Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy, um, holidays? Well, yes!

The other day, as I was shopping at Trader Joes, my checker was reflecting out loud on how he should greet me. He couldn't say, Happy Chanuka, he reasoned, because that was over nearly a month ago. And he couldn't wish me a merry...for obvious reasons. So he decided that the nice, pareve and politically correct greeting: "Happy holidays" would be just right, so as to not leave me out. But, you know what? He was right! And here's why:

The Gemara in Avoda Zara (8a) Tells us, The Roman holiday of "Calenda" is celebrated for 8 days after the transition time of Teves, and "Saturnura" is celebrated for 8 days before the transition time of Teves, based upon the following historical incident: When the first man saw that the days were getting shorter and
shorter, he said, "Oy vey, it must be because of the sin that I committed, that I have brought death to the formerly perfect world, causing it to become dark and returning it to its primeval state of tohu vavohu (chaos and void. Is this the death, that I am being punished with from Above?"

What was Adam's response? He fasted and davened for a week. But when he saw after that week that the days were starting to get longer and that this was just the way that Ha-Shem set up the world to run, he went and celebrated an 8 day holiday. The next year, as a remembrance, he made them both holidays. Adam established these holidays to give thanks for Ha-Shem's greatness (literally, "for the sake of Heaven") and they (the Romans) established them for idol worship."

It is interesting to note that the name of the first holiday: Saturnura, when taken apart becomes Satur Nura, which in aramaic means, "the light turned away". Adam Harishon, the first man, intended that the holiday coinciding with Dec. 25, would fulfill the verse in Psalms "How great are your works, Ha-Shem". Calenda obviously refers to New Years, and is the source of the word calendar. How ironic that Satur Nura became Saturnura or Saturnalia, which in turn was adopted by our Christian neighbors to became yet another celebration.

I remember being told by the late Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak, of holy and blessed memory, that Rabbi Chaim, The Holy Divrei Chaim of Zanz, would alway drink a l'chaim on the secular New Year, and declare the following: "Master of the Universe, look at how the secular world celebrates its New Year and look at how your beloved people the children of Israel celebrate theirs: The nations of the world celebrate the new year with drunkenness, wild celebrations and gunshots, and your people Israel celebrate theirs with prayer, repentance, and acts of loving kindness and reconciliation. Please, therefore, look upon us kindly, and help us re-establish Your Kingdom on Earth for ever and ever. He would then drink a l'chaim (to life!)

So now you know that from its origin, the real purpose of their holidays was to celebrate Ha-Shem's total caring for each of us and His involvement in our world.

May the one who grants wisdom, open up the eyes of the blind and make this year's "Calenda" truly a celebration!

Monday, December 27, 2010

reflections on my Mom's car (or is it "My Mother the Car" for those of you who remember back when)

Well it's now a year since Mom's passing, her Yahrzeit (the anniversary of her passing) being last Monday. Though a year has gone by, I still miss her terribly, and though life goes on, it feels so very different on this side of the year. One small consolation that we Frischman's have is an extra car to use when needed. Hopefully, when my nephew gets his driver's license, the car will be his, but in the interim, Mom's '96 4 door Cadillac Deville is able to provide us with an extra set of wheels when one of our cars (like mine is now) is in the shop. Now having driven 4 cylinder Volvos for years, it's quite a change driving Mom's "boat". But I've also discovered is an interesting lesson from an inconvenience I've experienced, that I would like to share with you.

With my car, you turn off the engine, and all the electrical stuff shuts off as well. Not so with Mom's car, and this powerful, 32 cylinder muscular engine has drained not one, but two batteries since I've had it. I plan on going to Pep Boys to charge it and then bring it back to the shop to check the electrical system, but it hit me as my neighbor was giving me a jump for the umpteenth time (again on a new battery), that Mom's car really parallels the American model of what we view as strong and fit, as opposed to the Asian model: You can literally feel the strength, heaviness and agility driving this car. And yet with all that power, it's only as effective as its frail battery. So too, in Western society, what is viewed as fit and desirable is muscular definition. Pure raw power. Pumping iron, anabolism, bulking up on amino acids. Making everything more and bigger. Yet the Asian and Jewish models view things differently: Strength needs to come with balance: balancing emotions, spirit, mind and body. This is done through eating with care and purpose (see my previous blog for details on how to eat), getting adequate air to breathe, water to drink, quality sleep, spiritual development, exercise to stretch and all of the above to cultivate one's strength from within. The result is tremendous internal strength, but not necessarily muscular prowess. And indeed, Asian martial artists, for the most part, though fit, are not muscular. I read recently a wonderful story of an elderly qi gong master who was mugged in his sleep by a group of thugs, who left him for dead. In the morning, he stretched himself like a tiger who had been sleeping, and they were found bruised and severely beaten up. Did he attack them? No, but the very strength of his internal Qi was so powerful, that their attack was reflected back to them. So too with us, with our cars and with all that we posess. It seems to me that we should look within, and work to balance all of the areas of our life which reflect the areas of our greatest weaknesses. For that is the key to longevity, and for that matter, happiness: having each part of us in balance with every other part, our batteries reflecting our moving parts.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Segula, the Sefer Harefuos, sharing too much and receiving a gentle correction

Some of you who follow my blog and articles, I'm sure, may have found the concept of Segula new, and some may have been uncomfortable with it. Be that as it may, I want to share with you a little more information as to the source of what a segula is, and a remarkable, loving correction that I received from Ha-Shem yesterday.

First, let us consider the original source of the word segula: Shmos (Exodus) 19:5. The verse says: "And now, if you will listen diligently to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you will be for Me a "Segula" (meaning a special treasure, apart) from all the nations, for all the world is Mine." From this verse, our sages teach us that Jews have the responsibility to act differently, and in the merit of our acting differently, as moral role models for the nations of the world, we, ourselves, will have be given a tremendous power to heal, just as a Segula does, and our prayers will be potent, promptly answered and effective.

A Segula, therefore, means a special treasure put aside as a gift from the King, to be used appropriately as a means of connecting to Him, and certainly not for any other purpose.

As I related to you, last week I had the privilege of performing a segula to help three different patients of mine to become healthier. Interestingly, a couple of days later, I was visited by a sincere young man, who, hearing about the treatments, offered a business proposition to me: He knew of a number of very sick people, who suffered from the same infirmity as my patients and suggested that we form a partnership, charging a large fee to heal these people, and split the profits. Though my initial reaction was equivocal, I asked him to write up a proposal which I would consider.

One day later, I received a call from a colleague who "just happened" to be in Sacramento for hearings before the State Board of Acupuncture, and he informed me that he heard that a complaint had been lodged against me for practicing outside of the scope of my licensure. He advised me to immediately take down any reference to this segula, and assured me that by doing so, I would not be censured.

My immediate reaction was one of indignation--here I was, acting as a messenger of Ha-Shem to help people feel better, improving the quality of their lives and even possibly extending their lives, and people with an agenda were coming along to stop this noble practice. Furthermore, what about my freedom of religion to practice as I chose? But then it hit me--Everything that happens to us is Ha-Shem speaking to us, and we need to really work on focusing on the message being delivered. It dawned on me, as I took steps last Friday to remove information about the Segula from my website, blog and Facebook page, that Ha-Shem was displeased with my actions, and was giving me a gentle reproach. Why? Because a segula is a special gift and a hidden treasure intended to remain that way, not be publicized and certainly not to be used to make big money, nor to treat patients mechanically.

We have a precedent for this as well:

Our sages tell us that up until the time of King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah)approximately 2,500 years ago, there existed a remarkable text called Sefer Harefuos (The Book of Remedies) which, we are told, King Chizkiyahu hid away. When it was composed , and by whom, is subject to controversy, but, nonetheless, all agree that it existed and was used extensively for at least 300 years until King Chizkiyahu's time.(The Ramban, in his introduction to the Torah, tells us, for example, that it was composed by King Solomon.) Why did he hide it away? Was it because the remedies were ineffective? On the contrary, they were TOO effective! According to Rashi, the reason that King Chizkiyahu felt it necessary to hide the Sefer Harefuos was because, "when a person became ill, he would follow what was written in The Sefer Harefuos and be healed. As a result, people's hearts were not humbled before Heaven because of illness." According to Rashi, resorting to The Sefer Harefuos turned illness into nothing but a mechanical process. Yet, King Chizkiyahu understood that people are not machines, and though the remedies it contained would heal and resolve bodily illness, he wanted people to understand, that a human being is made up of a body as well as a soul. He understood, in his wisdom, that when the body is sick, the soul is also going to be sick as well, and vice-versa. (According to the Rambam, incidentally, there was a different problem: The Sefer Harefuos was a speculative reference book based upon Canaanite astrology. It was only to be used as a text for acquiring theoretical information, and was never intended by its author, nor permitted by the Torah, to be used for actual healing. Hypothetically, when patients would draw certain "shapes" at specific hours, and corresponding to particular constellations, they would be healed. However, though this knowledge was permitted to study, it was absolutely forbidden to apply practically. When people began to engage in this forbidden healing art, Chizkiyahu felt it necessary to take action. How pitiful to consider that even back
then, desperate people would pursue any means, even the occult to alleviate suffering. Might we perhaps apply the same caution today when confronted with "New
Age" occultists who offer us "the moon"?)

It is these insights that form the basis with which Judaism views the role of the healer throughout history: First, all healing emanates from G-d, second, the physician, as his agent, must do everything in his power to try to heal the whole patient, body and soul, while doing him no harm, and third, in order to prevent illness from occurring in the first place, the physician needs to educate his patient to honor and cherish both his body and soul, protecting them from harm.

We must always remember that illness is a message and a gift (Yes, a gift!) sent by G-d to motivate us to stop and examine our lives. By concealing The Sefer Harefuos people were encouraged to, in a non-mechanical manner, to take responsibility for their lives, actualize their latent spiritual healing potential, and take an active role in their own healing process. The late Biala Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yechiel Yehoshua Rabinowicz, used to point out, that when we are really in touch with our spiritual selves, then physically we become much more connected to Ha-Shem as well. The Hebrew term "mesiras nefesh,"(usually translated as self-sacrifice) actually means much more than giving up one's lives. The Rebbe, ZT"L tells us that when we make our primary focus pleasing Ha-Shem by our actions, then any related physical actions take on new meaning and are also considered "mesiras nefesh!"--connecting body and soul as one!

These then, is the messages that I was given: Healing must never become mechanical, and segulas are not meant for public consumption. I pray that we can always have the wisdom and the vision to correctly understand the messages that are delivered to us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Miracles of Ha-Shem--no coincidences

A wonderful Tzadik pointed out to me once that the Hebrew word for chance, "mikreh" is exactly the same letter as "rak me Ha-Shem" (it is only from Ha-Shem!). The Torah tells us, "v'atem hadeveikim Ba-Shem E-lokeichem chayim kulchem hayom" (You who attach yourselves to Ha-Shem your G-d, you are the one's who are truly alive! The miracles that have surrounded my life and the life of my family are truly remarkable and I am quite overwhelmed by the tremendous kindnesses that He continues to bestow upon me. I want to share with you one small aspect of this kindness relative to the birth of my grandchildren. B"H, my son Yechiel Yehoshua, was blessed with the birth of a daughter 2 days ago, after two sons. Consider the following: His first born, born after waiting 4 years came after the blessings of many holy people, and a site that he frequently during those 4 years was the tomb of the great and holy Tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Many people implore Rabbi Shimon to intercede on their behalf, vowing to name their sons after him, should they be so blessed. Our children, Yechiel and Rivka were not only blessed with a son, but his birth date was 6 AM, the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon, Lag Ba'omer, 2 1/2 years ago. Of course he was named Shimon. We hope to return to Israel to celebrate our Shimele's 3rd birthday and first haircut there by Rabbi Shimon. A little over a year later, our second grandson from Yechiel and Rivka was born. And when did his bris come out--exactly on Tisha B'av, the saddest day of the year, and a day which will be transformed to one of rejoicing when our righteous redeemer, the Moshiach delivers us from the chains of exile. Though it is customary to name a baby "Menachem" (comforter--a name traditionally associated with the Messiah), instead he was named after the great Tzadik who transformed our life, the Biala Rebbe, Dovid Matisyahu, of sainted memory, who was our son, Yechiel Yehoshua's sandek, and in who's house, Yechiel lived for more than half a year during a time of crisis and illness in the family.

So now, as of tomorrow, it is 11 months since my dear mother, of blessed memory, Connie Frischman passed away. I have been loyally saying Kaddish for her, morning and evening daily, constantly, daily thinking about her, learning mishnayos on her behalf, and doing mitzvos to elevate her soul. Our tradition tells us that a son says Kaddish for his parents for only 11 months, because the righteous are cleansed from the impurities of this world, and are able to enter Gan Eden, the world of eternity and paradise after that time, whereas those who are evil need a full year to complete that cleansing process. We all hope and pray that the work that we do during that year serves to accelerate that process of benefiting our parent's souls. So, as I say, I will be completing the eleven months tomorrow afternoon. Last Tuesday, we were again blessed with the most amazing of blessings, the birth of a granddaughter. As "chance" would have it, our precious granddaughter will be named this coming Shabbos--exactly the day after Mom's neshama (soul) has clearly reached Gan Eden. What will the baby's name be? Stay tuned........................!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Follow up to my previous post: Dong Chong Xia Cao another example of Ha-Shem's miraculous world!

In my Fundamentals of Oriental Medicine class last week we spoke about a remarkable Kidney and Lung Qi, Yin and Yang tonic: Dong Chong Xia Cao. (literally meaning Summer Bug winter herb). It is used to treat fatigue or exhaustion, listlessness, soft and low voice, shortness of breath, constriction of the chest, wheezing, chronic cough, cough with blood, poor appetite, weak and sore lower back and knees, poor muscle tone, night sweats, spontaneous sweat, insomnia, palpitations, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness, poor memory, impotence, lowered sexual drive, frequent urination, with all symptoms worse on exertion. It has also recently been used in the treatment of cancer, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.
The video below presents from whence cometh this remarkable substance. Teaching us again, of the strange wonders of the A-lighty's world, which out-trump the most creative imaginations that Hollywood can come up with! And, as with the previous case, demonstrates how, when we honor this wonderful world, and work with it, rather than against it, how we are presented with so many wonderful gifts that promote our health, many of which we have yet to recognize or discover.

BTW, The cultivated form of this herb is now widely used as it has been found to have similar clinical effectiveness, low toxicity, no environmental impact and costs less than wild crafted variety.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Cholent in the Frischman Houshold

I was asked by a patient whether we serve Cholent for lunch Shabbos afternoon. First, for those of you unfamiliar, cholent is a food that is made in a slow cooker. We start it Friday afternoon, and it is served for lunch on Saturday. The best cholent, in a similar way as, let's say, fine wine, cheese or the herb Chen Pi, improves with time, or in this case, with cooking. The way we make cholent is quite different from that which is customary. (A typical recipe would contain Meat, potatoes, a cup of assorted dried beans, one large onion, garlic, 1/2 cup barley, ketchup, herbs, spices and lots of water). Our cholent consists of all organic ingredients: yams, zucchini, baby potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, basmati rice, kasha (buckwheat) chicken, sprouted mung beans, plum vinegar and lots of aromatic herbs and spices, along with, of course, lots of water. The idea is for it to start like soup, and become thick while slowwwly cooking overnight. Unlike the typical cholent, though, which people usually feel incredibly heavy from, ours is quite light, and, in my humble opinion, just might make the liver,spleen and stomach smile.

Enjoy and have a wonderful Shabbos!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Process-part one

Just as my previous blog may not have been viewed as politically correct by some, perhaps many people, this article may be even more so.

Most of us have grown up considering ourselves as basically healthy and functional, and when we do get sick, we have been taught by our parents and society as a whole to view illness and disease as an assault which must be repelled, in order for us to continue to function normally. And the results had better be quick, because we have neither the time nor money to waste! If this entails taking medicines to suppress symptoms, then, of course, that's what we should do. If we are weakened and can't figure out what's wrong with ourselves, then we must go to the doctor, and have him identify what is attacking us, for there must be something wrong!: either a bacterial pathogen, a virus, some kind of a fungus, or maybe, even, G-d forbid, some kind of auto-immune disorder. If he can't figure out what's wrong, then maybe we're delusional, depressed or suffering from some other kind of psychological disorder, and he will probably refer us to a psychologist to help us "talk" about how bad we feel, or a psychiatrist to give us drugs to help us feel happy!

I tell you, though, with absolute certainty, that this "process" has engendered a society in which superficiality, quick fixes and anesthesia are endemic. We have an economy and a health care system that is bankrupt, and despite the fact that more and more money is being thrown at it, it gets worse and worse, more and more out of control, both the health care system, itself, and its victims, us. And unfortunately, millions and millions of people, yes the vast majority of society accepts the mantra, that the doctor knows best, that he has our best interests in mind, that I must vaccinate my children and myself to prevent diseases from attacking us, and if I do get sick and they are not able to cure me, then it must be my fault.

Well, I take a different approach, and view illness and disease, whether physical, emotional, mental or even spiritual, completely differently. In this multi-part article I would like to consider this other, different "process".

A first consideration, which not always, but often is ignored by Western biomedicine, and society as a whole, is the question of why?--What is the pathogenesis of the illness, what caused it to happen. This question of etiology, though perhaps of interest to the Western physician, is less relevant to him, than determining or putting a name on the disorder, a diagnosis, so as to determine how to attack it. But does it make sense to treat 10 people who have the same illness, but who all have had different relevant accompanying symptoms, have different constitutional body types, and have had different life experiences leading up to their illness--should they be treated the same? The Western biomedical answer, is generally yes.

My answer is emphatically, no, and the explanation to this answer is the antidote to the illnesses that Western medicine has been unable to cure, and the illnesses to society in general that I spoke of earlier.

As I have written before, the essential key to health is balance. Getting sound, peaceful, adequate unbroken sleep, and sleeping at the right time; eating the right amount and the right kinds of food, eating frequently enough, being in the right frame of mind while eating, viewing eating as a spiritual experience (and not a necessary evil), not multi-tasking while eating; having adequate exercise of the right kind, the right amount and at the right time of day; and being engaged in activities which one enjoys, which make one happy, which nurture a sense of well being, which foster a connectivity, to oneself, to one's loved ones, to society and to one's Maker: Breathing deeply in clean air, and slowly breathing out toxicity. These are the ways for one to establish and maintain health and balance. And the reverse of that, to allow oneself to become depleted, hungry, tired, or in pain, is to foster imbalance. Even worse, to force to body to continue to function when it is exhausted, is to exacerbate this imbalance. One should view the body like an investment bank account: In order for the account to grow, (ie. building up one's health), he needs to maintain some principle. But when he depletes the principle of his body, he compromises his balance and health. And even worse, if he taps into his overdraft (using adrenaline, stimulants or substances to block his pain), he pays very high interest to reverse the damage that he has done, paying back for a much longer time than the short term pleasure he experienced by tapping into his overdraft, which allowed him to keep going. Any thinking person would consider it madness to pay that price, yet, who doesn't do it? And ultimately, the price is chronic degenerative illness, and premature death. A very expensive price indeed.

The real problem, though, is that so many of us wake up when it's already very late, when we finally realize that our dis-ease is not a microbe, but is instead a severe imbalance. This realization is the first step on the way back to balance. But, again, it can be a long process, an expensive process, a painful process, a process that engenders loneliness and self-doubt as one hears friends, family, neighbors, religious leaders,and even spouses saying:"what are you doing? you're spending all this money, you're eating strange food, and you're just as tired and sick as you were before!" Yet the key is to look within. The wise person will daily talk to Ha-Shem out loud, and review what he has done that day and how it feels. Those who have the wisdom to do this will clearly recognize that they are getting better, much better! And they know, and they are correct in knowing, that the day will come if they are patient, when they will feel like a curtain has been lifted off from them, and they will feel strong, happy, balanced and whole, for maybe the first time in their lives! This is the process that I encourage my patients to take. In part two, I will begin to share this process with you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Observations on the state of our profession and how I practice

A colleague of mine questioned the relationship that we should maintain with our patients, and suggested that as acupuncturists, we should limit our practice to "safe" areas such as pain management. This issue, I believe, cuts to the root of how, and what we practice, and, in essence, what we are: For if, we are skilled technicians, whose job is to ameliorate symptoms, much as chiropractors, physical therapists, speech pathologists or even, yes, psychologists or social workers, then absolutely, we must make sure to maintain a strictly professional relationship with our "clients" who we, the therapists are serving.

But if, on the other hand, we are physicians treating the whole person, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, then, I believe our goal should be to help our patients find equilibrium and balance, and most importantly enable them to learn how to heal themselves. This, I believe,
can't be done if we compartmentalize the treatment, and it will also require a patience and wisdom enabling the patient to trace back those components which contribute to their present illness. This is the process of determining and resolving the pathogenesis of the illness, at the pace that the patient is
able to. Now this can be complicated, and may necessitate developing a deeper relationship with your patient. Again the key and the focus must be to always remember to take responsibility: The patient, in order to heal, becomes VERY vulnerable. That vulnerability MUST be honored and respected. We must NEVER violate that trust and openness, by betraying it personally, or to others, even family members, and certainly not anyone else. We also must remember that our goal must be to enable our patient to become strong and self-sufficient, and NOT dependent on us (though, paradoxically, during this process, as we educate them to become independent, they may become very dependent upon us! So we must never lose focus as to our goal!!!) Remember that the traumas, physical and emotional, that they have endured have disabled them, and to heal them is to free them. Remember the wonderful Shirley Temple movie, Heidi? Yes, when our patients are healed, free and balanced, we can indeed become friends with them, much like comrades who have survived a war, but each step along the way, in the process, including the appropriate boundaries, needs to be honored, while guiding and fighting what can be unrelenting enemy.

Now, again, it depends how one runs his practice and how he treats his patients. I see each patient for 2, sometimes 3 hours. I integrate craniosacral therapy into my every treatment. As such, I usually treat 3 to a maximum of 5 patients per day. I also am available for my patients to call me, 24/6 and I don't charge for phone consultations with existing patients. I know that this model is very different than is typical, as most successful practitioners will treat many more patients per day, charging less per patient than I do (I charge $100 per hour plus herbs and minerals when necessary). But even though, in all likelihood, they make much more money than I do, this model works for me, and I would never consider changing how I treat or relate to my patients.

One other note that I will mention: It can be a bumpy, unpredictable, at times, traumatic path which we take, as old, sometimes forgotten traumas are brought to the surface. Some people can't handle it. It can also be a long path, and some may not be able to afford it, financially. But for those willing to take the journey, the reward can be enormous.

The question that I leave my fellow practitioners and physicians with is this: What is the purpose, the raison d'etre of your practice. In Hebrew, the word for love, ahava, comes from the root, hav, meaning to give. If what you are doing is unselfishly giving to your patient, then only good will result.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Preparing for fasting and breaking the fast

Here are some keys to preparing for the Yom Kippur fast: 1. Avoid carbs with high glycemic loads (white flour, white sugar, potatoes, corn, carrots).2. Eat an equal amount of protein and carbs at the same meal. 3. Eat 1/2 the amount of good fat (eg. avocado, tehini, unsweetened cultured coconut milk, nut butters, olives, fish, etc) relative to the carbs and protein with each meal.4. Walk briskly around the block before beginning your meal for 10 minutes. 5. Eat slowly, chew your food well, sit while eating, focus on eating, be in a good mood, DON'T talk while eating, and don't multitask, 6. stop eating before you are full. An sample meal might be to start out with a small portion of a light fish like talapia or baramundi (Australian sea bass) eaten with humus, tehina, guacaomole, cooked beets and a half cup of cultured coconut milk, Afterwards, perhaps have a hearty bowl of chicken soup (preferrably organic) , cooked with vegetables, and white organic basmati rice. Don't have dessert, not even fruit!
7. Have in mind that your eating is fulfilling a mitzva, and eat consciously, with the thought that your eating with holiness on Yom Kippur eve, atones for all the gluttony and animalistic eating that you did during the whole previous year.

Now, when breaking the fast, DON"T EAT CAKE AND ORANGE JUICE, which will traumatize your digestive tract. Instead, start off by rincing your mouth out, and then drinking a cup of room temperature water with the juice of a 1/4 lemon. Then have a moist cooling fruit, such as soft sweet juicy pears or Kiwi. This will gently allow your body to adjust to food. Wait 20-30 minutes, and then have a very small portion of fish (like we spoke about before Yom Kippur).

Don't undo the good you did by overeating after Yom Kippur! Eat very slowly, as it takes time for the message to reach your brain that you are full. Remember that your stomach shrinks when you fast, so please honor your body and soul.

Always eat in a good mood and always have in mind that you are doing a mitzva when you eat--taking care of the wonderful gift from Ha-Shem that houses our holy souls,the body.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Elul, the pericardium, Judgement and Truth

The world is in a state of chaos. Unprecedented floods continue to ravage Pakistan, leaving a million plus people homeless, while ironically the Taliban threatens to murder any foreign aid volunteers. Mudslides are overwhelming China and Guatamala. Uncontained forest fires rage in Russia. An atomic bomb appears within the reach of Iran, while the Hezbollah is building networks of tunnels, and cynically setting up missile launching sites in orphanages, just waiting to strike the match which sets off the next war.

When is all this occurring? During Elul, when Ha-Shem is closest to us, when he speaks to us most directly. Our sages tell us, that when on the Shabbos before Elul we bless the new moon, the fish in the sea tremble in anticipation of the coming day of judgement. But what exactly does this term "judgement?" really mean and why does all of creation, except for us, get it... while we don't?

The answer lies in the very nature of Man and the nature of the world. Every created thing (except us) whether animate or inanimate is keenly aware that its very continued existence depends upon it's life-force or Qi which comes from Ha-Shem and were it to choose to disconnect, it would vaporize to nothingness. We are the only creatures with completely free choice. But that free choice can only occur within the framework of illusion. If we could clearly see things as they really are, to know and understand the damage that we do to our bodies and souls when we disconnect, feed our egos and pull away from Ha-Shem, obviously no one would ever vainly indulge or sin. But then we wouldn't have free choice, would we? What person in their right mind would go around harming himself? Think of the leper--he feels no pain, he has no awareness of his body deteriorating, but this is a curse, not a blessing! It is not just a coincidence that the word "olam" or world, in Hebrew, comes from the root that means "hidden", for the reality of the way things really are, is overlaid with layer upon layer of physicality and hedonism, under which the real world hides. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are so caught up in their pleasures and egos, that they rarely look beyond the "olam". Yet Ha-Shem, our loving Father, in his great mercy annually comes closer to us, and urges us to wake up from the stupor, from the anesthesia in which we get stuck.

That opportunity is Elul. Our sages tell us that Elul is an acronym from the first letters of the verse, "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me," an indication of the close relationship that we aspire to attain with Ha-Shem during this month. But there is yet another verse brought down,(devarim 30:6) also an acronym, which even more profoundly alludes to the power of Elul: "...and He will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring." Circumcision is associated with the removal of the foreskin that a Jewish baby boy is born with, but how do we understand what the Torah saying here? Is it telling us to have open heart surgery and remove the pericardium, the thin membranous sac that envelops our hearts? Hardly! The Ramban says on this verse : Circumcision of the heart indicates a change in our human existence: the removal of the Yetzer Hara. This is the vision of the era of Moshiach, the days of the final redemption, when we will have no inclination for rebellion or vice and we will live in harmony with ourselves and with HaShem. No inner struggle will divert our energies from the true goal of spiritual life. And our desire to return to HaShem will facilitate the removal of the factors which take us away from Him, as the Gemara in tells us, "One who is ready to purify himself, will be helped from Above."

The Ramban however goes further. He views this change as a return to the pristine world of Gan Eden, before Adam and Chava sinned. In the "Gan Eden" existence, man lives in harmony with HaShem, reflecting the perfect togetherness of man and his Maker. Teshuva takes us back to the exact point of departure. It is ‘return’ in the literal sense of the word. So our aim during Elul should be to take ourselves back to a pre-sin world, a world where the layers of "olam" are circumcised from our hearts.

And it gets more intense as we enter the final few days before Rosh Hashana, Judgement day. Each day is a microcosm of the days of the year we are now ending. Part of the judgement we face involves looking within. Our sages tell us that He remembers all the things that we forget, and forgets all the things we remember. Whenever we judge ourselves, regretting and resolving to change, we literally free ourselves from having to stand trial in heaven! One of the names of Rosh Hashana is Yom Hazikaron (remembrance day), and this reflects an additional component of our trial: Every word we say has significance. And especially on Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana doesn't mean "New Year's Day." Rather it means the "Head of the Year" This awesome day is to the coming year, what the head is to the body. It is the control center, the brain. And this is the essence of why it is called "Judgement Day", because just as the brain influences every nerve, muscle, fascia, every cell of the body, so too what we do on Rosh Hashana will influence EVERYTHING in the coming year, including our livelihood, our health, our fortune and even our lives. The Gemara tells us that "simana milsa he", that omens have significance on Rosh Hashana: the fact that we eat the head of a fish and pray that this year we should be on top, at the head of thing and not the bottom, that we dip apple in honey and pray that it should be a good and sweet year, and so on. All of these symbolic acts have profound significance in affecting the coming year--but we can't take these, nor anything else we do lightly! For we are being watched and judged.

So now as the last few days of the year slowly slip away, our job must be to prepare for this judgement, by judging ourselves, by clearing up our unsettled scores, and by begging Ha-Shem to circumcise our hearts, in order to really see the truth. I heard recently,in a CD by Rav Shalom Arush, that Moshiach was supposed to have come last Pesach, but that 2 tzadikim implored our righteous redeemer to delay in coming. Why? because many, many Jews would have died during the final war, those Jews who had not yet returned to Ha-Shem. And Moshiach agreed to wait. May we be ready soon, may all of our brothers and sisters wake up and realize the illusion they've been living, and may we join the rest of creation in being aware of where our lifeforce comes from, with that awareness crowning our A-lmighty Father and Doctor as King.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rethinking evil (part II)

In part one of this article, we considered the roots of evil and how they affect our health and well-being. But practically, how are we to look at horrific world events, massacres, atrocities, and acts of cruelty? Judaism teaches that every action and event that occurs in the universe whether global or microscopic is directly supervised by the A-lmighty, Who is good, and does only good. The Kabbalistic and Chassidic masters teach us that the more we train ourselves to involve Him in our lives, the more we sensitize ourselves to his presence, and the more aware we are of his abundant kindness, the sweeter life becomes. It is with this vision, that we need to view every event that occurs both personally and globally. Easy to say, but so hard to put into practice. Yet, as the Rambam tells us in hilchos deyos, any bad habit or behavioral tendency can be uprooted and changed through humility, perseverence and repetition.

So what are the alternatives? If one comes to the teleological conclusion that our world is chaotic and random, and is not directed towards a higher harmony, then it is easy to come to the colloquial understanding of evil as inexplicable. Some choose to view events with negativity and disbelief, sticking their heads in the sand and living in constant fear and dysfunction. Others try to explain inscrutable event by different approaches of philosophical determinism, as Nietsche, Darwin and Marx did. Yet, though these ideas might make sense in theory, in practice they are flawed, and not only deprive people of their dignity and freedom of choice, but also lead to depression. Still others choose a perspective not unsimilar to Greek mythology or paganism, idealists looking for heros, to rescue the world from infamy and destruction. But unfortunately, though it might work on the stage or screen, in real life, there are never idyllic, happy endings, because people are people, and any man-made morality will be ultimately lead to disappointment, disallusionment and corruption. So in the larger scheme of things,and in the real world, no human logic can explain the unexplainable, and no man-made value system can redeem mankind.

What we are left with are choices of either attributing phenomena to the absurd, acknowledging our limitations and declaring that we just don't know, or trusting that though we recognize that we are limited in our ability to perceive the entire tapestry of space and time, The One who created space and time is absolutely good and can never be flawed or imperfect. And so, again, I would contend that our perception of evil comes from short-sightedness and unfulfilled potential, the two etymologies that I referred to in part one.

There is one more element, though that I did not speak about: Jewish mysticism recognizes that the hand which perpetrates evil is nothing but a "stick" which is used to affect correction. Nonetheless, that stick, which is actually the instrument to surgically bring about correction, is really an object of evil, and in the grand scheme of things, all instruments which deliver pain and destruction ultimately need to be destroyed, in order to perfect the world. This is, of course, a macro-presentation of how Judaism views the world stage. But from a micro-perspective, as a clinician and practitioner, my job is to empower my patient to remove the evil which is imbalance, in body, emotion, mind and spirit, and to educate him or her to always look at things in the larger context, to consider the pathogenesis of their illness, to educate them , and to make every effort to not impose my values on them. Judaism believes that ultimately justice will be done and the perpetrator, the "stick" that inflicted this vicious behavior will be destroyed.

Finally, no discussion of evil would be complete, without exploring validity of spiritual powers, energetic healing, and the occult. I do not discount in any way the validity or effectiveness of any of these approaches. However, my clinical approach is guided by the following principles: 1. I do not believe that it is constructive to engage in or access energies or forces. I believe that it is neither spiritually nor physically healthy to do so. (as to whether one is even allowed to engage in them is yet another issue, and presents serious halachic problems) Yet there is a big difference between engaging in energetic practices and connecting with a patient, in order to be aware of the status of his or her Qi,(for a brief explanation of Qi, see the glossary on my website) in order to help he or she unblock themselves. (see the story below.) I also, for the same reason, am against giving blood (unless the volunteer is in vigorous health with strong, robust blood, which is rare for most women due to menstruation, childbearing, nursing and menopause) 2. Whatever healing therapies I am engaged in, acting as a diligent messenger to heal my patient, I must do so to the best of my ability and knowledge, I must acknowledge that if I am not successful as a messenger for healing my patient, that it is not the A-lmighty's will, and I must never second guess a decision that I made. The gemara in Avoda Zara tells us that every sick person has a specific messenger and a specific time when they will be healed, and if I am not successful, then either it is not the right time, or I am not the right messenger. And yet, because as the Rambam says, that it is impossible to serve Ha-Shem when one is sick, hungry or in pain, for every patient, I say a special prayer, asking Ha-Shem to help me be successful, not for my own glory or satisfaction, but rather to free my patient from the shackles of illness that block his or her ability to reach their potential. 3. I try to talk to G-d daily, out loud, literally, reviewing the days events, in order to understand what I did wrong, and what I could do differently next time, asking Him for guidance to direct my paths. 4. Judaism teaches us of the necessity to remove that which blocks our hearts from perceiving truth, and feeling compassion. We are told to remove the "foreskin" from our hearts. It is this insensitivity and blockage, that we identify as the orla (foreskin), as tuma (impurity) or as "Klipa" (shell or peel), and again this is completely consistant to the concept that I presented previously, that evil is either that which is crooked or that which is superficial. Once we remove this klipa, this "energy cyst" which blocks us from feeling and from knowing ourselves, we can truly heal, and it is that klipa which blocks us from having clear vision and connectivity. I want to share with you a wonderful yet very sad story: I had a patient six years ago who I had previously treated while as a student in clinic. She called me in April from Cedars Sinai hospital, where she was receiving chemo and radiation for breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver. Though she was formerly a hearty 5'6" mother of 6, now she weighed under 90 lbs. I started worked with her twice a week, using the modalities of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, diet therapy, craniosacral therapy, somato-emotional release, and bioset allergy desensitization. In August of that year, my wife and I went to Israel for our son's wedding and were to be gone for 2 month. In July, a month before we left, during a session, she commented that if she would be successful in connecting her heart to her occiput, she would have a complete healing. When we left a month later, she had regained most of her weight, was actively running her household, appeared to be in remission, and was definitely on the road to recovery. When we returned in October, I called her back, and asked how she was doing and if she would like to continue working together. She answered that she wasn't feeling that good, but would that she would not be able to continue treatments. She explained that her decision was in order to honor her husband who felt that the work was just too intimate, both physically, and emotionally. Tragically, the next time I saw him was at her funeral 3 month later.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rethinking Evil

I would like to share with you today a different perspective on the second principle of Traditional Jewish medicine (TJM). This principle, Sur Me'ra Va'ase Tov,(turn away from Evil and Do good) teaches us that in order for a patient to get well, before embarking upon new innovative therapies to renew and invigorate the tired and out of balance patient, the physician first needs to carefully evaluate, and eliminate from his patient's diet and lifestyle, foods and behaviors that can undermine his health and cause him harm. Yet before we are able to eliminate that which is evil, we should consider first exactly what evil means from a TJM perspective. Our sages tell us, that once Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the clear distinction between good and evil became blurred and relativistic. We, as their descendents are given the task of repairing this damage, by working to clarify their distinction. But what exactly does evil really mean?

I would suggest that much can be learned of the real essence of what something is, by examining its root in various languages. I find it fascinating that when we analyze two different respective "roots" of the word evil: the Chinese character "xie" and the Hebrew word רוע, we gain a broader understanding as to what evil really is. Scholars that I have spoken to tell me that the character "xie" connotes that which is crooked, as in a tree growing crooked and bent over, implying imbalance and disharmony. The Hebrew word "רוע," (pronounced ro'ah) consists of the same letters as the word עור (ohr) meaning skin, and implying that evil is that which is superficial, fake, "skin-deep". (In contrast, English I generally find to be a more linear, adaptive language, mostly single faceted, complementing the Western (shall I say, American?) tendency toward reductionism and oversimplification. Though translation is important, I believe that it is more important to understand the use of language in its context and spirit rather than only its precise, limiting definition.)

The thinking, G-d fearing person needs to go beyond that which is simple and obvious. Our task should always be, to view our lives from a higher perspective, to vigilantly be aware of the constant threats of superficiality and imbalance. When we integrate the awareness that what we do does matter, we become more whole, and better vessels of holiness in order to bring the Mashiach that much closer.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Creator of healings, The Cultivator of deliverances

No event that occurs is by chance. As Rav Moshe Armoni, Shlita, from Jerusalem says, the word, "Mikre" (chance) is the same exact letters as "rak m'Ha-Shem" (only from Ha-Shem). His hand can be clearly seen throughout our daily lives, as events are nurtured and guided by the A-lmighty. It is up to us, though, to refine ourselves, and learn to "read" and discriminate his remarkable works as "The Creator of Healings, the cultivator of Deliverances...." (from the daily morning prayers). Every once in a while, that Hand can be seen remarkably clearly, as He changes the course of nature. Recently, we witnessed His might in closing down air travel to and from Europe. What you probably didn't hear, though, was how that global event saved the life of a young Yeshiva boy from Jerusalem---(my thanks to Norman Feiner for sharing this):

The Great Miracle of the Volcano Shutdown.
A universal crisis, millions of people stranded, billions of dollars lost, and one volcanic eruption in Iceland causes chaos across the European continent. Within all this tumult, one Jew merits a smile of loveliness from the Creator of the World, as if whispering to him - my son, the whole world was not created except for you

The story begins with a young Yeshiva student, an 18 year old Yerushalmi, who came down with a fulminate hepatic failure and was mortally ill.
With little hope of receiving a liver transplant in Israel, Rav Firer sought to send the boy to Brussels, the world center of liver transplants. The only problem however, is that Brussels under no circumstances transplants non-EU patients in order to save the scanty supply of livers for Europeans. Nevertheless, it was decided to send him to Brussels despite the full knowledge of negligible chance of receiving a liver.

The young Yeshiva student had no choice but to include his name
to the long waiting list for a liver transplant. In the meantime, he tried to maintain his learning despite the illness, consciously aware that it will takes weeks, months, and even years till he will be able to be given a new liver. Many patients were on the waiting list, and his name was somewhere on the bottom... And when his turn does finally arrive, it must completely match his blood type and other medical criteria. If it's not a perfect match, he will need to continue waiting ... for a miracle.
However, ' Many thoughts in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of HaShem shall stand. HaShem had a different plan for this young Yeshiva student and HaShem's loyal servants produced avalanches of hot ash, rock and gas on Europe, causing Europe to completely shut down its skies into a no-fly zone. No one can leave and no one can enter; a self-imposed siege in the euro zone skies. It is during this time that a young religious Yerushalmi man in the capital of Belgium is sitting in the yeshiva learning Torah.
During the course of the shut down airspace above Europe, a person dies in the hospital in the capital of Belgium, a person whom agreed to donate his liver to anyone that might need it. Astonishingly, a liver that is perfectly parametric for our young Yeshiva student.

Health authority of Belgium began searching the liver transplant waiting list but unfortunately, not even one patient was able to fly into Belgium for the very needed healthy liver transplant due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland.
As they advanced further on the waiting list, they reached the young Yeshiva student. However it was not offered to the boy due to his lack of citizenship. As the clock closed in on the deadline for time in which the the liver's lifespan for transplanting, the precious healthy liver cannot be wasted and must be swiftly replaced with a diseased liver, no one else was able to arrive in Belgium for the transplant except this young Yerushalmi.

With the clear Divine Intervention, this budding talmid chacham received the liver and is now recovering from surgery.
The enormity of this miracle was even greater after the successful liver transplant. The doctors said that the young yeshiva student's liver was very deteriorated and diseased and it was a matter of days his liver would stop functioning completely. The doctors unanimously believe that if this young man had to continue waiting for the liver transplant, he would have been long dead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A treasure discovered

We discovered a treasure today: My father had given me two pairs of tefillin to get checked-one small pair, and one pair that he said was from his bar mitzva. I had my doubts, as the pair he was using during the shloshim period of mourning was what he had told me earlier was from his bar mitzva, 73 years ago. Anyway, my dear sofer friend, Rabbi Yaakov Safranovitz, told me, that there was good news and bad news: The bad news was that the small pair, which I believe were from a deceased cousin who more than 50 years ago, had left them with my parents when he was in the army and stationed in California, were not kosher, nor were they worth fixing as they were of poor quality. However, the other pair, he said were definitely not from my father--they were at least 150 year old! The quality of the parchment was thick and superb, and the script, which was in the style of the Baal Hatanya, came from Russia, had to have been written by a G-d fearing person, by a very high soul, and was of a very high quality.

I remembered back, that in 1974, when my father had come to NY for my graduation from Yeshiva University, he had brougth with him these tefillin. At the time the batim (cases) were very old and falling apart, and we brought them to a sofer (scribe) in the lower east side, who checked them and placed them in their present batim. For those of you who know anything about safrus, the parchment was so thick, that it would only fit into dakos, not the usual gasos that are used today! So my dad and I put our heads together, and we realized that these must have been the tefillin of my great-grandfather, Yosef Schwartz,a"h, born in 1862, moved to Jerusalem circa 1925, in his last years was a gabbai tzedoka for Kollel Shomrei Hachomos, and who, when he passed away in 1931, was buried among the holy souls on Har Hazeisim (the mount of olives). I have merited to visit his grave twice. It will take about 2 weeks to properly restore these treasures, and G-d willing, my dad will be use them for special occasions for many years to come.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Alchemist And Getting Unstuck in order to find our Treasure

So many of us get stuck in the ruts of our lives: perhaps we feel that we must make ends meet, and therefore, we are compelled to continue on our present path, never stopping to consider our dreams, that is, until it's too late, and we're too old to do anything about it; Perhaps we choose to barricade ourselves in the safety of our comfortable existences, never daring to venture beyond the needs of our physical beings, while our souls long for spiritual nutrition. Yes, there are some adventuresome spirits who actually do seek out their dreams, traveling to far away and distant lands. Yet, with neither map nor compass, invariably they return home empty, unfulfilled and a whole lot poorer. What a tragedy that most of us get old, lose track of the dreams of our youth, and hardly consider why we were brought into this world.

The truth is that the fulfillment of our dreams, and our hidden treasures are really close at hand. The Torah tells us in Devarim 30:14, "For this thing is very near to you." If we would just stop and shake ourselves, wake ourselves up a few times each day, we might consider what our Beloved Father, Friend, and confidant, the A-lmighty, has given us. If we did realize the scores of new opportunities and choices we have each day, we could be much, much closer to our finding our treasure, and by sensitizing ourselves, training ourselves to think differently, and considering just how significant each choice we make is, so much of what is hidden would be revealed to us.

Recently, A dear friend lent me the book, "The Alchemist" written by Paulo Coelho. "The Alchemist" is one young man's search for his treasure and his destiny. It is a story about the challenges of getting unstuck, and in the end, finding one's treasure. What particularly struck me about "The Alchemist" is that it seems to be based on the wonderful Chassidic story retold by Rav Chanoch Henich of Alexander (the founder of the second largest Chassidic group in Poland before World War II) in the name of his rebbe, the great Chasidishe master, Rav Simcha Binim of Peshischa, (who, in turn, was the closest student of The holy Jew of Peshischa, The first Biala Rebbe).

Here is the story: In the city of Cracow, Poland there lived a Jew named Reb Eizek Yekeles. Reb Eizek dreamed repeatedly that he should make the long journey to Prague, and there, near the royal palace, under the bridge, he should dig in the ground where an unbelievable treasure awaited him! At first he ignored the dream, but when it repeated itself, again and again, he told it over to his wife, who encouraged him to fulfill his dream. The next morning without delay Reb Eizek set out by foot for Prague, and headed straight for the bridge near the palace. But to his dismay, he discovered that the area was heavily guarded, day and night, by armed soldiers. How could a little Jew from Cracow sneak in under the watchful and fearful eye of the troops and start digging under the bridge for his treasure? What a disappointing climax to such a fatiguing journey! Now he would have to make the long, exhausting trip home again, empty handed. All day long, he walked up and down the riverbank near the bridge, feeling sorry for himself, and when night fell, he returned to the inn where he was staying, and tossed and turned until daybreak. Yet, he wouldn't give up. Each day, day after day, he would walk up and down the riverbank, trying to figure out how he could dig for his treasure. After a number of days, the captain of the guard became curious about the sad Jew who kept returning day after day, and who seemed to be looking for something. He decided to approach him to ask him what he is doing. Though at first hesitant, R. Eizek poured out his heart and told the captain his whole story. The captain exploded in laughter. "Who on earth believes the kind of nonsense they see in dreams? How can you be so foolish to come all the way to Prague because of a dream? Why I, myself, dreamed the other day that I should travel all the way to Cracow, where I would find some Jew named Reb Eizek Yekeles. If i were to dig under the stove of his house I would find an unbelievable treasure. Now I ask you: do you think it would occur to me to take seriously such a ridiculous dream, and to travel all the way to Cracow? At long last, Reb Eizek understood why he had come all the way to Prague. And without delay, he excitedly rushed home began digging and found the enormous treasure buried under his stove just as the captain had told him. From his newly found fortune he built a magnificent Shul completed in 1644, and though twice it was ransacked, first by Swedish invaders during the war of 1655-1658, and recently by the Nazis, my their name and memory be erased, it was recently restored as a historic monument by the Polish government.

We must never lose track of our dreams. Ha-Shem is constantly speaking to us, constantly guiding us to find our treasure. We just need to train ourselves to become good listeners, to hear what we really are supposed to hear. It takes hard work and focus. But as our sages tell us, one who seeks to purify himself is helped from Above.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Rendezvous in Space and Time

We, in exile, begin tonight a rare, twice a year, opportunity to commune with The Divine, a rendezvous in space and time. As you may or may not know, Pesach and Sukkos begin and end with holy days, which serve as bookends for the middle days which are called Chol Hamoed, and it is those days that I refer to. We find one other seemingly different circumstance in which the term moed is used: Ohel moed, which was the tabernacle or tent of meeting, in which the Torah tells us the Divine presence rested while the Jews traveled in the wilderness on their way to the Promised land.

Yet, I would contend, that their commonality is incredibly profound. Our sages teach us that a main goal in our short sojourn on this world should be to sanctify time and space, and to dedicate all that we do to elevating all that is given to us. But the essence of Judaism asks us to go one step further: We need to consider that just as the A-lmighty created and manifests His dominion over space, He created and rules over the dimension of time, as well. With this perspective, we can begin to think differently, to consider that both time and space overlap in a very quantum way. As Jews, this manifests in the following ways: first, we are taught that every event which occurs at a given time of year, leave an imprint and affects us, even if it occurred hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The Kabbalah teaches that the "light" from earlier events is accessible and shines during times of meeting, moadim. Second, we need to realize, that just as our actions leave an imprint upon the world, as significantly, our use of time leaves a mark upon the world as well. Third, from a medical perspective, we need to realize that not only does our use of time impact the world, but it impacts our bodies and souls as well!

Which brings me back to Chol Hamoed. Chol Hamoed, (the intermediate days of the Festivals) literally means the mundane or secular of the Divine convocation. The root of the hebrew word chol is chalal, which means a void or a hollow space. We acknowledge a similar void or emptiness when we make havdallah after Shabbos and declare the dramatic contrast between the light of Shabbos and the darkness of the week, with the statement, Baruch Hamavdil bain kodesh lechol (Blessed is the One who distinguishes between that which is holy and that which is mundane). It is, therefore, our task in each coming week, to attempt to fill that void. How do we understand though, the "void" between the two festivals: in our case, one commemorating the open G-dly revelation and deliverance from Egypt, and the other commemorating the splitting of the Red Sea? The holy Zohar give us some direction: It compares Chol Hamoed to the moon, which, although it has no light of its own, mirrors the brilliant rays of the sun. The "void" of Chol Hamoed, therefore, is filled in by the exquisite reflected light of the festivals that surrounds it. Our sages view Chol Hamoed with such reverence, that they tell us, "One who (looks lightly upon and) shames Chol Hamoed is considered like an idol worshiper" and ..."has no share in the World to Come!" Why such strong language? Because our sages needed us to reflect upon the awesome holiness contained within these days, (and not fall prey to the temptation of viewing Chol Hamoed as just intermediate vacation days) which contain powerful reflected light, a light that if we connect to it, will give us a unique opportunity to feel G-dliness, almost like our forefathers in the wilderness! And just as the generation in the wilderness, was protected much like a fetus in its mothers womb, so too, Chol Hamoed can have a wonderful impact on our health and well being, enabling us to feel G-d's presence. And just like Shabbos is a rare opportunity to free ourselves, body and soul from the slavery and idol worship of technology, so too, Chol Hamoed, gives us that opportunity. So if we dress like it's still Pesach, we eat like it's still Pesach, and we refrain from doing activities or work which distract us from the bliss of being in the presence of The King, we take advantage of a most wonderful opportunity. Try it, and see if it works.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chinese herbs contraindicated during Pesach (passover)

Dear Friends,

As I have in the last two years, as a public service, I am posting the list of Chinese herbs that are contraindicated for observant Jews during the 8 day (7 for those living in Israel) festival of Pesach, which begins tomorrow evening (Monday) at sunset. During this holiday, Jews refrain from consuming or benefitting from certain leavened grain products known as Chametz. (Ch is pronounced as in Chanuka and not as in child) Below is a list of Chinese herbs that are intrinsically Chametz or are processed in a manner which renders them Chametz and are therefore not recommended (Know that this list has been made based to the best of my knowledge, and is in know way authoritative or the last word. Though the medicinal substances listed below, are definitely, and in all circumstances Chametz, there my be other substances or herbs that inadvertantly have left out):

1. E Jiao-Equus Asinus
2. Shu Di Huang (note that Sheng Di Huang is OK)- Rehmannia Glutinosa
3. Chuan Xiong-Ligusticum
4. Rou Cong Rong-Cistanche
5. Gui Ban Jiao-Chinemys Reevesii
6. Yi Yi Ren-Coix (often substituted with pearl barley)
7. Mai Ya-germinated barley
8. Da Mai Miao-Barley sprouts
9. Yi Tang-maltose
10. Fu Xiao Mai-light wheat
11. Lu Jiao Jiao-Cervus Nippon
12. Shen Qu-Massa Fermenta
13. Huang Jing-Polygonatum

Should any of you know of any other substances which are Chametz, I would encourage you to let me know. Also, be aware that any medicines in pill form containing these ingredients definitely are problematic to the observant Jewish consumer.

Of course it goes without saying, that this list is only addressing the issue of Chometz, and not other issues relating to Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). Feel free to contact me should you have any questions.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A quick laugh as we turn into the home stretch for Pesach

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is nothing to laugh about. It is a condition in which the brain gets stuck, which appears to result from a miscommunication between the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia and the thalamus. It is a heart-breaking mental disorder, characterized by intrusive thoughts (the obsessive component) that can produce extreme anxiety, and prompt repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing this anxiety (the compulsive component). That being said, I have found in clinical practice that a combination of acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, nutraceuticals and Chinese medicine can be very successful in resolving it, without needing to resort to mild altering pharmaceuticals.

Erev Pesach is a very special time as we search inside of ourselves as well in our homes for Chometz, literally, as well as for its metaphor: arrogance. May Ha-Shem help us to succeed in our search and destroy mission, and may we bring in Pesach with lots of love and support for each other, and with hearts purified of chametz!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eating with awareness: empowering ourselves through our diet

The ultimate goal of the physician should be to promote balance and teach patients and students how to live in a manner which will promote balance and wellness. I believe that we need to cultivate four aspects of our lives if we are to succeed in that goal: what we eat, how we sleep, how we move and oxygenate our bodies, and how we nourish our spirits.

This article will be the first in a series of what and how to not to eat, as well as what and how we should eat. I choose specifically to mention what not to eat first, following the guidance of King David, who says in Tehillim: "Turn away from evil, and do good," teaching us to first eliminate that which harms us. Concerning how one eats, the Rambam says in Hilchos Deyos: 3:2 , "One should set one's heart to eat...things that are beneficial to the body, whether they are sweet or bitter, and not eat things that are harmful the the body, even though they may be sweet to the palate."

So with that introduction, my first recommendation of a substance to avoid would be good old-fashioned, Coca Cola (Well maybe not so old-fashioned: The original Coke contained cocaine, thus its name, and even as a kid, in the late 50s, it was known that if someone wanted to ditch school, an instant fever could be produced by drinking a bottle of coke with 2 aspirin!). The main ingredients in a 12 oz can of Coke are carbonated water (from carbon dioxide, the waste product that we breath out), 39 grams of sugar (more than 8 teaspoons), natural flavors, caramel color, about 50 mg of Phosphoric acid, and about 35 mg of caffeine.

Upon drinking a can of coke, more than 8 teaspoons (39 grams) of sugar hit your system. The liver and pancreas respond to this rush of simple carbohydrates by turning them into fat. The caffeine causes the pupils to dilate,and the blood pressure to rise which in turn causes the liver to release more sugar into the bloodstream. The caffeine also blocks the adenosine receptors to the brain preventing drowsiness and is an excitotoxin, killing brain cells by stimulates the dopamine and pleasure centers of the brain.
The phosphoric acid chelates or binds calcium, magnesium and zinc in the small intestine, and the diuretic action of the caffeine causes these minerals to be excreted by the urine, leading to osteomalacia and osteoporosis. And this is all about REGULAR COKE. What about diet coke? Stay tuned....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

When we have a choice, and when we don't

In the musaf prayer of the Days of Awe, our existance in this world is described as a fleeting dream. We live under the illusion that we are supposed to be raised with two normal stable loving parents, with normal loving siblings, go to school, get an education, get a job, get married and have a loving, stable relationship, buy a house, have children who we train to love and honor us, age gracefully, and at the right time pass away to the world of truth. That is our manifest right, and when things don't go according to that scenario, injustice has been dispensed, right?

But when one thinks about it, is it not the ultimate expression of arrogance to assume that we call the shots and that we deserve all of the above?

On the contrary. The one thing we do have in this world, is choice. The choice that we are given even preceeds our birth. In the Kabbalah we are told that we are even given the choice of who our parents will be before we are born, knowing, as we do there, in the world of truth, that our job as we come into this world, will be to repair and fix what our souls need in order to complete the task that our soul requires to reach completion. That choice continues throughout our physical existance. And when our time is up, as it was in the case of my mom when she passed away a month ago, after 91 years on this earth, we return to where we came from, and must answer for the decisions that we made on a daily, yes, even on a moment to moment basis, during our lifetimes. Now Mom's free choice is gone, and all that she has is my Dad, my sister and myself to influence her eternity, by the Kaddish that we say, by the learning that we do, and by the good deeds that we accomplish.

The midrash tells us that, involuntarily we are conceived, involuntarily we are born, involuntarily we die, and involuntarily we must account for ourselves in the heavenly court.

The "Donna Reed" ideal sitcom families of the 50s were nothing but a fantasy, worse, a lie! The images conceived by writers encourage one to fantasize that someone else's reality is the way it really is supposed to be, it is really what I deserve, and if I am not given that opportunity, I have been dealt injustice. What a terrible thing it is for one to stop living themselves, and instead, to live vicariously in the never-never land of their imagination! When one does this, he stops growing, he stops appreciating the blessings that he has been giving, and he creates a chasm between himself and Ha-Shem. When one stops appreciating the sweetness of the blessings that he has been given, invariably he finds his existance, as it is, to be unbearable. And he does whatever it takes to kill the pain of what he perceives, he anesthesizes. His pain killer might be drugs, it might be pornography, it might be cumpulsive eating of food, it might be tobacco, it might be alcohol, it might be television, it might be sports, it might be music, it might even be vacations, but whatever it is, the common denominator is that the person is miserable with their existance and needs to run away.

But as I said before, WE DO HAVE FREE CHOICE, and we need not perceive our lives as miserable leaving us little choice other than to escape: either by way of anesthetic or by quitting: quitting our jobs, our marriages or our lives, Chas V'Shalom.

The first place to start is by looking at the many blessings we do have in our lives, and daily, give thanks for them--WITHOUT ANY BUTS. Period. Then we need to make every effort to make small changes that are absolutely available to us. Part of empowering ourselves is to constantly remember that we always have choices! It is our decision to choose not to overeat, for example. It is our decision to recognize the connection between our behavior and our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. It is our decision to choose not to exercise. It is our decision to pursue helping resources to address emotional and physical tasks that we feel we can't resolve independently.

The internet can be an insidious, dangerous parasitic monster, but it can also be a tool, to connect to resources and receive support on a scale heretofore completely unheard of.

We are never stuck. Ha-Shem ALWAYS provides the remedy before we are disabled by illness. But we need to listen and we need to acknowledge that choice is always ours. But if we choose not to choose and remain in a state of inertia, than we need to know that we will involuntarily need to answer for ourselves when our time comes. The Midrash tells us that the greatest castigation and reproof we will receive is the defense we give to not having done right when we had the choice in this world. The prosecution will use all of our excuses against us, showing us how we wasted our lives, our money and our potential to do good. But then, it will be too late.

Monday, January 18, 2010


A new friend wrote to me recently that he felt bad that the people he used to hang out with ten years previously were all doing the same thing, as back then--nothing. Yet they found him on Facebook,the new place for people who are bored to hangout! I wrote back that the friendships he had back then were probably superficial. Often when one grows, one leave behind those from the past. I left for Yeshiva back in 1970 and returned to LA in '76. When I came back, I felt so alone. Many of my dear friends from the past now viewed me as a religious fanatic, and neither wanted to be with me, nor grow with me. As time has passed I now see many of my peers from my youth as acting and looking really old! Yet the Torah, and especially, the teachings of Chasidus guide us to maintain a joie d'vivre, a youthful optimism and joy of life, while working to grow in knowledge and connectivity with Ha-Shem. When one is constantly aware that "Ein od milvado" (There is none other than Him), then one never feels alone. It is a tremendous challenge, for we live in an unforgiving, selfish, cruel and particularly lonely society. People survive by "hanging out." Yet how many friendships are genuine, without strings attached? As our chazal tell us in Pirkei Avos perek 5: "Any love that is conditional, will cease when the condition upon which it depends vanishes. But if it is unconditional, it will never cease."

I would suggest, therefore to first and foremost honor yourself, body and soul, and try to be misboded daily, reviewing the course of the days events, considering what happened to you and why, and what you could have done differently to better please Ha-Shem. Work hard to love people only to help them, and without any agenda or ulterior motive (even such as kiruv-influencing them to become observant!) And as you do chesed (acts of kindness), know that you are making the A-lmighty smile. What we do does matter. Don't waste time with unnecessary activities or stimulation. The more one works on doing for Ha-Shem and healing the world, the less lonely one feels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

emerging from the cocoon, life after death

I have decided to share with you some thoughts and observations that I hope you will find helpful, as physician, practitioners, patients and members of the fraternity of mankind.

As some of you may know, my mother passed away exactly 2 weeks ago. Judaism legislates a period of shock called aninus until the burial of ones beloved, in which, paradoxically, one is exempt from all positive precepts, all commandments. Generally, this period is a day, or at the most 2 days, and is followed by the burial and the next step of mourning, the week of shiva which I will talk about shortly. But because the undertakers union would not allow for a burial on New Years day, we were left in no man's land until Sunday, when we finally said goodbye to dear mother.

As I mentioned, the shiva process which lasts a week follows the burial, and for that week I didn't leave my home, but once, Thursday for just 2 hours, to sit with my sister and father. A steady stream of friends and family attempted to console, yet I felt numb, as if enveloped in a cocoon. It is informative that the greeting of consolation that Judaism teaches that one gives a mourner is, "May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion...," for no human consolation can fill the void that a child feels when he loses his parent, no matter what his age. And yet, as with a stroke victim, which Mom ironically was, healing therapies can build new connective pathways, though they can never undo the initial damage. The love and sweetness that I felt and feel has indeed begun to build new pathways of connectivity within and without.

As I have emerged from the cocoon of sitting shiva, I have felt that I have been transported to a different place, and that childhood was now over, at age 57. I felt blessed to know that mom was always there for me, an ethereal extension of the womb. But now like a ripe fruit, I have dropped off of the tree, and not only must grow on my own, but must consider my actions all the more carefully. Gone are the days of staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning, as I now must get up early to attend and lead prayer services, and pray to elevate her soul. Every action I take, every work of scholarship that I study, I try to keep in mind that I engage in them to elevate her soul. This short sojourn that we have on earth, is the only opportunity that we have to better ourselves, our loved ones and the world. I had written a lot in the past few months about how what we do matters. Once one leaves this world, Judaism teaches that only one's loved ones can better their eternal destiny. And so I attempt to give back to some small degree what she so unselfishly gave to me.

I received an interesting phone call today from a patient, a new mother, who got her first period, unexpectedly, 10 months after giving birth. Though, of course, I can never know or feel what a woman feels when menstruating, still my experience has, to some degree, I think given me a new insight into the miracle of a woman's menstrual cycle. It seems to me that perhaps, menstruation is a kind of death that a woman experiences, with the potential for life giving not being fulfilled. The dramatic changes in body and emotion that a woman goes through each month takes her to a different place. And like the mourner, I think that it is appropriate that she honor, to the best of her ability this transitional cocoon that she is going through, introspecting and nurturing herself. By doing so, it would seem to me that she too can emerge on the other side, a little more mature, and respectful towards her body and soul as she prepares to carry on.

May those of you who are blessed to still have both parents, invest the time to honor and appreciate them while they are still alive, and may those of you who have shared and experienced what I am going through, be conscious and honor your parents memory.