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.