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.

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