“Rabbi, what does Jewish law say about getting high?”
That is one of the most frequently asked questions by young people today. Ever since the legalization of marijuana in many states, conscientious youth have wondered whether Torah considers it as kosher as these state laws do, especially when it is used to have a spiritual experience.
While there is much to say on the matter, I want to put forth only one angle of the issue.
Torah believes in humanity in a way that humanity has not yet come to appreciate. While skeptics see the Torah’s restrictions and commandments as an insult to human intelligence and man’s capacity to figure things out on his own, the truth is the exact opposite. Torah sees in us far deeper greatness than we ever imagined. We imagine that we can be perfectly fine creations even without the Creator’s guidance. Leaving the absurdity of the notion aside, there is a greater error being made here: the assumption that G-d created us to remain on the side of creation, when in fact G-d created us with the capacity to join Him on the Creator side, to be full partners with Him in creation.
A few days ago, a woman explained her reluctance to have her baby boy circumcised. “If G-d had wanted the boy circumcised, He would have made him that way.” This sense of awestruck helplessness, as if there is no possibility that we might improve on the way G-d made the world — as if that is not the entire point of our being here in the first place — is terribly misplaced. Surely she would agree that one must attempt to cure those G-d has made ill; one must clothe those G-d has impoverished; one must educate those G-d creates ignorant (everyone).
We often underestimate ourselves in this way. G-d created the entire universe and everything in it. But when it came to us, He did much more than that. He invested not only His creative energy in us but also His very essence. This is why, as a byproduct, we have Divine qualities such as free choice, and many of us have a (confused) belief that just like G-d, we have no Creator (G-d forbid.)
These are symptoms of the fact that G-d invested Himself in us and challenges us to partner with Him, not just worship Him. The mitzvot that He has us perform are G-dly acts that are as much a part of the Creation story as the original statement, “Let there be light!” G-d created an incomplete universe and leaves the completion in our hands. The Torah is the how-to guide, but the G-dly soul He breathed into us from deep within Himself is what makes it possible for us to finish what He started.
This awareness of our own exalted natures should give pause to anyone who believes that in order to reach spiritual heights, we need mind-altering substances like marijuana. The mind and the heart are the seat of the G-dly soul. Someone in possession of a G-dly soul has no need to be in possession of marijuana. Sure, it might make things easier and more effortless, but such shortcuts are an insult to our own capabilities, they cheat us out of the opportunity to reveal — with hard work and mental and emotional exertion — the deepest elements of Divinity present within ourselves, and they cheat G-d out of the fulfillment of His master plan: that we, in all our humanity, be His partners in Creation.
This is one of the reasons for G-d’s disappointment with Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon Hakohen, who entered the Holy Temple under the influence of alcohol. Considering their immense G-d-given potential for holiness, the fact that they felt they needed a foreign substance to get there was catastrophic. They felt it would bring them closer to G-d; it would deaden their physical senses and open up their senses to the Divine. But it is specifically via those physical senses that G-d envisioned us getting close to Him, thereby bringing those senses — and the physical world at large — close to Him with us. For such is the depth of the soul’s power, that it can even reveal the Divinity that G-d embedded in the physical flesh and senses and make them holy.
So is using marijuana to be more spiritual a kosher endeavor? I’ll leave the halachic verdict to the halachic authorities. But one thing is for sure: We can do better than that. We must do better than that. We are not here for experiences. We are here with a job. And that job demands that we dig into the deepest, loftiest parts of our raw, unaltered selves. When we do that, we will discover treasures of the kind we never imagined. PJC
Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive director of The Aleph Institute — North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.