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.