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!

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