Those suffering from a spiritual “deficiency” often will try to fill that void with drugs, alcohol, or some other addiction, according to rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Twerski.
“When a person is not feeding his spirit properly, it’s not like an iron deficiency or a Vitamin A deficiency,” said Twerski, founder and director emeritus of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh. “They suffer from SDS — spirituality deficiency syndrome.”
Twerski spoke Nov. 2 at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick.
The event was sponsored by the joint chaplaincy program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and the pastoral care departments of St. Peter’s, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Raritan Bay Medical Center of Old Bridge and Perth Amboy, and JFK Medical Center in Edison.
David Laveman, who sponsored the event on behalf of the federation, said he did so “to ignite a flame in people to have a greater sense of hope and love.”
Twerski, the author of more than 60 books, is the descendant of a famed hasidic family. He defined spirituality as the ability to formulate a purpose, goals, and ethics — elements that set people apart from animals and give meaning to their lives.
“Spirituality means being the best human being you can be,” said Twerski. “We have the unique ability to improve ourselves and be better people. I don’t think the cow in the fields thinks, ‘What can I do to be a better cow today?’ But we have the ability to forgive, the ability to search for truth, and the ability to make choices in life in what we do.”
He also made a distinction between religion and spirituality. Atheists can lead very spiritual and meaningful lives filled with charitable endeavors and purpose, he said.
“My work with alcoholics and drug addicts has convinced me they can’t recover without spirituality, but just because patients are turned off to religion doesn’t mean they won’t recover,” said Twerski. “I’ve come to the conclusion that while spirituality is an integral part of religion you can be spiritual without ascribing to any religion at all.”