Sunday, March 29, 2009

The ten principles of Traditional Jewish Medicine

Dear Friends, colleagues and patients,

The human is the crown of creation, a being with such a distinctive consciousness and nature, that he is classified as a unique creation, "medaber" (speaker) by the great medieval scholar and doctor, Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, the Rambam. As such we have the unique opportunity to remove ourselves from living our lives on automatic pilot, leaving a state of unconsciousness, and recognizing that what we do, makes a difference. As Jews, our responsibility is all the greater, as we have the additional imperative to know Ha-Shem (G-d), and to acquire that attainment through our actions, as the verse says in Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways know Him, and He will straighten your paths". Indeed! Easier said than done. Yet despite this apparent "mission impossible", the Torah reassures us that it is absolutely achievable. The Holy Baal Shem Tov tells us that Ha-Shem actively relates to us with the same measure that we involve Him in our lives. Furthermore, the Talmud tells us that "One who seeks to purify himself is helped (from above)," that if one puts forth the effort, Ha-Shem will help them succeed! This idea is the foundation and essence of Traditional Jewish Medicine. The Torah recognizes that people can be hedonistic, frivolous, selfish, and thoughtless. How fortunate we are when we are able to have the knowledge and awareness that we are Ha-Shem's children, and just as a child seeks to please the father who he loves, so we should long to get closer to Ha-Shem, our Father, and to feel the wonderful radiant sweetness of his presence. Such a person of a highly refined sensitivity and connectivity has the "da'as" (knowledge) that his actions really do matter. But when faced with pain, suffering or illness, how then does he respond? Is his immediate response to go to a doctor, take chemical medicine, and treat physical symptoms? Or, does he rely exclusively on Ha-Shem and His Torah? Jewish law clearly permits medical intervention if the patient so chooses. Yet, The Ramban tells us that for someone who is able to connect with Ha-Shem on a constant basis, doctors are not even necessary, for they, themselves are the doctors, the doctors of the soul! (see Rambam hilchos de'os 2:1). It is this dichotomy which is the essence of Traditional Jewish Medicine: our personal relationship with Ha-Shem, and the necessity for us to connect to tzadikim (the thoroughly righteous). Therefore, when we get sick, our first step should be to wake ourselves up, acknowledge our vulnerability to illness, and do everything within our power to rebalance our lives. This awareness should lead us to a second step in the healing process: connecting with a tzadik. The Abarbanel explains that though Ha-Shem, our loving Father, is an everflowing source of blessing. If we, ourselves, are flawed, then we will be unable to hold the abundance with which we are blessed. To clarify this concept, The Biala Rebbe from Bnei Brak, ZT'L, compared the soul metaphorically to a paper cup with a hole on the bottom, unable to hold any liquid no matter how much is poured in. The tzadik is able to perceive where our holes are, and what " spiritual medicines " are needed to heal us and help us become whole. By following the guidance of the tzadik, we in turn connect ourselves to Ha-Shem, and by consciously involving Ha-Shem in our healing process we transform ourselves. Therefore, rather than a distinct medical system, Traditional Jewish Medicine is a collection of principles adduced from the Oral and written Torah which provide us with guidelines to promote our health, balance and wholeness, making us vessels of blessing.

The ten principles of Traditional Jewish Medicine

1. "Know HaShem in ALL your ways."
This verse, (Proverbs 3:6) teaches us to integrate G-d into our lives in whatever we do. The physician guides his patient to engage in healing activities that promote sound, restful sleep, sound digestion and elimination, and appropriate exercise, in order to sensitize him to involve G-d in his life.

2. " Turn away from evil and do good"
We learn from this verse, (Psalm 34:15), to consider if how the patient is living his life is making him sick, and that before we initiate new therapies or new strategies, we must first stop his old destructive patterns.

3. Healing MUST take place on four levels
The patient’s health needs to be assessed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. On the physical level, he must be treated biochemically, biomechanically and bioenergetically.

4. Shvil HaZahav (the golden mean)
Our therapeutic goal is to promote balance. If the patient is in a state of repletion, we need to sedate or reduce the excess. If the patient is in a state of vacuity, we need to supplement in order to fill the void. If he has been exposed to a pathogen, wheather it is physical or otherwise, we must expel it. If he is blocked or in any way restricted, we need to open and unblock him.

5. Hisbatlus (overcoming ego) and Hiskashrus (melding)
For the physician, there can be no room for ego or any agenda. Of course the successful physician must have knowledge and experience, but he must recognize that he is an agent of
G-d, and only G-d is the healer of all flesh. Therefore, the physician's goal should be to connect himself with Ha-Shem as well as his patient, and listen well.

6. HaShem always creates the healing before the illness.
The physician and patient must never give up, knowing that the A-lmighty has already prepared the patient’s healing. It is only knowledge that stands in the way of the physician's success: knowledge of what needs to be done therapeutically, and knowledge that G-d is the ultimate Physician who has already prepared the cure.

7. Shabbos
The Talmud tells us ( Shabbos 12B ): “If one refrains from expressing pain on the Shabbos,then healing will quickly come.”This statement expresses the awesome healing potential contained within the Shabbos--that complete immersion into the Shabbos will bring healing! Though technology enables us to accomplish our tasks more efficiently, freeing us to use our time better, we nonetheless multitask and become slaves to that which should be serving us. Shabbos frees us from those chains. When we actively prepare ourselves before Shabbos, and we liberate ourselves that one day a week from weekday occupations, we effect a profound paradigm shift toward healing.

8. Pain is a gift.
We must differentiate between pain and suffering. The Talmud, (Brachos 5a) tells us that pain is really a wake-up call for us to introspect. Physiologically, pain is the expression of blockage. So, one of the physician’s goals is to facilitate the releasing of those blockages, to effect permanent lasting healing.

9. Honesty
In order for a patient to get well, he must first acknowledge that he is sick. That
acknowledgement must be to G-d, to his physician, and to himself. If he is not prepared to admit that he is out of balance, then he can never completely heal.

10. Teshuva
There almost always was a time before the patient was sick. To get well, the physician enables the patient to retrace his steps back to that seminal event or decision which changed his life. The patient is made to understand that he is has the freedom of choice to decide differently as to how he will respond.

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