Monday, December 28, 2009

The Vilna Gaon on Doctors and The Chafetz Chaim on Health

I wanted to share with you (without comment) two fascinating stories, one from the GR"A(The Vilna Gaon), and the other from the Chafetz Chaim, each giving us a glimpse of their uniqueness and greatness. The first story I saw in the Kuntres,(booklet) "Verapo Yirapeh", quoted by the tzadik, Rav Zundel Salanter,ZT"L and confirmed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlit"a.

Once the GR"A went to visit his sick brother, Reb David, and found two prominent physicians present, one from Amsterdam, and one from S. Petersburg. Asked the GR"A,"What do you need doctors for, is not Ha-Shem the Healer of the sick?" Countered the physician from Amsterdam, "Was is without reason that Ha-Shem created doctors and medicinal therapies?" To which the GR"A responded, "And was it without reason that
Ha-Shem created pigs? (Of course, for he created them) for the uncircumcised and the impure. So too, doctors were created for gentiles but not for Jews. For we have
Ha-Shem who heals the sick and creates medicines and medicinal therapies." Now concerning this anecdote, Rav Chaim Kanievsky makes two qualifications: one, the GRA's statement only applied to select individuals on a very high level. Two, the GRA's statement that "just as pigs were created for gentiles, so too the path of medicine was created for gentiles" refers to a time when Jews are on the same level as they were at the giving of the Torah. But today, it is certainly appropriate to utilize medicine as we are no longer on such a high level.

The second story comes from the book, "Chaim Briyim k'halacha", which quotes from one of the Chafetz Chaim's students in the Radin Yeshiva, Rav Pesachya Menkin, ZT"L, originally told over in the magazine, Sha'are Tzion. "The love that the Chafetz Chaim had for those who learned Torah was the love of a father for his children. He wasn't satisfied merely to gather Torah students together in one place, and it wasn't enough for him to worry about their spiritual needs, but he also concerned himself with their material needs with extra love. I remember that when I learned in Radin in the summer of 5663 (1903), our great teacher of blessed memory, came to the ezras nashim (the women's section of the yeshiva), as was his holy custom, each Monday and Thursday to teach us mussar before ma'ariv prayers. Were we ever astonished, when we heard the non-conventional "mussar" emanating from his holy lips: 'Don't overdo learning Torah. A person needs to protect his body so that it doesn't weaken nor get sick. Therefore one needs to rest, to regenerate and to pursue keeping one's mind clear. One should take a walk towards evening, or sit in ones room and rest, and if at all possible, even wash oneself in the river to strengthen one's body. For excessive rigor in learning comes from the advice of the evil inclination who encourages one to overdo learning, weakening one's body over time, and actually preventing one from learning Torah,causing one to lose any reward that he may have accrued. And from my own body I can see, recalling the days of my youth, when I learned beyond what my body was capable of handling, and as a result, I weakened my eyes to the point where my doctors commanded me not to learn any sefer in depth for two years! So isn't it obvious from this, that "over" diligence comes from the advice of the evil inclination? And furthermore, if someone actually becomes sick, Heaven forbid, and by neglecting one's health as a result of over-diligence in learning, his life is shortened, what can he possibly say in his defense before the heavenly court?' And so on continued the Holy Chafetz Chaim for 20 more minutes. Our master zealously guarded the health of the Yeshiva boys, making sure that they wouldn't learn when it was time to sleep, and on more than one occasion, he would arrive in the beis hamedrash late at night and in his inimitable sweet manner, insist that it was a mitzva for the yeshiva boys to stop learning and go to sleep, at times even climbing onto a stool himself, and extinguishing the lights in the beis hamedrash.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vitamin D and the Torah

Here is a riddle: Where is `Vitamin D' Mentioned in the Torah?

In Parashas Vayishlach, we read about the famous battle between our forefather Ya'acov and the angel of Esav. This wrestling match lasted throughout the night with the two opponents locked in a head-to-head match for survival. As dawn approached, Jacob's nemesis took a cheap shot below the belt dislocating Yaacov's hip. As a result, we are told that Yaacov developed a limp, and to commemorate that incident, we Jews do not eat the sciatic nerve.

In this story, which is found in Braishis 32:32, we find after their battle that"... the sun shone for him." Rashi, the classical 10th century commentary, asks what do the words "for him" mean. When the sun shines is it not shining `for everyone'?! Rashi answers by telling us that the sun had a specific benefit "for him," for Yaakov avinu, and that was to heal his hip, that this musculoskeletal injury to Ya'akov avinu's sciatic nerve and hip was healed by the mechanisms that Ha-Shem implanted in the rays of the sun! And as the Prophet Malachi puts it "It is a sun of charity, with healing on its wings." (This is the source for the verse which serves as the inspiration for my friend Avrohom Greenbaum's book, "WIngs of the Sun", BTW).

What, though, are the sources from whence the sun received its incredible healing properties?

There are two answers to this: One is a medrash concerning Yaakov avinu's grandfather, Avraham. The medrash that tells us that our forefather Avraham used to wear a Kameah (either an amulet or a jewel) around his neck. Anyone who was sick would look at this kameah, and be healed. After he died, Ha-Shem took the kameah and hung it around the sun.

But going back to the beginning, our sages tell us that the light we see from the sun today, is only a fraction of the light it originally had, that its full light is hidden, our world being unworthy of it, but that in the future, in the messianic age, it will again be revealed in its full glory. During of the plague of darkness in Egypt, our forefathers were given the opportunity to experience this incredible ethereal light which allowed them to see all that the Egyptians had hidden from them. We are also told that if one peers into the Chanuka candles, one is able to get a glimpse of this original light as well. In any event, can you imagine what incredible healing powers that this original light must have?

Biochemically, Vitamin D is manufactured by the interaction between the skin and sunlight, plays a major role in the absorption of calcium in the digestive tract. In supplement form, it is important to know that there are two forms, one very useful, and the other potentially toxic. Always make sure that you take Vitamin D in the form of D3 (Cholcalciferol) and avoid Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol).

As I have implied, there are two ways to healthily get adequate Vitamin D3:

One is to try taking a 15 minute walk in the early morning, before 10 am. The morning sun is the best.

The other way is to take Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) in supplement form. It is significant to emphasize that the majority of American are severely deficient in Vitamin D. Not only that, but the latest studies have shown that the outdated USDA RDA of 400 I.U.'s is grossly inadequate. Because, I unfortunately, don't get enough sun, I personally take 5000 I.U.'s of D3 in vegicap form. Though I would not necessarily recommend taking more than that (it is a fat soluable vitamin), from research I have done, I would feel comfortable recommending that dose to any adult who spends the majority of his time indoors.

Vitamin D plays a significant role in the absorption of Calcium in the digestive tract, and promotes immune function, having a major impact in the prevention of Cancer, strokes and auto-immune disorders such as MS and Alzheimers disease. Vitamin D3 deficiency can result in Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Depression, Psoriasis, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Kidney Stones, and Osteoporosis. As well as improving immune function, it also improves mood, reduces pain, and is neuroprotector against toxic chemicals. D3 is both a vitamin and a hormone. It acts as a vitamin to bind with calcium to promote proper absorption, for we cannot digest calcium without adequate amounts of Vitamin D3. Also it is important to note that Magnesium promotes proper Calcium utilization as well.

Again, make sure to only take D3, for D2 doesn't offer these benefits!

(Credit for major portions of this article go to my friend and colleague, Dr. Daniel Wasserman of Miami Beach)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The spiritual pathogenesis of Cancer

The Biala Rebbe, Shlit'a, is in Los Angeles now, and I wanted to share with you an insight that I heard from him when he was last here a year ago. One particular evening, as I was serving as translator for the Rebbe, a woman came in requesting a blessing to be healed from breast cancer. The Rebbe answered that tznius (modesty in dress and behavior) is a segula (spiritual remedy) against cancer, particularly breast cancer. She asked him to explain, which he did as follows: "The character trait of chesed (kindness) was what our forefather, Avraham was famous for. In Tehillim, King David lauds chesed as being the foundation upon which the world was built. But even a wonderful trait such as kindness needs boundaries, and without boundaries or when taken to an extreme, can become destructive. We find, for example, Avraham avinu's son Yishmael, took the trait of chesed to an extreme, and became promiscuous. When Ha-Shem created the world, therefore, he balanced chesed with gevurah (restriction) in order to give the light and abundance which Ha-Shem bestowed a vessel that could hold it. So too, our bodies need sunlight and fresh air to flourish, grow and sustain ourselves. This is part of the bounty that Ha-Shem graciously gives us. However, we need to modestly cover ourselves in our to make ourselves vessels to healthily hold that bounty. As I've stated on many occasions, what is true on a physical level always reflects on a spiritual level as well. What then is cancer? It is a proliferation of cells without limit, and without boundaries. It is chesed without gevurah. A healthy body is a beautiful gift from Ha-Shem given to us as a vessel to connect with Him by sanctifying our actions. And being the children of Avraham, we are encouraged to constantly perform acts of chesed. However, without boundaries and taken to an extreme that beautiful fruit becomes spoiled. Therefore one is encouraged to keep oneself healthy, fit and attractive. But, as the Rambam says, this care for our bodies needs to be in order to better serve Ha-Shem and not, hedonistically to flaunt our bodies, causing others to stumble and sin. This, the Tomer Devora states, causes harsh judgements to come upon us, Heaven forbid. How does one sweeten harsh judgements? By behaving modestly, and constantly thinking of pleasing The A-lmighty. This, explained the Biala Rebbe, is the reason why modesty in behavior and dress serve as a segula to arrest the runaway train which is cancer.

May we never know of it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What we do does matter--an illustration!

As a follow up to my previous post "What we do does matter" I wanted to share with you this wonderful story that I received from R. Baruch Lederman of S. Diego:

"As we read in the beginning of the Torah, Ha-Shem created Adam. Adam went and generated an entire world. Noach saved the world. Avraham came and gave purpose to the world. The individual has amazing power as the following story illustrates:

A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in High School by telling them the difference each of them had made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First, she told each of them how they had made a difference to her, and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon, imprinted with gold letters, which read, "Who I Am Makes a Difference."

Afterwards, the teacher decided to do a class project, to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a Community. She gave each of the students three more blue ribbons, and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom, and
report to the class in about a week. One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby Company, and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon, and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like for you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person, to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened."

Later that day, the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down, and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon, and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, "Well, sure." The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket, above his heart. As he gave him the last extra ribbon on, he said, "Would you take this extra ribbon, and pass it on by honoring somebody else. The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school, and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people."

That night, the boss came home to his 14-year-old son, and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office, and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me, and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine! He thinks I am a creative genius!
Then he put a blue ribbon that says, "Who I Am Makes a Difference", on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor.

As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon, and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are hectic and when I come home, I do not pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school, and for your bedroom being a mess.
Somehow, tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to
me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid, and I love you!"

The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he could not stop crying His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom, explaining why I took my life, and I asked you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just did not think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don't think I need it after all."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Anger Management

Last week, in a Jewish online discussion group I happened to see a course offered in anger management. That this is an ever-growing problem in our community I find both sad and ironic. The essence of Judaism is to find the sweetness and G-dliness in the chance occurances and events of our lives.

As such I think that it would be informative to share with you what the Rambam says about anger: (Hilchos Deyos 2:3) "...Anger is such a detrimental character trait, that one should distance oneself from it to an extreme, and train oneself to not get angry even over something that one would be justified in getting upset about. And even in a case where one is in a position of authority (such as in the case of a boss, a parent, a teacher or a community leader), and wants to instill awe or fear upon those under him in order to instruct them how to behave, he should appear as if he really is angry, pretending to be so, and yet inside, remain calm and composed. Our sages tell us that those who get angry are considered like idol worshippers, and one who gets angry, if he is a scholar, he will lose his wisdom, and if he is a prophet, he will lose his prophecy. To angry people, their life is no life! Therefore our sages commanded us to distance ourselves from anger to such a degree that one trains oneself not to be affected by words that would usually provoke one to anger. For the way of the righteous is to be insulted and not insult, to hear themselves being embarrassed and not answer...."

As the verse says in Mishlei (Proverbs): "Know Him in all of your ways...." One who gets angry, in essence, denies that Ha-Shem is part of his life, for if everything comes from Him, and if He is the ultimate good, is it not shortsighted and childish to react to that which befalls us with anger? The fact that anger is so pervasive in our community is no less pathological than is overeating and obesity, as both reflect a lack of connectedness with Ha-Shem, and act as anesthetics for our perception of pain. Perhaps initially, in both cases, we can take therapeutic steps to resolve these imbalances (anger management and diet therapy), but I would suggest that far more important would be to address the pathogeneses, the root of these disharmonies, and remedially teach those who are afflicted with these illnesses how to better involve Him in their lives, searching within and refining our ability to perceive the constant blessings that we are showered with.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What we do does matter

Dear friends,

I have been listening to an amazing CD by R. Shalom Arush. He makes two incredibly important, yet incredibly simple points: 1. Everything we do matters and when we don't judge and work to correct ourselves, then we are judged above. What that means is that only reason bad things ever happen to us is because we have failed to review the events in our lives, and correct our failings, on a daily basis. We need to be aware that whatever we do that is wrong, haphazard, insensitive, careless, or hurtful causes damage, to ourselves, to our companions and to the universe. Rav Soloveitchik, Z"L, BTW, said the same thing. This that Ha-Shem created really is perfect, and damage, which is imperfection, must be resolved. So either we, ourselves can resolve the damage by judging and correcting ourselves, feeling deep sincere remorse for the harm we have done, and resolving not to hurt ourselves and our world in the same manner again. Or Ha-Shem will be forced to heal the "dis-ease," the imbalance that we have perpetrated, by bringing harsh judgement. This is also alluded to in principle #8 of Traditional Jewish Medicine (TJM), that pain is a gift.

A second significant point he makes, is that before any action we perform, no matter how seemingly insignificant, we need to pray that He should help us, that our actions should meet with His approval, and that they should please Him. This is part of the process of involving and knowing Ha-Shem in all of our ways, and by involving Him, He will smooth all the difficulties that get in the way of our growth and progress, which is principle #1.

Have a wonderful, Joyous Shabbos!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The Torah teaches us that saving one's life takes precedence over any religious observance, even Shabbos or Yom Kippur! The story is told of an elderly Jew who was told by his doctor that he needed to eat on Yom Kippur, even though he felt that he was strong enough to fast. He approached his rabbi certain that he would be allowed to fast. Instead, the rabbi told him, "In my synagogue, we don't allow idol worshippers. If you choose to fast, you will never again receive an aliya to the torah and will be excommunicated from the community! I don't care whether the name of the deity you worship is Baal, Molech, Krishna or Yom Kippur, it is still idol worship. The torah explicitly teaches us that one who has been determined by an expert to potentially be in a life or health endangered situation by fasting, is forbidden to do so, and to fast under such a circumstance would be considered as a severe violation of the Torah!"

From this story we see the extent that the Torah values the preservation of human life and health. But there is another important discussion in the Torah which calls this principle into question.

As Jews we are forbidden to engage in activities which utilitze the para-psychic to either predict the future or to influence it. These are the prohibitions of kosem and kishuf. The fact that they work are not the issue, no matter how simple or exotic. Any external method used to predict the future is considered kosem and is forbidden by the Torah. Rav Itche Meir Morgenstern of Jerusalem explains that this is the problem with using a pendulum, or muscle testing to extract information. (By the way, muscle testing to determing allergy or sensitivity is permitted, as it merely tests the body's relative strength in the presence of a food or substance, and doesn't request subjective information from the subconscious.) The fact that they works is irrelevant, as in each case information is acquired through para-rational means. This is the issur of kosem or divination. But the prohibition of kosem does not apply to someone who perceives the future simply through their own heightened awareness. In reality, there are 3 gradations: First there is kosem, who, as I mentioned, uses various methods, which by the fact that they do not originate from a source of kedusha, are rooted in tuma. Second are those masters of the Holy Names of Ha-Shem, who use those the powers of kedusha, not so much to acquire information, but rather, specifically to increase the presence of G-dliness and Kiddush Ha-Shem in the world, and whose entire modus operandi, is through kedusha and tahara. But then there is the third group--and psychics are included in them. This group is connected to the klipa noga, which is neutral, but very vulnerable. Therefore, one who has an innate sensitivity needs to be careful not to fall prey to the forces that might encourage using this gift for inappropriate means, such as being a fortune teller and the like.

Predicting the future through technical means is also closely akin to kishuf, or black magic, and the line between kosem and kishuf can easilybecome blurred. What distinguishes them is that kosem only attempts to predict future events, while kishuf also professes to influence and change them for good or bad.

There is also an interesting controversy between the shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah) and the Zohar Hakodesh in potential life threatening situations (pikuach nefesh). The Shulchan Aruch adjudicates that for Pikuach nefesh one is permitted to engage in Maase Emori and actions that are related to kosem. However, the Zohar forbids it. Rav Morgenstern explains, that because the root of kosem and maase Emori is tuma, one opens himself up to powerful impure influences and if one's life force is sustained by tuma, it is like breathing tainted oxygen, which, Chas V'Shalom, can change a person's whole being and essence. As such Rav Morgenstern does not recommend it, and says that it just is not worth it. Better to recall the pasuk (verse) from David Hamelech in tehillim, "Habote'ach Ba-Shem chesed yesoveveno" (One who totally trusts
Ha-Shem, kindness encompasses him), and as the Chazal tell us, "sakanta adifa m'isura" (danger is more severe than prohibition.). The key is the root of the approach taken. Therefore, included in non-recommended practices are those that have been supposedly sanitized, such as using Reiki, chanting or meditation, inserting or substituting pesukim or Jewish words or ideas. Because their shoresh (root) is from Avoda Zara and Tuma, that insidious abhorrent influence continues to pollute. A skunk is still a skunk, even if it is painted to look like a cat.

Philosophically, we Jews need to always consider whether what we do is in harmony with the Torah. Every action we take needs to be carefully thought out. A jew is never neutral. Every action can only be Kiddush Ha-Shem or Chillul Ha-Shem. As the pasuk says, "Va'atem had'vekim Ba-Shem E-lokechem chayim koolchem hayom" (You who attach yourselves to Ha-Shem your G-d, are alive today). Being connected to Ha-Shem needs to be viewed as spiritual oxygen, and if one stops breathing, he endangers his life. When our actions come from a non-Torah source, and are involved in the para-psychic, we tread on VERY thin ice, which, to me, is just not worth the risk.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Dear Friends,

Forgive me for my lack of correspondance as I have B"H been very busy with my practice and my doctoral program. I wanted to share with you a quick thought that came to me today as we approach the New Year, may it come upon us for good.

The Hebrew year, 5770, corresponds to the hebrew letters, Tav Shin Ayin, in gematria. I have not heard anyone point this out, but those 3 letters spell the word "Tesha" or the number "9".

Our sages of recent years and current leaders as well, have all stated that the suffering our people has endured in the recent past is clearly part of the process of "Ikvisa d'meshicha", the birthpangs of the Messiah, whose arrival, we believe, is imminent.

It came to me that just as a woman carries a baby for 9 month, before giving birth, perhaps the year TESHA is yet one further remez (hint) that the "birth", our redemption, is indeed just around the corner, as we begin "9"

May all of our thoughts, words and actions find favor in the eyes of The Holy One, Blessed be He!

A happy and sweet new year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Deal with Mosquitoes during the Dog Days of Summer

Concerning issues related to health, I always advise my patients to follow the wise advise of King David, who says in Psalms: "Sur me'ra va'ase tov," first get rid of that which promotes or exacerbates a particular problem, and then take proactive steps to resolve it.
As we go into the season when the sun feels a little bit hotter, and the air is a little more humid it is important to understand some basic mosquito biochemistry.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the following:

1. Dark clothing. Therefore try to always wear light colored clothing.
2. Co2 (Carbon Dioxide). When we are hot, sweaty or have been exercising, we give off more Co2. Fires and candles are also sources of Co2, so it's always a good idea to burn a candle where you aren't going to be.
(I should add at this point, that if you tend to have body odor even if you shower regularly and have good hygiene, a medical condition called bromhidrosis, consider taking zinc supplements on a regular basis. I have never had a patient with this problem who didn't respond positively to zinc supplementation!)
3. Perfumes, colognes and other floral fragrances like shampoos.
4. Any Moisture including standing water, and perspiration.
5. Know that the peak mosquito biting hours are from dusk to dawn, so avoid going out during those hours, and cover yourself up as much as possible.
Now as far as insect repellents, if you ask your doctor, he will probably recommend that you use DEET. DEET is a VERY effective insect repellent... HOWEVER, DEET, it is so poisonous that even theEnvironmental Protection Agency says you should wash it off your skin when you return indoors, avoid breathing it in and not spray it directly on your face. I would therefore not recommend using it.
There are, many natural remedies that will repel mosquitoes. Here are some effective ones that I am familiar with:
1. Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Take a B complex containing at least 10 mg of Thiamine 2x daily. It will change your body chemistry so that mosquitoes will be repelled. (Never take individual B vitamins as taking one can cause deficiency in others that you are not taking).
2. Citronella repels them.
3. Tea tree oil. Dab it on areas that are vulnerable.
4. Garlic-eating it, too, will change your body chemistry and will repel them.
5. Cinnamon oil, if you can find it, is an effect repellent.
6. Eucalyptus oil. same as previous.

As we approach the month of Elul and start to prepare ourselves for the Days of Awe, may you merit to draw yourself closer to Ha-Shem...and become completely unattractive to mosquitoes!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gentle winds of change

One of the 10 principles of TJM is connectivity--developing a sensitivity to see things as they really are, and not be fooled by the illusion of how they appear. The following parable illustrates this well:

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agree that they had no other recourse but to pray to God. However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.The first thing the first man prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man's parcel of land remained barren. After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, another ship was wrecked, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing. Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing. Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that his wife and he could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered. As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from Heaven booming, "Why are you leaving your companion on the island?" "My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered, and so he does not deserve anything."
"You are mistaken!" the voice rebuked him. "He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings." "Tell me," the first man asked the voice, "what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?" "He prayed that all your prayers be answered."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swine flu is mentioned in the gemara

Our sages tell us that everything is hinted at in the Torah. An amazing example of this is a passage in the gemara (the oral Torah) which says as follows (Ta'anis 21b):

"The sages said to Rav Yehuda, 'There is a deadly plague among pigs.' He decreed a fast day (to arouse Divine mercy and cancel this heavenly decree). Do we say that Rav Yehuda holds that a plague that is sent to one species could be visited upon other species as well (and the reason he declared a fast day was that, even though Jews do not raise pigs and therefore would not suffer financial loss by their illness, still they may infect other kosher species and cause great financial loss?) No, answers the gemara, pigs are different, for their intestines are similar to human intestines" (and therefore, there is a great danger of human beings actually contracting this plague from pigs!). Rashi explain that pigs don't have extra stomach, unlike cows, and Tosfos further illucidates that people are therefore, more susceptable to plagues that affect pigs than those that affect other animals, similar to human plagues.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Utilizing Western Medicine in a different way

Within the past few years, more and more Western physician have begun to explore alternative therapies. This has given rise to a new field: Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The idea has been to use so called "alternative" therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathic medicine as adjuncts to conventional Western treatments.

The question of whether the practitioner of Chinese medicine, should enthusiastically embrace this approach will be the focus of this discussion. A clear distinction needs to be made between combining different modalities and integrating Western biomedical substances into the Chinese medical model. (By the way, this question is an area of controversy in China as well, and concerns acupuncture as well as herbal medicine there). I would contend that taking the approach of treating symptoms rather than people is patently flawed. This applies to any medicine (even natural or herbal medicine) that treats conditions and symptoms, rather than people, using the "whatever works" approach to attack the state of imbalance, whether due to repletion or vacuity.

The decision as to which model to use for diagnosis and treatment of the patient revolves around the following question: Does the physician treat with the goal of ameliorating his patient's symptoms, or does he treat with the goal of putting the patient in balance. With the goal of stopping pain or discomfort, the physician needs to consider the fastest, least complicated, least expensive and most efficacious therapy, and the approach with the fewest side effects. Should his goal be to promote balance, then the physician needs to choose a treatment protocol which best addresses the patient's patterns and differential diagnosis, constitution and history, including imbalances in the patient's biochemistry, biomechanics, and bioelectricity, as well as non-physical considerations. The former approach is pure Western Bio-medicine, and the latter is the approach of the Chinese and Jewish medical traditions.

I contend that in years to come, the Western Biomedicine model will go the way of the dinosaurs, an extinct remnant of an ignorant past, much as medieval alchemy and mercury therapies such as those used in Europe by Paracelsus and his peers are now considered. (Of course, there were the exceptional remarkable alchemists who did hone this dangerous skill and used it properly, but they were few and far between).

The time will come, I believe, (and I hope soon!) that there will be an "aha!" moment--when Western biomedical practitioners will wake up to the fact that their approach, of primarily treating symptoms, and not necessarily concerning themselves with the pathogenesis of the illness, nor of the interconnectedness of the body, is flawed. They will realize that medical acupuncture and folk healing which only treat symptoms (in the case of the former, local points or simple empirical patterns such as ST38 for shoulder pain or GB41 for headaches and in the case of the latter herbs or supplements hawked by health food store nutritionists) are no different. Medical acupuncture as practiced by MDs is no more than an introductory cookbook approach to a complex and detailed system of medicine, the network of acupuncture channels and collaterals. The learning is primarily done by video viewing, and involves a total of up to 200 hours of didactic studies and 100 hours of clinical observation and treatment. I have read case studies brought in medical acupuncture journals-by MDs and for MDs, which were embarrassingly inprecise in their methodologies and procedures! Rather, medicine needs to be appreciated as an art, and using a cookbook makes it neither art, nor medicine.

As I said, I believe that a seminal moment will come , just like the fall of communism, that supposedly "perfect" system of government, when practitioners will wake up to the fact that their patients no longer trust their methods of treatment. This patient rebellion will force MDs and even NDs and chiropractors to re-evaluate how they treat patients, and precipitate a paradigm shift in their diagnosis and treatment to truly practice complementary and integrative medicine.

A physician's approach should be to treat the "whole person," for if not, the whole person will not get well. Either there will be some other new condition, or the condition originally treated will return. The Mishna in Avos tells us, "He've dan es kol ha'adam l'cof z'chus." This is usually translated as, "Give every person the benefit of the doubt." But a more precise translation say the Chidushei Harim and the Sfas Emes is that "One should judge the whole person as meritorious." In other words, one should look at all of the factors making up a person before forming an opinion. I would suggest that physicians need take the same approach as well: to treat the whole person and not just suppress local symptoms causing side effects which resulted from the original flawed therapy. Furthermore, using tools wrongly, should not be considered much different than using a sophisticated electronic devise as a hammer.

On the other hand, who says that Western pharmaceuticals can't be used differently, as part of sophisticated, and balanced formulas to treat the whole person? Chinese medicine recognizes that all substances have specific properties such as temperature, flavor and channels. For example, antibiotics are energetically cold and would be indicated for someone who has fever, but not necessarily for someone who has flu-like symptom, and is achy but not hot. Again, the key would be treating the whole person and according to the patient's pattern. If Western meds could be used within this paradigm, I think that they could become more effective and eliminate their side effects. What must never be done, though, is to use medicine to suppress symptoms. Pain relief, for example, is not pain suppression. Dosage also, as with Chinese medicine can make a tremendous difference in terms of a harmonizing treatment. Micro-doses or even homeopathic doses of Chemo, NSAIDS or steroids, might potentially have wonderful benefits when integrated into herbal formulas, but not without adequate research studies and development. I would suggest that every medicinal substance should be evaluated in terms of its actions, interactions, indication and contraindications, specifically in conjunction with other planetary herbs and substances, just as Chinese medicine rarely uses single substances as formulas. Though some traditionalists may cringe, just as over the centuries, new substances from thousands of miles away were introduced to the Chinese pharmacopoeia, why shouldn't Western medicinals (and therapies) be utilitzed the same way?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The safety of vaccinations-and an alternative

As a practitioner of Jewish medicine, I must always consider whether my actions will please
The Holy One Blessed Be He, and whether what I do as a physician or recommend to my patients could cause harm. It is in this light that I consider the important question that every new parent is challenged with: "Should I vaccinate my child?" Though, on the one hand I think that it is a gross generalization to claim that all autoimmune disease and diseases of civilization result from or have a relationship to vaccinations, nonetheless, it is folly to take their potential danger lightly.

Though grounded on the logical basis, of introducing to the immune system an attenuated pathogen so as to stimulate an immune memory, and prepare it for the next exposure, both the medium in which the vaccine is delivered and the substances contained within mainstream vaccinations are problematic. Richard Moskowitz, MD has written extensively on the problem of shots. He contends that if the mode of transmission of the vaccine mimicked nature, it wouldn't be so harmful. But how many communicable diseases enter the bloodstream directly, by injection, going past the body's layers of defense? None! They are transmitted through the upper orifices (nose, mouth, and perhaps the ears), the lower orifices (anus, urinary, and reproductive tracts), or through broken skin. Does this powerful introduction of pathogens directly to the deepest levels of the immune system traumatize it, and later cause immune dysfunction? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't discount the possibility. Furthermore, consider for a moment what is contained within vaccines: mercury, formaldehyde, putrified proteins, and, believe it or not, anti-freeze!

How can the introduction of such toxic poisons in such an aggressive manner be beneficial to a small child whose immune system is so delicate? In my opinion, it is completely innapropriate! Once a child hits 5 years old, and assuming he is healthy, then the decision to vaccinate becomes an easier one. But the witchhunt that Western biomedical physicians, along with their stooges in government and the school systems have carried out against parents choosing not to vaccinate, is criminal, as far as I am concerned. The studies showing that vaccines are not related to auto-immune function are flawed and no more valid than saying that a particular herb or acupuncture point works or doesn't work to treat headaches or gout. For a study to be valid, ALL of the subjects need to have the same differential diagnosis, similar constitutions and preferably also be within the same age group. It isn't enough to have the studies just placebo controlled and double blind. Personally, neither my baby who is now 25 years old, nor my grandson who will be 1 next month have been vaccinated. Our choice, again, was based upon a cost to benefit ratio. And my intuition is, that even if valid double blind, placebo controlled test have vindicated the safety of vaccines, just the thought of injecting putrid proteins preserved with mercury into my child's vascular system would make me cringe. It is informative, that Louis Pasteur, at the end of his life acknowledged that Bechamp was right: that it is the terrain and not the microbe which causes illness. That's my conclusion. I would encourage parents to make their decision whether and when to vaccinate, in an unrushed, unemotional, unbiased and informed manner. Don't be intimidated by hyperbole or scare tactics. Rely on intuition and listen to your inner voice of wisdom. And certainly wait, at the very least until your child is 5 years old.

But there is another aspect to principle #2 of TJM, "Sur me'ra va'ase tov" (turn away from bad and do good). As important as it is to do no harm, it is equally important to promote balance and build up your child's internal milieu with proper nutrition, exercise, air, sleep and joy. The goal of all medicine should be, to be obsolete. If a patients is in balance, then they won't need medicine, herbs or acupuncture, will they?

Oh, and by the way, there is another alternative which is certainly non-toxic, and from what I have read, quite effective: homeopathic immunizations. You can read about that option in the excellent book, "Vaccine Free Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Contagious Disease with Homeopathy: A Manual for Practitioners and Consumers," by Kate Birch, ISBN #ISBN 1425118690.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Healing must take place on multiple levels

With each patient the physician treats, he must address the total person, in order for healing to be sustained and permanent. This is my pet peeve with Western Biomedicine: Instead of addressing the origin of a patient's illness or the nature of his imbalance, the Western physician measures success by his ability is to ameliorate the patient's symptoms in the least obtrusive and painful manner. (That being said, let me make it clear that pain, which is a wake up call, does need to be addressed, but by reversing it, not covering it up!) Unfortunately, many alternative practitioners also take this approach, and even though they may be successful in using natural modalities such as acupuncture or Chinese medicines to treat conditions, in my opinion, their mindset is wrong, and other important issues and questions need to be considered:

First, is the patient doing anything harmful to exacerbate his condition? That could include allergies and food sensitivities (which cannot be underestimated and certainly manifest a degree of an inflammatory response), exposure to heavy metals or chemicals, poor diet, poor lifestyle habits, and addictions (including food, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, pornography, adrenaline, etc), and parasites.

Second, has the patient experienced any significant life-changing traumas, either physical or emotional, anytime in their lives, even as far back as childhood or before! Never underestimate their impact! Living in an unnaturally stressful world forces every person I have ever met to adapt just to survive. It is our ability to release and completely let go of those traumas which are unbearable, that makes the difference between surviving and flourishing. Also, just because someone is efficient, can multi-task, thinks quickly, is charismatic and makes a powerful impression, doesn't mean that they are succeeding and flourishing. There are lots of folks out there who are wonderful performers, but who are miserable inside, and candidates for autoimmune dis-ease, which, I strongly content, more often than not results from sympathetic hypertonicity (repeatedly not allowing oneself to rest after being in fight-or-flight) .

Third, consider biochemical deficiencies. Let's take a couple of examples: As far as hypertension is concerned, two nutrients specifically come to mind as potential causes: Zinc, magnesium and essential fatty acids. I had two patients that I want to tell you about: The first one was an athlete, who, after receiving acupuncture, CranioSacral therapy and herbal formulae, was feeling great. He was highly motivated and was doing everything right, but one problem remained unresolved: His blood pressure remained dangerously high, and he refused to use western drugs. I found the key when I asked him about his diet, which, he revealed, was completely lacking in essential fatty acids. I told him to eat minimally 1 avocado a day, have at least one portion of fish daily, and take a tablespoon of hemp seed oil twice daily. Within one week, his BP dropped from 160/110 to 125/80, and it has pretty much stayed there ever since. Then there was a very different patient, who though she did not have hypertension, was very stressed out--and was in constant state of fight or flight. It so happens that the minerals, Zinc and Magnesium, are often depleted by stress. Zinc deficiency can cause the arteries to become hardened, brittle and inflamed instead of soft and flexible. This loss of flexibility will raise BP, especially systolic pressure. Interestingly, it is very easy to test for Zinc deficiency: Zinc Sulfate in distilled water is swished around in the mouth for 30 seconds and then swallowed. If the patient is deficient, the liquid will taste like fresh spring water. But if the patient has sufficient zinc, it will have a metallic, unpleasant rusty flavor. Magnesium is more subtle: If a patient has a magnesium deficiency, they will tend to be constipated or have hard bowel movements, and they might have bone spurs, osteoporosis, muscle spasms or tight muscles, elevated cholesterol or atherosclerosis, and poor sleep. I started to patient immediately on Zinc Picolinate, 20mg twice daily, and Magnesium Citrate 1 gram three times daily. Using the liquid Zinc test, it actually took 2 months before she starting to taste ever so slightly the zinc. In addition, her mood has dramatically improved as has her sleep. Meanwhile, she is noticing that her sense of smell has dramatically heightened (from the Zinc), and though blood pressure is not an issue for her, it certainly should be considered when herbs and acupuncture don't make an impact.

The bottom line is always consider the whole person: body, emotions, mind and spirit, using integrative therapies, which address the uniqueness of each individual: biochemically, biomechanically and bioenergetically. Concerning genetics, DNA can be changed, and pre-disposition is not necessarily pre-destination. The greatness of the human species is our ability to change and adapt, and just because parents and grandparents had a condition, doesn't mean that we are doomed to the same fate. Our free choice is part of our tzelem E-lokim (our image of G-d), and we are only limited by our ignorance, imagination and fear. When we educate ourselves, let go of fear, and work closely with a physician who thinks differently serving the patient instead of his ego, the paradigm shifts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Bnei Ketura and black magic as the basis for Ayurveda--but not Chinese Medicine

Recently, a friend speculated as to whether Chinese Medicine might have been one of the "gifts" given by Avrohom Avinu (our forefather, Abraham) to the Bnei Ketura (children of Ketura).

The source of this conjecture is Braishis (Genesis) 25:6 where it says, "And to the children of Avraham's pilagshim (concubines-which the midrash recognizes as Hagar or Ketura) Avraham gave presents to, and sent them away from the vicinity of Yitzchok, his son, while he was still alive, eastward, to the country of the east."

Note the following:
1. "presents...while he was still alive" tells us that Yitzchok was his sole heir.
2. "Presents" coming from Avrohom must indeed have connoted something special and unusual. Just what were the presents? The Gemara is Sanhedrin 91a (on the bottom) teaches us that Avraham gave everything he had to Yitzchok, physically and spiritually. What then, were the gifts that he give the Bnei Ketura? Answers Rav Yirmiya bar Aba, "He gave over to them "The use of Ha-Shem's name with impurity." This Rashi tells us means that he taught them black magic and demonology (Which he had received from Paroah as a gift, along with his daughter Hagar when he went to Egypt!). The Maharsha asks there how could it be that Avrohom taught Ketura's children Kishuf (black magic) which is forbidden by the Torah, since we know that Avrohom kept the whole torah even before it was given? Answers the Maharsha, not to use it, but to have the knowledge. But wouldn't there also a problem with having the knowledge, of putting a stumbling block in front of the blind (by tempting them to use it and therefore sin?) Answers the Ayin Yaakov, the prohibition of Kishuf is only in the holy land, and since Avrohom sent them eastward (to India?) there was no prohibition. Also, interestingly, the Etz Yosef adds, "Lfi sh'makor hakishufim umaase shedim beretz kedem hu" (...since the source of black magic and the works of demons is in the land of the east).
3. "sent them away from the vicinity of Yitzchok his son" tell us that Avrohom was not interested in their influence on Yitzchok.
4. not just "eastward" but even further "to the country of the east".- Eastward means the eastern boundary of the the land that Avrohom will inherit, which we learn in the previous week's Parasha is the Euphrates river. East of the Euphrates would bring us to Persia (Iran), and the land to the east of Persia is indeed India. So the logical conclusion could be that the "gifts" Avrohom Avinu gave the the Bnei Ketura, might have included the ancient disciplines of Ayurvedic medicine and Yoga, which do indeed have their roots in Avoda Zara (idol worship) and come from India, a land steeped in Tuma (impurity). As such their permissibility halachically (according to Jewish law) would certainly be questionable.
5 There are 6 sons of Ketura mentioned in the Torah: Zimran, Yakshan, M'dan, MIDYAN, Yishbok and Shuach. Interestingly, who does the Torah call the foremost master of black magic?--Bilaam ben B'or FROM MIDYAN! So apparently, this was something that was inherited actually from Avrohom Avinu.

The origins of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, on the other hand, are based on natural law, as it states in what all agree is the source text of Chinese medical philosophy, the Huang Di Nei Jing -The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic. While many great physicians over the centuries were Taoist or Buddhist, a vast majority were Confucianist natural philosophers. You won't find chanting, praying to deities or other such practices anywhere in mainstream Chinese medicine. You could go through thousands of volumes of material and not find any avodah zarah.

I want to share one final interesting passage that comes from the holy Zohar: (Vayera:80) on this topic:

"Rabbi Abba said: One day, I came to a town where the children of the east live, and they recited some of their ancient wisdom ...and brought me one of their books.
In it was written: "Just as a person's will directs him in this world, so too there is a spirit above that is drawn according to that which his will attaches itself. If he desires and focuses his intention to higher holy things, then he draws them down for himself from above. If he desires to attach himself to the forces of evil, and he focuses his intention upon them, then he draws that down to himself from above." It went on to say that in order to draw something down from above depends upon one's speech, deeds and the will to attach to it. I found in that book, all the actions and workings of the stars and constellations, what is needed to serve them, and how one goes about directing his will in order to draw their influence down. Therefore, if someone wishes to attach himself to above with "ruach hakodesh" (divine spirit), he needs to direct his deeds, speech and deepest intention to that goal, and he will be able to draw this down and be attached to it. It also said that that which a person is drawn to in this world, becomes attaches to him when he leaves this world, and remains attached to him in the world of truth, whether of holiness or impurity. If holiness pulls him to the side of "Kedusha", and he is attached to it up above, then he becomes one of those who serve HaKodesh Baruch Hu, (The Holy One, Blessed be He), among all the angels. Concerning that person, the verse says, "And I have placed you to go among those who stand." So, too, with impurity. One who in this world is drawn to the side of Tuma, causes himself to be attached to those forces who are called human demons. When his time comes to depart this world, they take him and bring him to Gehinom (hell). It is there that those who polluted themselves and their spirits are judged. Afterwards malevolent forces attach themselves to him, and he becomes a demon like all the others who damaged the world."

I said to them, my children, that which is in this book is close to words of Torah, but nonetheless, you should distance yourself from it, and other books like it, in order to not be drawn to the deviated paths which lead one away from worshipping Ha-Shem. These books all cause people to err, because the children of the east possessed a wisdom which they inherited from Avraham, who had imparted it to the children of his concubine, as it says, "And to the children of Avraham's concubine, he gave presents," and in time this wisdom became adulterated to many deviant paths."

The point we need to learn from this Zohar is that in many ancient traditions, there may be ideas which are similar to the Torah. But learning different wisdoms from them can be dangerous potentially leading one astray from paths of holiness. In any event, that which I practice does not come from these traditions, nor do I have any desires or plans to learn them or integrate them into what I do. Avrohom wanted no part of those traditions for his son Yitzchok, and neither should we, his descendants.

A happy and Kosher Pesach!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Using Spiritual Adrenaline to prepare for Pesach

These last few days before Pesach can be very difficult. Life is stressful enough, but with the additional tasks and deadlines, we are truly in danger of adrenal burnout. How can we possibly hope to enter Pesach feeling like royalty, let alone free people?

Yet there is a way to re-program the ways we think and act, if we do step back and think differently, Pesach can indeed become Zman Cherusenu (The season of our freedom). First, let us consider how we have responded to technology: with all of our time-saving conveniences, instead of having more free time, we have taken upon ourselves to do even more! This faster and faster pace, never stopping to catch one's breath, sets one up for Yin and QI vacuity (burnout and exhaustion) and even possibly a nervous breakdown. Now even though, not everyone who burns the candle at both ends, does suffer a nervous breakdown, still, everyone does pays a price. It is extremely unhealthy to go beyond the point of exhaustion, and invariably, it takes much more to rebuild Yin (material, substance), than to prevent it from being squandered in the first place. Ha-Shem has given us a wonderful mechanism for dealing with stress and rebuilding after stress: our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS consists of two branches, the sympathetic branch, also called the "fight-flight-or-freeze" (I add the term "freeze" to the usual "fight-or-flight" because this, too, can often be the response to sympathetic stress.) and the parasympathetic branch, the "rest-relax-and digest" control center. When we face an emergency, biochemically our sympathetic nervous system sets off a series of complicated biochemical reactions, that include the release of the stimulating catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal medulla, as well as inhibitory cortisol from the adrenal cortex, and fueling this sudden needed burst with glucose from stored glycogen in the liver. After the crisis is over, our parasympathetic branch kicks in, healing, replenishing, and rebuilding. But, alas, everything has a limit: the parasympathetic process of rebuilding is slow and gradual, and our bodies do not take kindly to being overdrawn. So unless we do recognize the need to balance our ANS, we set ourselves up for deterioration, premature aging and shortchanging ourselves on life.

But there's more to it than that: We Jews believe that we are much more than just a body with a biochemical factory keeping us running. The more we integrate Torah into our beings, the more we are potentially capable of accomplishing, certainly spiritually, but even PHYSICALLY! Our sages tell us that the neshama (soul) is called a vessel, but unlike a physical vessel that when full, can no longer hold any more, with the neshama, the bigger it gets, and the more it is able to hold. Those who have had the pleasure of being in the presence of tzaddikim (holy people, the completely righteous) notice, that they have an interminable amount of energy. They're always on. They're always happy and energetic. They get by on 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. They eat next to nothing except on Shabbos when they usually eat extra0rdinarily large amounts. They don't use chemical substances to enhance their functioning. So how do they do it? with "SPIRITUAL ADRENALINE".

At times, when one is tired, finding himself stuck, unable to concentrate, dragging his tail, feeling sorry for himself, day dreaming, and even depressed, and yet he needs to perform an important spiritual task, such as davening (prayer) or learning, what is he supposed to do? Physically, it is then that we need that extra sympathetic boost in order to function successfully. We have choices we can make. We know that we can get it from our internal catecholamines or from external stimulants such as caffeine. But we need to be accountable. The fact is that we will pay a price by taking that approach! A second approach is to look to the logic of Traditional Jewish Medicine and follow the second principle: "Sur Me'ra Va'Ase Tov:" Stop and rest, and THEN utilize building and tonifying herbs adjunct revitilizing therapies such as acupuncture, to put ourselves in balance, and restore what we have depleted.

Yet, there is one other way, and that is through the "Spiritual Adrenaline" that I mentioned above. My son pointed out to me once, that even if I am exhausted on Shabbos, if a guest shows up, I suddenly wake up, and am able to give over Torah. It would seem to me that Ha-Shem has placed within us, a special reserve system that we tap into to nourish our Neshamos at times of need, as well. But unlike our adrenals which connect to our liver, this "secretion" connects to the "En Sof", (Eternal One). I would contend that the name of this "hormone" is DEVEIKUS(literally adhesiveness or attachment), for when we attach our souls to the Almighty in our service of him, be it in davening, learning, or doing acts of kindness, WITH ENTHUSIASM AND LOVE, forgeting about ourselves, our bodies receive a spiritual charge of adrenaline which never burns out. As the verse tells us, "Va'atem had'veikim Ba-Shem El-okeichem chayim kulchem hayom" (And you who attach yourself to Ha-Shem your G-d, are all alive today).

Wishing you all a Kosher, Happy and Enthusiastic Pesach!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cravings, Yin vacuity and Gu Pathogens

Dear Friends,

We live in a completely unnatural world, in which the boundaries between day and night are blurred, foods lack nutrition obesity is rampant, people live indoors, and stresses are so overwhelming, that few manage to function and survive without multitasking, compartmentalizing and anesthesizing.

It is no wonder, that for so many, food is no longer the Divine gift it was intended to be, enabling us to be healthy, strong and able to serve Ha-Shem, but rather it has become a drug, an anesthetic which for some, is even viewed as an enemy. I recall that when I was in medical school, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to treat former addicts with acupuncture at a Jewish sober living center in Culver City. I was astonished by the constant snacking and obesity, as well as the chain smoking of the residents. This facility required ex-addicts to be verifiably clean for a certain period of time, and the residents were subject to constant urine tests. But they missed the point and were tragically allowed to replace one drug for another. The externship was under the auspices of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association(NADA) which taught that all addicts are vacuous or deficient of Yin. The addict is starving for Yin, for material substance, and will desperately seek any substance that will give him a quick fix. The Bostoner Rebbe, Shlit'a, of Har Nof Jerusalem, pointed out many years ago, a fascinating spiritual parallel: We find the same emptiness with Jewish souls raised with cold, boring and unchallenging Jewish educations and who are therefore starving for spirituality. It is because their Jewish experience has been superficial and unsatisfying, that their souls, are drawn to the many exotic sects and religions that offers them warmth, excitement and perhaps a good meal. This too, is a type of Yin vacuity, a craving to fill in the emptiness in one's existance, either in body or soul. Clinically, the classic telltale sign of Yin vacuity is a red tongue without a coat, either the whole tongue, or at the very least, the tip of the tongue.

But there is also, a second component of craving: what classic Chinese medicine calls "Gu" pathogens. In Chinese medical theory, the organ which is responsible for extracting and making available the nutrition from the foods we eat and distributing it throughout the body is the Spleen (which some modern scholars also identify as relating to the pancreas). The spleen thrives on foods which are warm and dry, and becomes dysfunctional when foods that are cold and damp are eaten, impeding its performance and vitality. This lack of vitality causes an accumulation of dampness, which then transforms into phlegm. The Chinese consider phlegm and fat to be synonymous. When the spleen does not work properly, the resulting fatigue and accumulation sets the stage for "Gu syndrome". Professor Heiner Fruehauf' discusses this in his article, "Driving out Demons and Snakes, Gu Syndrome, a Forgotten Clinical Approach to Chronic Parasitism" http://www.classica lchinesemedicine .org/downloads/ cs/gufinal. pdf. In it he writes that "Gu worms", though they indeed are to be taken literally, also, from a modern perspective, need to be viewed figuratively as well. The fungus, Candida Albicans, which flourishes in the presence of dampness would be clearly a Gu pathogen. Its symptoms fit perfectly with the description of Gu syndrome, both emotionally and physically. For example, the mental-emotional symptoms associated with Gu pathogens such as depression, irritability, anger and restlessness are commonly seen in cases of Candida Albicans as well as what Fruehauf describes as"a sensation of being posessed." Furthermore, as parasites, Gu pathogens drain the body of yet more Yin, further depleting the already vacuous patient.

It is these two insidious patterns, therefore, Yin vacuity, and Gu pathogens that lock the patient into a prison of craving. Helpless, for as the gemara in Brachos tells us, "One who is in jail is unable to get himself out."

But is there a way out, is there a way to heal? Yes! And by carefully looking to the Torah, we find the roadmap which provides our escape and deliverance.

There are three important steps:

First, one needs to do Teshuva: to return with complete sincerity to Ha-Shem, our loving Father. The Rambam says in Hilchos teshuva (the laws of repentance), that the first step toward reconciliation with Ha-Shem is Vidui(confession). One needs to articulate and acknowledge that one has a problem. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that talking OUT LOUD to Ha-Shem, verbally expressing what we have done, to Him, has incredible therapeutic value, and reconnects us with Ha-Shem. Often, one who has cravings and addictions is on automatic pilot when he eats. He is disconnected from Ha-Shem, numb, and out of control. The first principle of Traditional Jewish medicine is "Bchol derachecha d'eyhu" (Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths). By acknowledging how we have been eating and by talking to Him, we reconnect. Our sages tell us "Haba le'taher, mesayim oso" (Someone who wants to purify themselves will be helped from above). This, then, is the first step: reconnecting.

Second we need to think differently and eat consciously, slowly and with purpose. It is not enough to say a blessing on a food, but one needs to, with deliberation, THINK that they are providing spiritual nutrition to their souls and physical nutrition to their bodies as they eat. The Rambam is Hilchos Deyos(the laws of character traits) and elsewhere, tells us of the importance of conscious eating. He tells us that one should not eat unless one is hungry nor drink unless one is thirsty. One should never delaying elimination at all. One should stop eating when one is 3/4 full. One should drink very little with meals. One should never exercise right after meals but rather specifically one should exercise before meals. One should sit quietly when eating. One should eat light foods that are easy to digest, always eating lighter foods first. One should avoid rich and sticky foods, particularly foods prepared from white flour, and additionally one should generally avoid eating fruit, especially sour fruit, and in particular, peaches and apricots. By following the Rambam's diet, utilizing the gifts of Chinese medicinal formulas to dry dampness, transform phlegm and strengthen the spleen, and acupuncture to invigorate the body's vital connectivity, Gu pathogens can be tamed and defanged.

Third, we need to replenish Yin, and accomplishing this must involve the second principle of TJM: "Sur me'ra va'ase tov" (turn away from bad and do good). We need to stop doing things to harm ourselves and burn ourselves out. Yin vacuity is an emptiness that one brings upon oneselves by not getting enough sleep, letting negative emotions such as anger, fear, depression, over-thinking, lightheadedness, jealousy or arrogance control us, by using substances which harm our bodies, and overdoing healthy, normal activities. Women are much more vulnerable than men because they menstuate, lose blood during childbirth and psychologically, tend to multitask and go beyond what their bodies are able to handle. It is these emotions and activities that deplete our bodies and souls of Yin, and it is imperative that we make ourselves aware of what we are doing, and how we are living.

If we accept upon ourselves this three-pronged approach of connecting with Ha-Shem, thinking and eating differently, and refraining from activities that deplete Yin, we can overcome this seemingly inconquerable foe: Food cravings, and transform eating to the high spiritual action it is intended to be.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

California Dreaming

The world we live is dominated by the civilization of Edom or Rome, whose primary character trait is superficiality. Edom (Red) was the nickname of our forefather Ya'akov's (Jacob) brother Aisav (Esau), who fiercely competed with, and whose descendants continue to compete with us to the present day. Edom is also an extension of Yavan, (ancient Greece), which worshipped beauty and the greatness of the human body and soul . Yet unlike Yavan, Edom's motto is the Christian verse, "Live for today for tomorrow we die."

The spirit of Edom bombards our senses, insidiously and overtly, our objectivity and sensitivities are compromised and our children are dulled and poisoned. The Divrei Bina of Biala writes that this lack of depth and hedonism, is the quintessence of Milchemes Gog and Magog--(the forces engaging in the war which precedes the coming of Mashiach) and challenges the very sovereignty of Ha-Shem. It is interesting that the Toldos Odom of Ostrove writes that the reason the Jews went to sleep on the night before the giving of the torah, was because they were convinced that a prophetic sleep would be the medium through which the Torah would be given, not understanding the subtle difference between prophesy and dreaming. The great Kabbalist, Rav Chaim Vital explains in Shaare Kedusha, that prophecy happens while in the body and dreaming occurs when we leave the body and are asleep. What that generation didn't recognize, was that their bodies had reached such a level of purity and holiness, that they WERE actually vessels fit to hear and feel G-d speak.

Dreams, the gemara in Brachos, tells us, are one sixtieth of prophecy. Dreams truly are significant and even though the gemara says elsewhere, that what we think about during the day affects what we dream at night, in my opinion, this has much to do with all the noise, and sensory overstimulation we are exposed to on a daily basis. I would suggest the following antidote, therefore, before going to sleep: First, find a quiet place, breathe deeply, unwind, and actively sort out the sensory stimulations experienced during the day, to release what we don't need. When we are out of "fight-or-flight," and more in touch with ourselves, we can then actively talk to Ha-Shem and review our day with Him. After that we are ready to say the special prayers of confession and forgiveness (the Rebono shel olam and Vidui) with the thought of letting go of any resentment toward others as well as acknowledging and resolving to correct the mistakes that we have made, and finally with the Shema and Hamapil prayers, we can accept the sovereignty and unity of Ha-Shem and hand over our neshamos (souls) to Him for safe-keeping until we awaken, G-d willing, in the morning.

One final interesting note I'd like to share before I say goodnight: Sleep has a tremendous influence on bio-chemistry and balance. The Chinese view excessive dreaming as a Shen (spirit) disturbance, closely related to heart fire. This is another form of pollution. One should therefore avoid eating fried, spicy or energetically hot foods in the evening hours, including coffee, tobacco and alcohol, to allow the Shen to remain grounded and not float, and prevent unnecessarily excessive dreams and disturbed sleep.

And from California, this early Thursday morning, wishing you all a wonderful, peaceful night.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SomatoEmotional Release and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

The essence of Jewish medicine is summed up by  the Rambam who tells us in the Laws of Character Traits (3:3) that though the purpose of life is  to  connect to Hashem, it is impossible to do so if one is hungry, sick or in pain! As such, the physicians job is to act as a messenger to help restore the balance which is lost when one is sick or in pain.  As a practitioner of Jewish Medicine, one of the tools that  I use in my practice to achieve this balance is CranioSacral therapy(CST), and its companion therapy, SomatoEmotional release (SER). CST is a gentle, hands-on technique, in which the therapist seeks to determine the causes of pain and dysfunction, and encourages the body’s self-correcting properties. The therapy utilizes the craniosacral system, a recently discovered phenomenon, which involves the membranes and fluids surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord (the dural tube). It is a semi-closed hydraulic system extending from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (which make up the cranium) down to the sacrum and tailbone area. Because of the network of fascia that extends from the cranium all the way down to the feet, a skilled practitioner can feel the CranioSacral rhythm anywhere in the body. Any trauma or injury, however, can cause a change to the normal CranioSacral rhythm, affecting either to its symmetry, quality, amplitude or rate. The result can be a somatic dysfunction manifesting as pain, headache, inability to concentrate, irritability, palpitations or depression. Abnormalities to any of the body's structures or functions, whether the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the blood vascular system, the lymphatic system, the endocrine system or the respiratory system, will usually influence the craniosacral system. The process of SER expands upon CST, to release emotional as well as physical traumas, some imprinted decades before, even from childhood, birth, or before, which the person has been carrying around like a weight, causing him dysfunction and eventually even collapse.

Recently I saw an amazing selection from Likutei Moharan (Anochi 4:5) in which Rabbi Nachman says that averos (sins) do the same thing to the body, and become imprinted in the bones!

"The sins of a person are on his bones, as it says in Yechezkel, 'And their sins will be engraved on their bones'. Every sins involves a combination of letters (permutation) , and when a person commits a sin, that bad permutation becomes engraved on his bones. Through this, the potential of the commandment he transgressed goes to the "other side", that of impurity, and he is given over to the"malchus" (dominion) of the gentile governments (instead of dominion of Ha-Shem), giving them power over him. If, for example, he violated the commandment, "You shall not have any other gods..," he destroys the good permutation of the commandment and builds (with the letters of that Mitzva) an evil permutation which then becomes imprinted on his bones and avenges him, as the verse says in Yermiyahu," Your sins have overturned these..." and as it says in Tehillim, "The deathblow of the wicked is evil". [So how does one extract, or release the imprint of the sin?] ( Note: this is the continuation of a previous chapter where Rabbi Nachman discussed this concept-YF) By confessing in detail the sin commited, to a Tzadik (holy person) who is also a scholar. This causes the letters that have been imprinted to leave his bones recombine, and re-form the letters of the commandment, as it says in Tehillim, "All my bones will say...," destroying the evil permutation that was built, and connecting him to the Kingdom of holiness."

May the merit of all the true Tzadikim protect us, and may we be worthy of releasing all of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual traumas, no matter how deeply they are embedded, enabling us to truly begin anew.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three stories of Jewish Medicine by tzadikim-Spiritual angioplasty, spiritual pharmacology, and spiritual toxemia

I want to share with you today three stories from Tzadikim (totally righteous saints) demonstrating the relationship that that soul has with the body, as well as some afterthoughts about acquiring this knowledge and whether it parallels Chinese medicine.

Story #1- The Baal Shem Tov healing a damaged circulatory system

There once was a patient who was so weak that he couldn't even talk. The doctor attending him viewed him as hopeless. It so happened that the Baal Shem Tov was in that town and was asked to visit the sick man. After seeing the man, he asked the wife to prepare some meat broth. After drinking it, the man began to speak. Within a short time he was completely recovered. The doctor, who was amazed by the turn of events asked the Baal Shem Tov what he could possibly have done, for the man's blood vessels were diseased beyond cure. Answered the holy Baal Shem, "You view the patient physically, I view him spiritually. Every man has 248 organs and 365 blood vessels corresponding to the 248 positive and 365 negative mitzvos. When a person violates a mitzva, he affects the corresponding organ or vessel, and when many negative mitzvos are violated, a large number or vessels are damaged, seriously harming the circulation of the blood, thus placing the whole circulatory system in danger. So I spoke to the nefesh of this patient, appealing to it to do teshuva(repentance), and it agreed. As a result, all the man's blood vessels began to work again, and then I was able to heal him!"

Story #2-The Rebbe had the right prescription

There lived in Premishlan and old man named Nosson Shimon who was sick with "the falling sickness." His symptoms included physical weakness, emotional instability, the inability to keep food down, dizziness and a lack of coordination. Nosson Shimon came to the Rebbe to spend Yom Kippur with him. Since he was in such a weakened state, the doctors had warned him that it was dangerous to go even one day without food. Also, there were some medicines which would have an adverse affect on him if they were taken without food. Nosson Shimon described to the Rebbe R. Meir'l his malady in detail, adding that the doctors forbade him from fasting. In addition to all of his problems, now he had to contend with eating on Yom Kippur, something that he had never done before. To him, this was the most painful part of his predicament and brought tears to his eyes as he spoke to the rebbe. The rebbe, R. Meir'l assured him that he had nothing to fear, and that everything would turn out for the best. He told Nosson Shimon to remain in his inn for the next two days, following doctor's orders regarding his medicine and food, and to come to see him again erev Yom Kippur. When Nosson Shimon came to the rebbe on Erev Yom Kippur, the Rebbe told him that he was to eat the seuda hamafseket (the last meal) before Yom Kippur after mincha, and come to Kol Nidre at shul. He also asked him if he could try to refrain from eating and drinking that night. Nosson Shmon answered that the doctor had told him not to wait until he was hungry, and to eat every few hours irregardless, or he would faint. Answered the Rebbe R. Meir'l, "The merit of fasting on Yom Kippur will help you overcome your illness. If you really want to keep the mitzva, it will strengthen you and you will be all right. Now go and do as I ask". Nosson Shimon believed in the holiness of the Rebbe and was prepared to follow every word he uttered. Once the Chazan began davening, though, Nosson Shimon began having pangs of hunger and thirst. At first he was sorry that he had promised the rebbe that he would try to past the entire night. After all, wasn't it a mitzva to guard one's health? How could he explain to Ha-Shem that he had Chas V'Shalom died because he had listened to the Rebbe instead of the doctors? But, he decided to drive out these thoughts from his mind and immersed himself in his davening. Whenever there was a short break, he quickly grabbed a tehillim (Psalms) or a mussar sefer (Ethical book). ANYTHING to divert his mind from his hunger pangs. B"H this strategy helped and during the whole davening he felt no pangs at all! So with a happy heart, Nosson Shimon returned to his inn, grateful that he had made it throught the first part of Yom Kippur. The next morning, he resisted the temptation to drink something, and went to the Rebbe's shul to start davening. During Shacharis (morning service), the Rebbe sent his gabbai (attendant) to check on Nosson Shimon, to reassure him that the rebbe was thinking about him, that he should refrain from eating and drinking as long as he could, and that the rebbe would let him know when he could eat or drink. As the day progressed, Nosson Shimon felt hungry and thirsty, but was able to draw strength from his close relationship with the Rebbe. The gabbai kept coming over to him reassuring him that the rebbe didn't forget about him for a moment. This gave Nosson Shimon tremendous strength and he persevered. He knew that if he had to eat, the rebbe would allow it, so he fought his pain. The day passed with no great urgency and soon it was time to begin Ne'ila. It was then that Nosson Shimon felt that he couldn't hold out any longer. He walked over to the Rebbbe with what felt like his last bit of strength and pleaded with him to allow him to eat or drink something. "Nosson Shimon, listen to Meir'l. All day long we worked on your hunger and we were able to overcome whatever the doctors said. Together we fasted as you did every year. We confused the doctors and the yetzer hara(evil inclination) all day, and together we will make it to the end! You can be sure that Meir'l is a better doctor than they are, and that the prescription that Meir'l has for you is far better than anything they wrote you. If you can hold out until maariv, Meir'l assures you that you will be completely healed and that you will feel fine for the rest of your life." These words reached Nosson SHimon and he felt like the Rebbe was his partner--it was as if the Rebbe had been suffering with him all day long, and that his triumph would also be the Rebbe's. He therefore gathered up his last ounce of strength and completed the davening. As soon as maariv as over, the Rebbe R. Meir'l told his gabbai to bring some food over to Nosson Shimon to break his fast without a moment's delay. After eating something, he was brought into the rebbe's room. From his drawer, the Rebbe took out challa from yesterday's seudah hamafseket(final meal before the fast), spread some jam on it and give it to Nosson Shimon. "With this you will feel better for the rest of your life. The zechus(merit) of fasting this day will help you get a refua shelaima(complete recovery), and your complete confidence in Ha-SHem will help you overcome all that has caused you this pain and suffering". As soon as Nosson Shimon ate the challa, he felt a surge of new strength enter his body, and it was as if he had been reborn. He felt no need for any of the medications, and from that day until he died, he was never sick again.

Story #3- The duchess and the Baal Shem Tov

"Once, a well known, great doctor came to the duchess of the town. The duchess praised the Baal Shem Tov (Besh"t) highly, saying that he was a great man and knowledgeable in medicine. The Doctor said, "tell him to come here." She said, "Since he is a great man, it would be in keeping with his honor if we send a carriage for him as one does for governors." She sent for him, and he appeared before them. The doctor asked the Rebbe whether he was knowledgeable about medicine. He answered that it was true. He said, "and where did you study and with what expert?" He answered, "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, taught me." The doctor laughed at him. The Rebbe immediately asked him whether he could diagnose an illness from one's pulse. The Rebbe said, " I have a deficiency. You try to diagnose my pulse. I will take your pulse and diagnose your condition." The doctor took the Rebbe's pulse. He could tell that something was wrong, but he did not know what it was, as he was lovesick for The Holy One, Blessed Be He, and this was beyond the doctor's grasp. Then the Baal Shem Hakadosh(The Holy) took the doctor's pulse, and he turned to face the duchess. He asked her, "Were such and such precious objects stolen from you?" "Yes," she answered, "It has been several years since they were stolen from me, and I don't know where they are." The Baal Shem said, "Send someone to his inn, and open his trunk. There you will find all of these objects." She immediately sent someone and the objects were found there according to his holy words. The doctor left there in disgrace and contempt. (The method the tzadikim used was to read the word dofek (pulse) backwards, is called ABBA ACHORAYIM (Abba-related to Chochma, backwards). Here the letters Dalet Peh Kuf are read backwards as Kuf Peh Dalet or Kafad meaning strict. Using this method, the Rebbe was able to recognize sins from the pulse.)"

These are the words of the Shivchei HaBesh"t. And don't expect me to explain the parenthetical afterthought, even if I understood it!

A few important points I do want to make:

1. Our tradition tells us that there is clearly a connection between the 248 organs of the body, and the 248 positive commandments, as well as the 365 vessels of the body and the 365 negative commandments. This connection can be read via the pulses by one who is privileged to master this skill., but this skill cannot be taught as one is taught in a classroom, but rather requires a great degree of spiritual development according to tradition, ego-nullification and purification. Rabbi Chaim Essas, the editor of Shaar Ruach Hakodesh quotes from Rav Dessler in his introduction as follows, "Someone who merits in his deeds to elevate his level, does so through merits that are not his own, and someone who serves (Ha-Shem) as he needs to "repair the world" merits doing this through "Siyata Dismaya" (Divine aid) allowing him to raise his level...' The Bais Halevi,explains this idea further, bringing down, from the verse in Tehillim (68:19), "You went up on high, you captured a prisoner, you took gifts of man and even rebels to dwell with Ha-Shem, G-d." that the secrets of Torah are considered "gifts," and can't be acquired simply because one seeks to know them, or learn them. One needs to first find favor in the eyes of G-d, in how they conduct themselves, and purify themselves, and if they are worthy and merit it, He will grant wisdom to them. With that caveat, it is interesting to note that according to Kabbalah, the pulses relate to the ten vowel sounds used in the original language, Hebrew. But what is really interesting is that if you look at the vowels, some are on one level, some are on two levels and some are on three levels. These correspond to the three depths in which the pulse can be felt. This is, L'havdil, (to distinguish between holy and secular) one very important correspondence with Chinese medical pulse taking. It is crucial, therefore, that pulse taking not be viewed linearly as modern western biomedicine does, (Note that the fine art of medical pulsetaking 250 years ago was much more diagnostically advanced than it is now as per the Doctor's skill in the above story) but rather, must be felt and, yes, studied on three depths, developing the sensitivity through practice and meditation to qualitatively detect differences in pulses as well as discerning differences in depths.

From these stories one gets a glimpse at how our sages recognized the relationship between anatomy, physiology, organs, emotions, and spirit (See Brachos 61a and the Rambam Shmone Perakim), and throughout Chasidus, particularly Chabad and Breslov, the correspondences are explored. The complexity of these interconnective relationships is profound, and it would amount to a terrible reductionist mistake to try to teach these dynamic relationships as in a classroom setting. I think that much more can be accomplished through feeling, (inside as well as pulses) learning (acquiring knowledge) and hisbodedus(intraspection and meditation). Rebbe Nachman's tikkun klali (general remedy) is a magnificent panacea to correct and "reset" the soul, just as with davening, Nusach Ari (or Nusach sfard, depending upon who you talk to) is the shaar klali (general gate) of prayer that everyone can enter, and the Shaar Hademaos (the gate of tears) is never closed in heaven. These go beyond logic and require an outpouring from the soul.

Jewish mysticism requires an enormous volume of knowledge, much, much more so than Chinese medicine, and to begin to acquire it, also requires complete self-nullification of ego, and a longing to cling to, connect with, and please G-d. The whole reason for engaging in healing must be to further that connection and for those reasons. Chinese medicine, as with constitutional law, developed through experience and trial and error, evolving based upon circumstances and influences. The Torah, in its revealed as well as hidden aspects, is the bridge that connects us to the Divine. To analogize the two is folly, just as comparing Torah law to constitutional or civil law is inappropriate. For we, in all of our knowledge and all of our experiences do not even scratch to surface of understanding the A-lmighty's ways. One's task must be, as the Rambam says, " to direct his heart to know Ha-Shem". Ha-Shem has given us some wonderful gifts enabling us to get closer to him. We have been given the incredible wonder of teshuva, which can change deliberate sins into merits! Our sages tell us that one who wants to purify himself is helped from above. These are spiritual rules and properties that expand beyond our logic. As practitioners acting as messengers of The Healer of all flesh, it behooves us to take this path which requires bitul (nullification of ego).

May He deem us worthy messengers.