desire to reach something we don’t have access to. That’s the true spiritual experience of what it means to be human.”
With a limited live audience in St. Louis, Joey decided a few years back to seek his audience online. His first series was on the sefer Reish Millin, written by Rav Kook when he was stuck in exile in World War One. Joey also has a series on the Ten Sefiros, a series on the works of the Leshem (the grandfather of Rav Elyashiv), a nine-part series entitled The Inner World of Addiction, which analyzes the hunger and destructive drives of the soul through Kabbalah and chassidus, and his latest series, Psychology of the Soul. In addition to video files, all his shiurim can be accessed in audio form on YUTorah.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 766)