Monday, November 28, 2011

Self esteem, problem solving and Shabbos

I want to share with you a letter that I wrote to one of my patients who has been having problems with his self-esteem and resolving personal difficulties. It also so happens that he is attending graduate school and is so overwhelmed by his work load, that he has felt compelled to compromise on his Sabbath observance. (Significantly, in the 10 principles of Jewish Medicine that you will find on my website, principle #7 is Shabbos.) This letter clarifies how I view Shabbos as a healing tool and how it can deeply change us from the inside out. The gist of his arguments are that the approach I take oversimplifies complex problems. As you will soon see, I beg to differ:

Dear brother,

I believe that it was in one of our first conversations that we spoke of the myth of "self-esteem". If you recall, then, too, you were shocked that I considered self-esteem to actually be a cynical excuse for ego-gratification. But as I explained then, our priority in all cases needs to be to consider whether our actions please Ha-Shem or the opposite. As I have said on many occasions, the concept of neutrality, of "Switzerland" is a lie. There is no such thing as a neutral stance in any relationship. We either engage and exist in an environment of peace and harmony, or we are in conflict. So too with one's actions. Our actions either bring more G-dliness into the world, or create more emptiness and dissonance. This was the case in our previous discussion, and this is the case here. What I want you to think of is not what feels good or what hurts, but rather how your actions help you to connect or,
G-d forbid, do the opposite in your relationship with Ha-Shem. When faced with a difficult solution, you have 3 strategies to consider: 1. Talk to Ha-Shem and if you lay all of your options open on the table you will usually be able to get a sense of clarity as to how to proceed. 2. Speak to your wife. Respectfully, ask her for her feedback, expressing that you are having difficulty making the correct decision, and that you value her input.
3. Speak to those who are your mentors and role models and get their feedback, whenever possible.
I can assure you, that if you can follow the above when confronted with difficult situations, you will ALWAYS make wise decisions and Ha-Shem will bless you with peace of mind, clarity of thought, and abundance of blessing. I guarantee it !

Remember, it's always OK to make mistakes. But it's absolutely wrong to wallow in depression or consider oneself a sinner. Such a concept is completely incongruous with Judaism. The word "chet" usually translated as sin, really means that one missed the mark, and got off the main road. The key is to be aware of oneself and get back onto the King's highway. But no good ever comes from being stuck! The key to success in life is to recognize who your are, where you are and where you are going, making corrections when you need to.

(At this point, our discussion addressed a decision of his to turn on the heater on Shabbos because he felt that his children might get sick--but remember, this is Los Angeles, California, not a cold climate).

Now lets come full circle and discuss the issue of turning on the heater. I want you to consider the following:
1. your action was taken unilaterally, without discussing how your wife felt about it.
2. Why does one keep Shabbos? Because it is a time to be together as a family? Because we work 6 days and are tired on the seventh? I don't think so. Rather, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave us a prescription for healing and connecting our bodies and souls, and freeing us from the servitude that we are enslaved to the 6 days of the week. This wise Doctor knows much better than we do what is good for us and what is not, and He declares that keeping Shabbos meticulously is the potion of life extending our lifespan and enriching our eternal souls that seek to be attached to Ha-Shem. But keeping Shabbos can be very complicated and requires an extensive knowledge and review of its many laws. My point is that not being terribly knowledgeable, it is critically important that just as with issues relating to domestic tranquility, so too with issues relating to Shabbos, decisions should not be made cavalierly and without going through the three steps I listed above.

Furthermore, I must tell you, that from our conversations, I don't think that you really grasp just what Shabbos is and what it can do for you. If you did, what happened this past Shabbos wouldn't have happened, and you wouldn't ever even want to study on Shabbos--These things would be unthinkable, and not because they are forbidden, because that's just not the point! But rather from a complete lack of comprehension of what Shabbos is and what it can do for you , to enrich you and connect you to your neshama (soul). I hope the time comes sometime soon, we can spend Shabbos together. But tragically, you should know, that you are not alone. Many, many Sabbath observers are in the same boat as you are, and just don't get what Shabbos is. So why do they keep it? Well, first of all, many don't really, though they may contend that they do, for if they discuss weekday activities, or sports or entertainment or business, then they are not immersed in Shabbos, and for all intents and purposes are not really keeping Shabbos, radical as that may sound! Essentially, they are disconnected from their Neshamas, really no differently than one who puts a TV on a shabbos clock to watch a show or a sporting event. So, again, why do they keep it? Some keep it out of habit. Some out of fear of Divine punishment or retribution. Some do it because it's the Jewish thing to do. But they're all wrong, and what usually happens is that their children get fed up with their hypocracy, and stop keeping what they see their parents don't really believe in.

I want to conclude by having you ask yourself this question: Why do I keep Shabbos? Please consider all of the above carefully and answer honestly. I hope that your careful reflection is able to change your perception.

The bottom line is to always remember that Shabbos is for YOU, not for Ha-Shem, and if you are not able to comprehend that, then you need to really reconsider the quality and balance of your life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts on Atonement, forgiveness, decision making and groups

As we approach the holy day of Yom Kippur, I would like to reflect upon some of the dynamics which we often unconsciously take for granted, and what actually are involved in atonement and forgiveness, relative to interpersonal relationships.

What makes human beings unique is our free choice, and our ability to make thousands and thousands of decisions, some conscious and some unconscious daily. This choice is not a question of belief, but rather a statement of awareness and of opportunity. For example one might choose to forgive or not grant atonement to another. Another might be whether one chooses to interact and function in society with others or to isolate ourselves, and even if he chooses to integrate himself into society, does he cultivate relationships and develop friendships, or does he just go through the motions, superficially functioning in order to survive, but still living and feeling very much alone. Either way, though, whether he chooses to isolate himself, living alone, off the grid as it were, or he does live in society, but chooses to isolate himelf, there is no question that he will be lonely, will have difficulty dealing with unexpected decisions and probably will be miserable. As a physician, I can vouch for the fact that such behavior will also compromise his health and lead to premature death.

But let's examine one other choice, this one more subtle and often made subconsciously: If one indeed decides to cultivate relationships does he base them upon reciprocity or on unselfishness. Reciprocity means that one will do something nice for someone else because he expects to get something in return. The problem with this approach is that the first time someone doesn't live up to his expectations, the relationship becomes cautious, later cynical and finally ends. Tragically and unthinkingly, too many relationships are based upon this simplistic and flawed value system, which has the underlying priority message of "what about me?" One need only consider the high rate of divorce and dysfunctional households to confirm how pervasive and insidiously destructive this self-aggrandizement is to the fabric of society.

But there is another choice that one can take to function in society, and this is the conscious decision to integrate chesed (kindness) and gevurah (structure), to act unselfishnessly and engage in acts of kindness. There are two imperatives as to why this is beneficial and works, but they really are both the same: One is because The A-lmighty teaches us that this is the correct way to conduct ourselves and this is why He created the world, in order to bestow kindness, and two, because this behavior promotes a more balanced and harmonious world. When one gives to another solely because its the right thing to do, without any expectation of reciprocity, this creates a new dynamic of freedom, celebrates our humanness by cultivating a mature joy, and encourages forming people into groups and communities. But without forgiveness and atonement, this is impossible. By holding grudges and refusing to give another the opportunity to reconnect, one reinforces an isolation which damages both body and soul.

When considering what decisions should go into forming a group, members of the group need to reflect upon whether each member's behavior best serves the interests of the group. They need to be made aware that their actions must demonstrate an ability and willingness to engage in healthy interaction with the group, pr tp discpnnect.. Choosing to remain connected with a dysfunctional person, undermines the integrity of the group and encourages that member's dysfunctionality, much as a parent spoils a child by threatening consequences, when he acts inappropriately, but then does nothing. When taking apart any team, group or relationship the dynamics are exactly the same when successful. Even in a relationship of just 2 people, each person needs to recognize their various strengths and weaknesses. In successful relationships, responsibilities and leadership roles are delegated based upon the wisdom of the group. BUT THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 2 PEOPLE, A FUNCTIONAL GROUP AND SOCIETY AS A WHOLE--There must be engagement and there must be a balanced distribution of responsibility.

From the individual perspective, it is the wise person, who connects with those that he resonates and harmonizes with, recognizing what he gains by contributing to the group, while at the same time setting and maintaining his individual integrity to protect himself. It is important to consider that group relationships should be flexible, dynamic and unselfish, that there must be a balance between the actions and agendas of each individual, while appreciating the beneficial strength and integrity of the "group". But again, there must remain the opening for healing through forgiveness and atonement when mistakes are made by human error, poor judgement, or even ignorance. Ironically, it is the decision to not allowing for the possibility of forgiveness or atonement, that brings one to the "safety" of isolation, but is that really a desirable goal? Again, will the resulting probable consequences not be misery, depression, and illness? . Alfred Lord Tennyson put it well, when he said, " Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

As we approach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonements, then, please carefully consider these wonderful gifts which forgiveness and atonement are , as opportunities to celebrate our membership in the community of mankind, and realize that by denying oneself this opportunity, by holding a grudge, one only hurts and damages oneself, like the foolish person who gets mad at an infected toe nail, and in his fury cuts off the toe. If it's sick doesn't it make more sense to heal it rather than cut it off?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why I live in Los Angeles-and not Israel (part 2)

A colleague who I assume lives in Israel, expressed to me after reading part one of this article, that "with all of the positives regarding other Jewish communities, let me remind you that only Israel is our real home - period."

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that these sentiments reflect anyone who has been to Israel, and has the depth and vision to appreciate what they have seen and experienced. I want to share with you my experience: Back in '74, I graduated from YU, and was accepted to Shaalavim. My intention was to go and learn for a year, become more proficient in hebrew, raise up a notch the level of my learning, return to YU, learn for smicha, and consider the opportunities that would be presented as that point. It was exciting, the prospect of going to a foreign country (As an immature 22 year old I had never been to Israel, and spoke a very broken hebrew), but my exposure to Israel and Israelis, heretofore has been anything but endearing: I had found Israelis to be pushy, aggressive, dogmatic, smelly, and anything but what I had viewed as spiritual. In LA where I grew up, I had been an NCSY kid, and we viewed the Bnei Akiva kids as reactionary Israeli cheerleaders, with little depth, seeming to worship Eretz Yisrael above the Ribono Shel Olam and the Torah . BTW that's one of the reasons why I chose Shaalavim, specifically because it was not a Mizrachi Yeshiva, as it was associated with Poalei Agudat Yisrael, which at the time was a much bigger tent, far more inclusive and quite different than Kipa sruga Mizrachi, but I digress. A funny thing happened: though, when I got there: I fell in love with Israel, was overwhelmed and totally caught off guard by the depth and intensity of its kedusha, and I have longed to return ever since. I have gone back many, many times since, trying to spend Tishrei and the period betwen Lag Baomer and Shavuos there each year, though alas, I haven't always been successful in doing so. As a great mekubal in Bnei Brak told me, I'll know when the time is right for me to make aliya. But the biggest problem that I face each time, leaving Israel, is the "chalal", the void that I feel. It is enormous and unbearable. So how have I learned to cope and function in Galus? By talking to Ha-Shem on a daily basis, really, talking out loud in a place of privacy without distraction, I have come to the realization of the importance of bringing Eretz Yisrael with me into Galus. There is a different mindset, a different set of values and a connectivity that contagiously infects, wisens and deepens one's neshama being there, at least it does to me. By carefully considering how important every decision I make is, and by constantly asking myself whether my actions will please the Ribono Shel Olam, I am comforted in feeling that I have brought Eretz Yisrael with me wherever I am, even in Los Angeles. Of course, nothing replaces being there, and I long for each opportunity that presents itself for me to come, but in the meantime, I find solace and joy in each day, even here, and am extremely grateful for the enormous blessings that He has granted me as I continue to long to be there.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why I live in Los Angeles

I love life, I look forward to the adventure that each day brings, and ... I L O V E L A !

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

resetting ourselves when we get stuck

One of the fascinating parallels between Classical Chinese Medicine, going back at least, over 2000 years to the time of the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic), and Traditional Jewish Medicine, is the importance that both traditions give to emotions. With specificity, by treating organ or channel imbalances, a skilled practitioner is also able to help balance and resolve severe emotional problems as well, whether depression, anger, mania, worrying and over-thinking, fear or fright. However often, when we are confronted with the unexpected, we just don't have the tools, or the presence of mind, to do anything constructive, and we get stuck, despite our best intentions.

Getting unstuck requires a sensitivity and a realization that we are in a bad place and are disconnected from what really matters: ourselves, our environment and our Maker. The Torah teaches us that this requires us to listen to the female aspect of our psyches, and by setting boundaries for ourselves, we are able to conquer these destructive emotions, for as the Mishna asks, "Who is the strong person (gibor-meaning the one who masters the trait of gevuva or boundaries)? The one who conquers his inclinations."

But, again, this is easier said than done, particularly in the heat of the battle, for as our sages tell us concerning last weeks Torah Portion: "When you go out to war against your enemy...." This enemy that that the Torah is speaking about is that force which drives us to disconnect from

I want to suggest, therefore, that there are 6 basic things that we can do, when we realize that we are stuck, to reset and reconnect ourselves to the Lifeforce to whom we all depend:

1. Blink. Blinking resets our nervous system by helping to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" part of the autonomic nervous system). It provides moisture to the eyes, and will usually stimulate #2:

2. Sigh. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that there is no activity more important that we can engage in than Hisbodedus (speaking to Ha-Shem out loud the way you would speak to a dear friend, giving over your burdens to Him), and an essential component to successful hisbodedus is "krechtzing" or unloading a deep sigh. For as Rabbi Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan (1, 109): "When you sigh and groan over your unfulfilled yearning for holiness, it causes you to be attached to the ruach (the life-force) of holiness. This is because sighing is drawing breath – which is life itself!"

3. Smile. Smiling brings about some amazing biochemical changes, such as lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, releasing endorphins (the body's natural pain killers) and serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter), and, of course, making us feel happier (even a fake smile!)

4. Drink water. Our bodies, as is well known, are over 2/3 water, but what is not as well known, is how delicate our fluid distribution system is, ( which the Chinese call the San Jiao) and how easy it is to become dehydrated. From my experience, I have found without exception, that those who allow their emotions to get the best of them ALL become dehydrated. Furthermore, dehydration creates a more acid pH, which causes our bodies to break down and become sick.

5. Powernap. Nothing exhausts us more than losing control of our emotions. But there's a wonderful antidote for exhaustion: The powernap! The trick is to not sleep for more than 15 minutes to a half hour, for amazingly, each 15 minutes that we sleep during the day, is worth an hour at night! But always remember to gratefully give over your soul for safekeeping to Ha-Shem, even for 15 minutes.

6. Hope. The Midrash (Braishis Rabba: 98:20) teaches us:
"Rabbi Yitzchok said, 'Anything is possible with hope! Suffering can be released with hope! Sanctifying the Name of Ha-Shem can be achieved through hope! The merit of our forefathers can be tapped to reach Ha-Shem with hope! The spiritual pleasure of the world to come can be achieved with hope!
...Undeserved grace is granted by Ha-Shem with hope! (And) one is granted forgiveness by Ha-Shem with hope!"

Wishing everyone a wonderful new year, a year of hope, and a year when we are able to vigilantly keep an awareness of ourselves, so that our actions cause our friends to smile and our Most Beloved Friend to smile.
Name of Ha-Sh

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

music, drugs and spirituality

As so often is the case, this article was insprired by an animated dialogue that I had with a dear fellow who I've known for many years, and who, when he one day, internalizes the message of this article, will reap the tremendous harvest that Ha-Shem has planted for him. I must also warn you that you might find some of what you are about to read to be offensive and definitely not politically correct, so I apologize in advance with all sincerity. Our conversation started off by my friend expressing how inspiring he found Neil Young's music, and how his song "Huricane" was so apropos based upon events back East. I mentioned a recollection of Neil Young from the Farm Aid benefit back in 1985: While getting ready to perform, I saw the camera focused on him, and noticed that he literally looked like death warmed over: his facial expression pasty and expressionless, like a Parkinson's patient, certainly looking much older than his 40 or years. It seemed obvious that like many other Rock and Rollers, such as Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, and the late George Harrison of the Beatles, drugs had played havoc on his nervous system, draining him and causing him to prematurely age. (It is interesting to note, by the way, that miraculously, when the music started playing it was as if he woke up and regained his old youth. This same phenomenon is described in Norman Cousin's wonderful book, "Anatomy of an Illness.") My friend pointed out, though, that I should not have jumped to conclusions, for in reality, Neil Young has suffered from epilepsy since childhood, and must have been taking anti-convulsive medication.

As a Chasid, one must always consider information on many different levels. Though, indeed, one should never prejudge a situation with a narrow and jaundiced outlook, still two thought should be reflected upon: First, ALL music evokes passion, and second that all medicines generate side effects. Back in 1970, Rav Noach Weinberg, A"H came to Los Angeles and spoke about this. He pointed out that all art forms, but especially music, powerfully act upon us by stimulating adrenaline, exhausting and draining our bodies, and desensitizing our souls by (often) artificially causing us to connect with the message given forth by the music, which more often than not is inconsistent with the service of Ha-Shem. This is especially prevalent with rock and rollers. I believe that it is no coincidence that there is so much drug usage (and of course abuse) with them--for the passion generated by music,(especially so with performers) is enormously stimulating. All stimulants are exhausting. And once one tastes the exquisite nectar, one wants to stay high. What better vehicle to keep one high and happy than drugs. And I include in this not just illegal drugs but also caffeine and nicotine as well. Chinese medicine recognizes well that any stimulation such as this, will deplete one's Yin, or material being, and Jing or marrow and genetic essence. Once depleted, they are very hard to regenerate. Along with this physical exhaustion, Rav Noach, A"H pointed out, that these passions are generally used for unG-dly purposes, and this affects another change within us, deceiving us into thinking that we are more spiritual, when, like Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, we are offering "a strange fire that was not commanded by Ha-Shem."

Concerning the second point, I am reminded of the quote by pharmaceutical manufacturer, Eli Lilly, who was famous for saying, there is no drug that does not induce side effects. This is the unfortunate consequence of all chemical drugs including anti-convulsants such as tegretol, dilantin and phenobarbitol, that Neil Young may have been taking. Very much like the Faustian bargain, once one has started taking a drug, they may never be able to stop. The relief that one may temporarily get can often engender an acceleration of the illness or a greater need for the drug, requiring a higher and higher dose, and the resulting poisoning of the whole body. This is the look that I saw on Neil Young's face back in '85. Is there an alternative? Yes, but sometimes when one has taken a drug or cocktail of drugs for too long, whether pharmaceutical or illicit, the damage may already have been done, and can't be reversed. As I think many of you know, my precious wife of 32 years also suffers from epileptic seizures, (the result of Western medical malpractice, I may add!). But using small divided doses of a mild anti-convulsant (levetiracetam), along with Chinese medicine to ameliorate side effects, and accompanying symptoms, the seizures are occurring less and less frequently and hopefully will soon stop completely!

But returning to my original point, it is a serious mistake to confuse music as actual spiritual inspiration, with music accompanying the seminal events in our lives, as a soundtrack. Everyone associates events, movements and lovers with certain songs that were sung or played on the radio during a particularly moving and powerful time in one's life. But let's be honest, it is nothing short of disingenuous to contend that music written by junkies, atheists, hedonists, narcissists, anarchists or idol worshipers will spiritually inspire us to connect to Ha-Shem. To get excited? absolutely! to get turned on? You bet! But turn-ons coming from a place of tuma are not what spirituality is. The root of the word spirit is ruach, and we learn from braishis what spirituality is when the verse tells us that "Ha-Shem breathed into Adam's nostrils the spirit of life and he became a living being." That which comes from Ha-Shem, is therefore, by definition spiritual, as well as that which derives its nourishment from the same spiritual root. Whereas, that which derives its nourishment from impurity, will ultimately taint, no matter how sanitized it is or how good it feels. That's why terms such as "kosher Yoga" or "kosher reiki" are oxymorons, as each come from deep rooted avoda zara(idol worship).

Now I should point out that as is well known, particularly in the chassidic tradition, certain high righteous souls called tzadikim have the ability to "redeem" certain melodies and folk songs. But this is completely different than suggesting that one can be spiritually uplifted by popular songs one hears on the radio. For whereas the tzadikim affect the music and change it spiritually by releasing the sparks of holiness contained within, having perceived the need to free them, popular music, which more likely than not, does not come from a place of purity or holiness, certainly affects us! This should be qualified, though, for though music is in and of itself, very pure and very high, (and as our sages teach us, the gate of melody is right next to the gate of repentance, in heaven.) it falls within the extremely vulnerable category of klipas noga. And when "other" forces act upon it, whether they be the composer, the artist or some other strong perverse influence, it becomes tainted. It is for the very reason that singing prayers and hymns such as Lecho Dodi or Adon Olam to folk melodies or rock songs, stirs up (at least subconsciously) memories associated with the given given melody and artist.

Let's take this one step further: it's not enough to simply be aware of this subtle danger in order to avoid being affected and seduced by it. The truth is, there is no way that one is not going to be affected by passionate visual, olfactory, gustatory, tactile or auditory stimuli, for they definitely leave an imprint. This is not something that I made up, but rather our sages from all streams validate this. Even in current times, one can look in the writings of the Biala Rebbe, the Lahavas Dovid, ZT"L as well as Rov Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, ZT"L among others who each speak about this. I am reminded of the story told of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Lopian, who was approached by a talmid of his, asking for permission to attend a wedding, in which there would not be a mechitza or partition. The young man qualified to the Rosh Yeshiva that he had worked upon himself and Baruch Ha-Shem, had reached a level where immodest dress no longer affected him. Rav Lopian gave him permission to attend the wedding, but only on the condition that he contact a certain person whose phone number the Rosh Yeshiva would give to him. He took the phone number and returned a few hours later to tell Rav Lopian that he must have taken a wrong number, because the number was a doctor's office. "No," said the Rosh Yeshiva "there was no mistake. I am a man in my late 80's, blind in one eye, and these things still affect me. But if they don't affect you, a young man in your early 20s, then I fear something is physically wrong with you and I would like you to go see a doctor!"

The issue that I speak of is an Aish Zara, a blazing fire that is burning up the souls of too many of us. As with the Chanuka story, we need a special spark, a pure untouched flask, to inspire us and wake us up to the Hellenistic culture which so many have fallen prey to. So many in the modern Orthodox movement look for "heterim" or loopholes, to mix these two cultures. But as history constantly teaches us, they don't mix. My friend brought an example of "kol isha," the prohibition of listening to a woman sing. This, prohibition, he pointed out, does not apply to recorded music but rather only to seductively songs sung live. "And even a microphone," he pointed out, "could be considered a mitigating factor permitting this.

Yet, though, according to the letter of the law, he might have been correct, should one place himself in a compromising position, looking for loopholes? Does it please Ha-Shem if one derives pleasure or enjoyment from hearing a woman sing? Could any blessing possibly result from such stimulation, no matter how subtle? The Ramban teaches us that the mitzva for a Jew to specifically "be holy," means that one should act in a manner which is not gluttonous, gross or obscene even though it is permitted according to the "letter of the law."

So why do our sages teach us in the Gemara, that the "power of the lenient is greater?" Doesn't that seem to imply that deriving ways to permit something demonstrates a greater mastery of the law? I would contend that this is a distortion of the Gemara's intent. To illustrate what our sages really had in mind with a statement like this, I want to share with you the story of a rebbe that I had when I was in Yeshiva. This rebbe was a great scholar, but he had a problem: His beloved wife loved to sing zemiros at the Shabbos table, so whenever she did, he would join in and sing with her, relying on the loophole that "trei kolei lo mishtaei" (two voices sung together are not considered as distinguishable and are therefore not technically Kol Isha). What his actions demonstrated were that the Torah's ways are ways of pleasantness, and rather than stifle his wife's need to express herself, or even worse, to embarrass her, in that case, it was appropriate to rely on this loophole. And that's just the point: heterim or loopholes, should only be used to effectuate Kiddush Ha-Shem. Our actions can never be seen as neutral or insignificant. Whatever we do either sanctifies or desecrates, and really matters. The term for desecration in Hebrew is Chilul Ha-Shem. Literally this means creating a void, a place where we choose our our ego gratification to replace the A-lmighty.

But you know what the biggest proof and the biggest validation of making the right decision is? What happens next. Daily I ask myself how I've done, what I can do to better connect to Him. I know that everything I do falls into either Kiddush or Chilul Ha-Shem. When I get it right, I see incredible blessings, and right away too--and in all areas of my life: my livelihood, my health, my success in learning, and my domestic tranquility among others. But when I don't, I ALWAYS receive a correction, which I gratefully accept and adjust to. The Torah says, "bechol derachecha de'eyhu, v'hu yeyasher orchosecha" If we involve Him in everything we do, he will make our lives easier. So what does one gain by listening to what one shouldn't? the same as one gains by smoking a cigarette, eating a donut, looking at a pretty girl, getting stoned or even drinking a cup of coffee. One anesthetizes oneself. One gives himself a boost to numb himself. And this certainly is not spirituality.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The business model and philosophy of my practice

Nothing promotes success more than a successful business model, and clearly, that means stepping back and regularly evaluating how one run's his or her business. Success, in my opinion needs to be judged by two criteria which are really one: how one's patients feel about you, and, of course, financial success. Let's look briefly at these two: I feel that developing a relationship with a patient is very similar to a courtship. I set very specific goals with and for my patients to build health and promote balance while at the same time validating trust and confidence. To accomplish this, involves educating my patients to think differently about a number of areas of their lives which they most probably have taken for granted: how they eat, drink, breathe, move their bodies, sleep and nurture their spiritual development and happiness. I am very specific and detailed in how I educate my patients, and they know that I will be available should they need to ever call me for clarification 24/6 (or even on Shabbos, should they come by), and they know that even if I am not able to take their call immediately, I will return it in a reasonable time. I also never charge for phone calls with existing patients.

The treatment process is a slow and detail oriented one, as I take two hours with each patient in my clinic. My patients know that my ultimate goal is to to empower them to heal themselves, and to not have to use me as a resource unless necessary, while at the same time knowing that I WILL be there should they need me. That is what I do to empower them.

To empower myself, I am constantly reading, practicing, evaluating and introspecting internalizing what I preach. My patients know that I am a persistent and stubborn advocate on their behalf, and will figure out why and how they are out of balance, if, G-d willing, I am allowed to. Chinese medicine offers us amazingly powerful diagnostic tools, but if I need to, I will require a patient to have blood, urine, stool and other tests, as well as Xrays or MRIs, to give us a more complete picture, and to clarify areas of concern once I have first developed a differential diagnosis. By empowering and educating the patient, and by successfully resolving their complaints, one wins them over and gains their trust, which leads to referrals and financial success.

So how do I view those weeks when my schedule is slow? Do I get nervous? Do I re-evaluate how I need to promote myself? Not at all. I absolutely believe that my livelihood is a gift from Above, and if my schedule is light, I believe that I am being told to step back, re-organize myself, and use the time to reflect and write more. (You'll notice that sometimes a month or more will go by between articles. Invariably these are the times when my practice is busiest!) That is how I do it. That is my approach, and I do very little advertising at all, not even a yellow pages listing. My entire practice comes referrals, with His help.

I was once accused by a patient of being arrogant and cocky. "Aren't you afraid of failure with difficult patients?" I was asked. My response was that I absolutely believe that we are only limited by our imaginations,our fears, and our lack of "da'as" or knowledge: Knowledge that I am merely a messenger of the A-lmighty, The Ultimate Doctor, and knowledge that I have not educated myself enough or paid close attention enough to the details enabling me to succeed with the patient, with His help. I can't imagine someone not being successful who is good at what they do, has a specific niche, and has the common sense to want to connect with their patients. What do I mean by a niche? One of three things: either one should not set up their practice where there are lots of acupuncturists close by who practice in a similar manner, one should become proficient in a therapy or specialization unique to their geographic area, or one should key in to a specific population or demographic group that may not be well serviced. I think that all of this is common sense (which, of course, is not always that common!)

Lastly, I want to emphasize a point that I glossed over before: Look within. I
constantly, even on a daily basis, consider what I do, what I have said, how I
have related to others, what I could have done differently, and prepare for each
new day the night before, by resolving in my mind how I will approach the new
day. And I do it out loud. I feel that talking out loud has been incredibly
therapeutic for my own growth. So when the day is over, I find a quiet place, I
talk, starting out by counting my incredible blessings and closing out each day in
a state of tranquility, fulfillment and completion. With each new day comes
new opportunities and adventures, and with the guidance from the previous days'
resolutions I am given the navigational tools to know how to proceed. And, of course, I need to listen! When I am faced with challenges, sometimes I need to
close my eyes, and with a smile, take a deep breath and reground myself. Once I
do that I always know how to proceed.

'full speed ahead...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A thought concerning balance and longevity from the ancient Chinese

As I've said on numerous occasions, the essence of Jewish Medicine is to bring oneself into balance, internally and externally, with oneself, (through diet and how one conducts oneself) and with one's surroundings. The Rambam in Hilchos Deyos teaches us that one should direct one's heart to Know Ha-Shem, and that it is impossible to know Ha-Shem if one is sick, hungry or in pain. By bringing oneself into balance, one becomes finer tuned and more sensitive to what is called in Kabbalah: "hevel halev" the breath or utterance of the heart. Ha-Shem CONSTANTLY speaks to us, but few of us know to listen and fewer of us know HOW to listen. Unfortunately, there are two problems: first is tuning into the correct frequency, and second is learning how to listen to what's important to hear and not be overwhelmed by the cacophony of noise that bombards us constantly.

It is interesting to note that what originally attracted me to Chinese Medicine, was that very similar vision of seeking balance and pursuing longevity. I happened to notice an interesting passage in the very first chapter of the classic of classics of Chinese medicine: The Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic: Simple Questions,quoted in Bob Flaws and James Lake, MD's text, "Chinese Medical Psychiatry" page 85) that I would like to share with you. Like many great works, in many cultures including Judaism, (The Kuzari, for example) learning is structured in the form of a dialogue. So, too, The Nei Jing is structured in this form, as a dialogue between Huang Di (The Yellow Emperor) and his trusted ministers and physicians, most commonly Qi Bo. The passage goes as follows:

Huang Di asked: "I've heard that in days of old everyone lived 100 years without showing the usual signs of aging. In our time, however (and this was about 2300 years ago) people age prematurely, living only 50 years. Is this due to a change in environment, or is it because people have lost the correct way of life?"

Qi Bo replied: In the past, people practiced the Dao (the correct way to live). They understood the principles of balance, of Yin and Yang, as represented by the transformation of energies of the universe. Thus they formulated practices such as Dao Yin (guiding and stretching)to promote the flow of Qi, and meditation to help maintain and harmonize themselves with the universe. The ate a balanced diet at regular times, rose and retired at regular hours, avoided over-stressing their bodies and minds, and refrained from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind. Thus iti s not surprising that they lived to over 100 years.

These days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their Jing (essence) and deplete their Qi (vital connectivity). They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm and order of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at 50 and die soon after."

Food for thought....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Things are not always as they appear: 3 amazing stories of "bad" (or is it?) happening to the righteous

One of the most troubling questions that every G-d fearing person faces, is to try to explain why terrible things happen to the good and righteous. It is not the goal of this article to try and explain why, but rather to share 3 stories, all with unexpected endings, and all leading to the same conclusion.

The first story is apparently from a Midrash, and is quoted by Rabbi Nissan Mindel in his book, "The complete Story of Shavuot". (Though I looked in numerous sources, I was unable to find this midrash, so if anyone can enlighten me as to its source I would appreciate it!) He tells us that the following story occurred during Moshe's third visit to Mount Sinai where he spent 40 days and 40 nights as on the previous two occasions. "Moshe was very wise. And no wonder. G-d Himself taught Moshe every kind of wisdom and science. Moreover, He opened Moshe's eyes and let him see everything that would come to pass in generations to follow....It seemed strange to Moshe that for the most part the good, kind and righteous people were for the most part poor, while the wicked ones seemed to be powerful and wealthy. 'O good and righteous G-d, Supreme Judge of the world, Exclaimed Moshe, "How can you bear to see so much wrong and injustice? Why are the wicked prosperous while the righteous are suffering? I beseech You, O G-d, make me understand Your ways and Your laws of justice so that I may praise your abundant wisdom and mercy and teach them to all.' 'I heard your prayers, my servant Moshe' G-d answered. 'I shall show you my hidden ways. It will be a grief glance, however, for no human eye can see it all. Now open your eyes and behold what I show you.' Moshe opened his eyes wide and looked:

He saw a stream flowing peacefully down the hill. Its waters, pure as crystal, sparkled in the sunshine. Suddenly a knight appeared riding a fine horse. The rider halted by the stream, dismounted and led his horse to the water. He watched his horse drink and then knelt and also drank of the clear and cool water. As he was bending down, the knight did not notice his purse slip out of his pocket. Having drunk their fill, both rider and horse rode off as swiftly as they had appeared.

Then a young shepherd appeared on the hillside leading his flock to the water. Having watered his sheep, he was about to leave when he noticed the purse. "Hurray!" he cried as he picked it up and saw that it was full of gold and silver coins. "What luck!" He exclaimed. "No more suffering for me. I shall leave my master at once and return to my dear mother. We shall buy a field and a house and live happily ever after!" There was no end to the lad's delight as he drove his flock home more vigorously than ever.

As the dust cleared from the bank of the stream, an old man came plodding down the hill. He looked tired and weary and leaned heavily on his walking stick. When he finally reached the bank of the stream he settled himself on the sand, took out some slices of stale bread which he dipped into the water and ate. Then he put his bag under his head and was soon fast asleep.

Meanwhile the knight discovered his loss. He knew that he must have lost his money at the stream, so he turned his horse around and galloped back as fast as he could.

"Hey you! Wake up you tramp!" he shouted at the sleeping beggar as he shook him with both his hands. The old beggar woke with a start. "What do you want?" "You know very well what I want! Come on, hand me back my purse and make it fast!" "You must be out of your mind, my dear man," the beggar replied. "Why don't you let me sleep?"
"Look here, you old thief," the knight roared. "I dropped my purse on this spot a while ago and you're the only one who could have picked it up. You had better hand over the purse or I'll kill you!"

The poor beggar just laughed at him, but the knight became so infuriated that he drew his sword and stabbed him. He then searched the old man's back and pockets, but could not find his purse. He shrugged his shoulders and rode away.

At the sight of this cold-blooded murder, Moshe was terribly shocked. "O G-d," he exclaimed, " how could you allow an old, innocent and defenseless man be so brutally killed while the young shepherd boy walks off with the treasure?"

"Do not be so hasty," came G-d's reply. "See the ladder yonder? Ascend one step and look! No human eye saw as much, but you shall see that justice is done and that all my ways are righteous."

Moshe ascended onto the step that G-d had shown to him. A new scene opened before his eyes. He saw a lame farmer walking on a crutch and a little boy walking by his side holding his hand. Suddenly, a tramp, lying in ambush, jumped out and stabbed the farmer, snatching his purse and dashing off. A passing rider heard the boy's cries but remained indifferent. Calmly he picked up the purse that the robber had dropped in his haste and flight and rode off. Again moshe was horrified, but presently heard G-d voice:
"Listen to me, Moshe, and you will understand that I rule the world with justice: The tramp that you saw murdered on the bank of the stream is the same one who murdered the lame farmer and robbed his money. The rider who looked on indifferently when murder was committed, later himself executed the murderer, for he was the knight who had dropped the purse by the stream. He had found the purse that the tramp robbed from the farmer, but did not return to the little boy. So he too lost it. And the shepherd was that farmer's son, so as the rightful heir he finally got the money. You see, now, he who sheds an innocent man's blood, his blood shall be shed, and no man ever profits from robbery. Thereupon Moshe exclaimed: "The faithful G-d, without iniquity, righteous and equitable is He!"

A second story that I want to share with you also comes from the Midrash, this one from Seder HaDoros, Erech R. Yehoshua ben Levi, sec. 4 (p. 192).

"Once, when Rabbi Yehoshua encountered Eliyahu HaNovi, he asked Eliyahu if he could accompany him so that he could learn from his conduct. Eliyahu refused, explaining that Rabbi Yehoshua would not understand what he would see. On the contrary, his mortal mind would raise countless questions and there would be no time for explanations.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi nevertheless begged and pleaded, promising that he would not ask any questions. Eliyahu finally agreed on the condition that as soon as Rabbi Yehoshua would begin to ask questions, they would agree to part company.

So they set out on their journey. Toward evening, they reached an old, shaky hut. An elderly couple was sitting outside. While they were dignified, they were also clearly poor. But they nonetheless enthusiastically welcomed the weary travelers, eagerly inviting them into their home and offered them a meal and a place to sleep.

Now though the accommodations meager, nevertheless they were willing to share, whatever they had, in order to offer hospitality to their guests.

The following morning, the two travelers bade their hosts farewell and set out again. But shortly after departing, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi saw Eliyahu HaNovi daven that this wonderful couple's cow should die! The cow, which was their most precious possession, and whose milk was the source of their livelihood, Eliyahu was praying that it should die!

Rabbi Yehoshua was shocked. The couple had been so warm and hospitable. Why did they deserve that their cow should die? But he had agreed not to ask any questions, and so he remained silent.

As they proceeded on their journey, they talked. Rabbi Yehoshua hoped that Eliyahu would offer some explanation or at least a hint as to what happened, but nothing. Instead he directed their conversation to other issues.

Toward evening, they came to a beautiful mansion and although many members of the household saw them, no one offered them hospitality. They asked the owner of the house, a very rich man, for permission to spend the night in his home, and reluctantly he agreed, but didn't offer them any food, and hardly said a word to them.

Again, after setting off in the morning, Rabbi Yehoshua noticed that Eliyahu was davening. It so happened that one of the walls of rich man’s mansion was cracking and weak. This time, Eliyahu davened that this wall should be restored and should remain strong and solid.

Rabbi Yehoshua just couldn't make sense of this. This time, the man was a cold miser, who had hardly given them the time of day, yet Eliyahu was praying for him, asking Ha-Shem that his wall, which was cracked, should become solid and strong again! And again, he abided by the terms of his agreement and asked no questions.

Later on in the day, the two travelers arrived in a beautiful city, a city of great wealth and opulence. They made their way to the main shul to daven. As would be expected, it was a magnificent structure, designed with elegance and taste, and everything, even the benches, were beautiful.

Here, in a place such as this, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi assumed they would have no problem finding hospitality. But it did not work out that way. After davening, nobody approached them to welcome them, or ask if they had where to eat or sleep. Without any other choice, they spent the night in the shul, sleeping on those beautiful benches, without eating supper.

In the morning, as they were getting ready to leave, Eliyahu blessed the inhabitants of the city, wishing them that they should all become leaders. Again, Rabbi Yehoshua was puzzled. Why did Eliyahu bless people who had not shown them hospitality?

That evening, they came to another city which obviously was not as wealthy as the first. Again they looked for the shul which also was much more modest than the previous city's. But also unlike the previous city, here, the townspeople did everything they could to make the two travelers comfortable. Before leaving that city, Eliyahu told them, “May G-d help that only one of you becomes a leader.”

At this point, Rabbi Yehoshua could no longer contain his curiosity. He told Eliyahu, “I know that by asking questions I will forfeit my right to accompany you, but I cannot go on like this. Please, explain these four incidents to me.”

And so Eliyahu began to explain: “The elderly couple whom we first met were wonderful people who performed numerous acts of kindness. So I wanted to give them a blessing. What you didn't realize, was that the righteous wife was destined to pass away that very day! But by hosting us, she was given the opportunity to perform yet one more mitzvah, and the merit of that mitzvah of hospitality was great enough for the decree to be lifted, but not entirely. So I prayed that their cow — which meant so much to them and which was their source of income — should die. Because the cow would die, the woman would have many more years to live. So the cow’s death was really a blessing for them.

“About the miser’s house. In that wall, a very great treasure lied buried. But the wall was weak and would soon break. Because he was a miser and conducted himself so crudely, I prayed that the wall should become strong so that he would not be able to benefit from the treasure.

“What about the people in the prosperous city?” Eliyahu continued. “My prayer that they should all become leaders was anything but a blessing! For the most destructive thing that can happen to a city is for all its inhabitants to becomes leaders, each knowing better than the other.

“And in the other city, where the people were kind, I gave them a genuine blessing: that one, and only one, of them become a true leader.”

The third story is of a more recent vintage, and comes from Rav Shalom Arush's important book, "The Garden of Emuna" wonderfully translated by my dear friend, Rav Lazer Brody (available from:

"Here is a story about a tragedy that jolted the very foundation of an entire Jewish community's emuna in Ha-shem. A beautiful young lady- the daughter of one of the community's most prestigious and respected families married a righteous merchant, a man of charity and compassion. The early years of their marriage were blessed with happiness, abundance, and children. The modest wife became a wonderful mother, utalizing every free minute from her busy schedule to recite Tehilim or care for the community's poor and underprivileged. The husband whose successful commerce carried him to surrounding cities and hamlets, never failed to fulfill a strict daily quota of prayer and Torah learning. In addition he gave enormous amounts to charities all over the country, easing the suffering of thousands of impoverished people.

Suddenly disaster struck. Their home, a bright beacon of charity, good deeds and loving kindness- became the scene of agony. A drunken soldier viciously abused, mutilated and murdered the couple's 3 year old son. The entire community was appalled. Thousands joined in mourning, including the nation's leading sages and spiritual leaders. No one understood. Many vocalized the doubts in their hearts in public: Is this the reward that such a righteous couple deserves? Why did Ha-shem do something so horrendous like that to them? Why did the poor little toddler have to suffer so severely? Others harbored malice in their hearts against Ha-Shem that weakened their emuna and distanced them from Torah.

The couple reacted with total emuna, capitulation and loving acceptance of the Divine decree. They continued with their righteous lifestyle as if nothing had changed: the wife with her acts of lovingkindness and the husband with his torah learning and magnificent charity.

Shortly thereafter tragedy struck again: Like wildfire, word spread around the town that the righteous merchant had fallen deathly ill. All the local synagogues mobilized their members in round the clock prayer vigils. Everyone loved the merchant. Almost every person in town had benefited from his generosity at one time or another...The cries of the community pierced the very thresholds of the Heavens. (But alas,)...the pain and bewilderment of the entire town reached new heights when the word of the righteous merchant's death became common knowledge. Such a young man, at the prime of life-didn't he suffer enough? He did nothing but good deeds his entire life, is that what he deserved? The tears of the young, barely 35 year old widow tore at the community's already perplexed and agonized heart.

A few years passed. One Friday afternoon, the newly married son of the young widow came to wish his mother Shabbat Shalom; she tried to smile, but burst into tears.

"Mama," the young man pleaded, "three years have passed already. You've cried enough. Our sages prescribed set times for mourning. If someone cries more than they should, then sorrow never leaves them! We are believers; None of us know Ha-Shem's considerations. Everything that Ha-Shem does is for the very best! Mama, your crying not only saddens us, your children, but it saddens Papa's soul too. The matchmakers have been chasing after with several good proposals and you've been avoiding them. Mama please, you must continue on with your life."

The young widow took a deep breath. Enough! she made a firm resolve to overcome the sorrow. An encouraging thought flashed across her mind: "Am I more merciful than
Ha-Shem? Of course not! I've always trusted Ha-Shem. Why shouldn't I be happy?" To the relief of her worried children that very Shabbat, Mama became a new person. For the first time in years, the widow slept soundly and peacefully. She realized that a lack of emuna-not her husband's absence- was responsible for the gap in her heart. Now that gap was filled again.

She had a dream. She saw herself standing in an exotic garden of supernatural beauty and she understood that this must be the next world....She was led to a magnificent palace where a young man was giving a torah lecture to thousands of elderly righteous souls. When the lecture was over, the lecturer approached her. It was her husband!

"Dearest husband," she exclaimed, why did you leave me alone at such an early stage of our lives? How have you become the teacher of so many tzaddikim? You were a merchant and an upright man, but you were never a Torah scholar." The husband smiled. "In my former life I was a great scholar. But I never married. When I died, I was told that I could not assume my designated place in the upper palaces of heaven because I never fulfilled the first commandment of the Torah, namely that one must be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, I was reincarnated again for the sole purpose of marrying and having children, and to raise them in the path of Torah. That's exactly what I did. As soon as I completed my tikkun-my soul correction and my mission on earth-I no longer had to remain down there. Now, as you see, I live a life of eternal bliss."

"Then why did our little son die?" probed the wife. The husband answered, "he is the lofty soul of a holy tzaddik, an extremely righteous individual. In his previous life he was kidnapped at birth and raised on the milk of a gentile surrogate mother. Finally at age 3, he was redeemed by the Jewish community and subsequently became a sage or enormous spiritual proportions. After his death he was denied his righteous place in Heaven since his early childhood had left a tiny blemish on his soul. His sole tikkun was to return to earth, to be born, nursed and raised for three years by an upright Jewish woman; You, dear wife, were granted the privilege of being that woman!" "But why was his death so horrible?" "Know," continued her husband, that since our toddler-son had completed his tikkun, he was destined to die anyway. At the same time, the Heavenly Court had decreed - in light of the dire sins between man and fellow man in our town, that all of its inhabitants were to be destroyed in a catastrophic pogrom. The rightous soul of our little one volunteered to die a terrible death as an attonement for the entire town. He became a holy martyr and sanctified himself as a public sacrifice. No one is allowed to reach his lofty abode except for me, since I was his father. When your time comes, you, his mother, will also be allowed. You cant imagine the bliss of the Divine light that surrounds our son."

The husband faded away. Before he departed, his voice reverberated, "only by virtue of your reinforced emuna was I revealed to you. As long as you were in a cloud of sadness, you almost lost another child. All of my request to be revealed to you were refused....My tikkun is over, but you still have much to do. Go, remarry and live a life of emuna and joy. Go with my blessing. Farewell!" The husband's image disappeared completely.

The widow awakened. She felt like she had been born anew. She realized that her questions, as well as the rest of the towns questions, were needless. If the Torah teaches us that Hashem is Righteous and Just, then there is no need to wonder why Hashem does what He does."

It is incredibly difficult to imagine what was going through the mind of our three protagonists: Moshe Rabenu, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and the young widow. Yet we all endure the thick fog which surrounds us, and prevents us from seeing why things really happen. In hebrew, the word for world is "olam," which comes from the root "hidden." So much of what reality really is is hidden from us, and at times that lack of clarity can make us crazy, desperate, afraid, hopeless, depressed, or angry--giving us no peace of mind. Yet as each of these stories teaches, we must let go of our egos, surrender control, be ever so grateful for the wonderful blessing that all of us really do have, and have emuna, trusting that everything that Ha-Shem gives to us is to help us heal and become whole. And, we must also know that for us to ever hope to receive the deliverances and healings that we need and lack, we must constantly consider the two aspects of what it means to be a Jew, and from which the Hebrew word for Jew, Yehudi comes from: Vidui or confession--being honest with ourselves and admitting when we make mistakes, and hoda'ah, being grateful and giving thanks for the blessings that we receive. May our examples serve as lights to illuminate the fog of the world.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Judaism and Vegetarianism

Some 30 or so years ago, I dabbled in vegetarianism, when I enthusiastically read Richard Schwartz's book "Judaism and Vegetarianism" and for 5 or so years, subscribed to Vegetarian Times. I humbly would like to posit 3 observations on this subject:

I. It is important to differentiate as to the reason why certain of our sages past and present chose to be vegetarians, and the reason may be far different than just moral repugnancy. The Divrei Moshe on Parashas Noach brings down the following in the name of the holy Arizal: "The reason that our sages said that it is forbidden for an ignoramus (am ha'aretz) to eat meat, is because an ignoramous does not have the ability to clarify the sparks (of holiness contained within the animal), and on the contrary, he removes very little holiness contained within and is drawn after the (coarseness and lack of refinement of the) animal." I would suggest that it is based upon this reason that some talmidei chachamim and Chasidim choose not to eat meat. By the same token, one who goes to a prominent Chasidic rebbe's tish will always notice the care and concentration that the apply to the eating of all of their food, meat included, in order to "clarify the sparks" as spoken of above. ( If anyone would like me to elaborate on this concept, feel free to ask.

II. I strongly recommend reading "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith, and published by the Price Pottenger foundation, based upon the remarkable research by the late Drs. Weston Price and Francis Pottenger. I merely present this information without opinion or comment for your edification: Here are some of the myths that are discussed in this and other writing published by Price Pottenger: 1. Meat consumption contributes to famine and depletes the Earth's natural resources. 2. Vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant sources 3. The body's need for vitamin A can be met by plant foods. Vitamin D can be obtained by exposure to sunlight 4. Meat eaters have higher rates of heart and kidney disease, cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis than vegetarians. 5. Saturated fats cause heart disease and cancer, and low-fat, low-cholesterol diets are healthier. 6. Vegetarians live longer and have more energy and endurance than meat eaters. 7. The 'Caveman' diet was low fat and/or vegetarian 8. Saturated fat consumption has increased in the 'developed' world in the 20th century, with a corresponding increase in heart disease and cancer. 9. Soya products are adequate substitutes for meat and dairy products. 10. The human body is not designed for meat consumption. 11. Animal products contain harmful toxins. 12. Eating meat or animal products is less 'spiritual' than eating only plant foods. (again refer to point #1 above concerning "sparks").

III. As a physician and practitioner of traditional Jewish and Chinese medicine, we never take the "one shoe fits all" approach to food or medicines, for that matter. Just as there is no such thing as a panacea, so too there is no hard and fast rule about diet for everyone. Instead we take the approach that there is only one absolute, and that is the A-lmighty. Everything and everyone else in the created world is relative, and based upon the constitution and status of each patient, the appropriate diet and if necessary medicinal formula should be prescribed. And this is not only true of Chinese medicine, but in multiple places the Rambam brings down that one should eat foods based upon the persons constitution and temperament. As such, for someone who is in a state of repletion or excess, I would have no problem with them going on a vegan diet (but just to allow them to get in balance, which may take 3-6 month, or perhaps longer, but certainly not indefinitely). But I have to tell you, that virtually ALL vegans that I have treated present with severe Liver Blood, Kidney Yin and Kidney Jing vacuities (deficiencies). One can do what they want for whatever moral reason that they choose for themselves, but in our stressful and polluted world, I don't believe that it is prudent or wise to choose to be a vegan. As Jews, our decisions should always be based upon how we can best please our Maker and Father, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, and in all cases, this one included, I would contend that decision should never be based upon our own subjective prejudices, but rather how we can best serve him. The Rambam says in Hilchos Dayos, that each of us should direct our hearts and thoughts to know Ha-Shem, and it is impossible to know Ha-Shem if one is sick, hungry or in pain. I would humbly add to that list someone who is out of balance.

Tomorrow night is Tisha B'av. May we merit seeing the Bais Hamikrash rebuilt. Our sages tell us that at that time, "knowledge of G-d will fill the world as water fills the seas." I don't think that it's for us to debate what will be then in terms of what the nature of the korbonos will be, but we sure will know much more than we do now!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

8 guidelines for guaranteed digestive health, healing and (if desired) weight loss!

A unique aspect of Chinese medicine is its tendency to teach or express natural phenomena in poetic terms. In this article, I will be speaking of one such phenomenon--the formation and utilization of Post-Heaven Qi. As opposed to our genetic predisposition or Pre-heaven Qi, Post-Heaven Qi refers to our ability to extract and use nutrition from the food we eat in order to generate what the Chinese refer to as Qi and Blood. (for a brief discussion on what is meant by the term Qi (pronounced "chee") see the glossary page of my website: This Post-Heaven Qi is so important, that our inability to generate it, by extracting, transforming and utilizing nutrients from what we eat, I believe is the root of most illnesses civilization.

Though a previous article did address what and how one should eat, this time I want to focus on practical steps we can take to strengthen our organs of digestion, in order to improve our absorption, increase our vitality, sharpen our minds, sensitize our spirituality, regulate our weight, improve our health, and extend our lifespans.

First, let me preface this study by noting a fascinating observation by the Holy Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, OBM. The verse in Deuteronomy 8:2 states that "Man does not live by bread alone, but rather from that which eminate from the mouth of Ha-Shem" The Arizal points out that this verse teaches us that food is more than just nourishment for the body. There are also "sparks of holiness" contained in
food, and when we eat food in the appropriate way, eating with focus and intention and saying a blessing on the food be before eating it, the holiness in that food is unlocked and nourishes the soul. This is crucial to our overall health, because “Man does not live by bread alone." Taking this one step further, I would suggest, as we shall see shortly, that this not only applies to our souls, but our bodies as well!

It should also be noted that biochemically, emotions play an enormous role on our gastro-intestinal health. In the pioneering work by neuro-gastroenterologist, Michael Gershon, MD, "The Second Brain" the author notes that nerve cells in the gut actually act as a second independent brain, and that more serotonin (feel good hormones) and endorphins(powerful natural pain killers) are produced there than anywhere else in the body, including the brain! Furthermore, our two "brains" must work together and cooperate, and if they don't, chaos will prevail in the gut and misery in the head, with symptoms resulting such as heartburn, flatulence, "butterflies", belching, gurgling, bloating, nausea, cramps, diarrhea or constipation.

With these two thoughts in mind, I have passionately and thoughtfully considered how best I can empower my patients to make eating, a spiritual and healing rather than a mechanical and purely animalistic activity for them, and help them reestablish harmony in their digestive tract. I have come up with eight essential therapeutic steps that will change your life. But I warn you, if you cheat, you only cheat yourself and you will regret the consequences of your actions, so consider yourself warned! By the same token, If you follow these guidelines carefully, and really take them seriously, I GUARANTEE YOU, if you need to lose weight, you will lose at least 2 lbs. per week, and if you are suffering from any of the various unbearable and sometimes life threatening auto-immune and digestive disorders that are so prevalent, such as "leaky-gut" syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, colitis, diverticular disease or even stomach, intestinal or pancreatic cancer, that your condition will improve and even heal, IY"H. So here they are:

1. AVOID EATING ANY COLD FOODS OR DRINKS. The Chinese recognize that the Spleen (in Chinese medicine the main organ that governs the process of extracting Qi from food we eat and transforming and transporting it. It should also be noted that this is different than the anatomical spleen that Western Biomedicine speaks of) thrives in an environment which is warm and dry, and it damaged by that which is cold and damp. Therefore, avoiding cold foods and drinks helps promote metabolism and digestive strength, and limits the accumulation of dampness and phlegm, which the Chinese equate with fat.

2. AVOID EAT ANY SOLID FOOD AFTER 7:00 PM. At night when we sleep, our blood needs to nourish our brains, and regenerate in our livers. Specifically, the Chinese recognize that more than any other time, between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 am the Liver regenerates the Blood. So being asleep during those hours is essential for strong Blood and good Liver health. Furthermore, the later in the day we eat, the weaker our digestive power becomes, requiring our blood to aid in the digestive function, and so instead of going to the brain it goes to the stomach. But whereas solid food requires extra energy to be broken down and digested, liquid food such as smoothies (see more about this later on), soup, tea or water with lemon, presents little or no problem, if ingested with moderation.

3. EAT UNTIL YOU ARE HALF FULL AND THEN STOP! Longevity experts now are confirming what our sages have known for millenia, (eg. see the Rambam Hilchos De'os chapter 4), that even more important than what we eat, is how much we eat! That means that one should never eat until he is full, for by doing so, most likely, food will not be fully digested, undigested food will rot and toxically accumulate in the gut. Furthermore, as we age, and as stress continues to take its toll on our bodily functions, we produce ever-increasingly less and less Hydrochloric acid, some people producing none at all, a condition known as achlorhydria. Again, as I mentioned, without hydrochloric acid, we are unable to digest protein, and can't extract nutrients such as minerals and some vitamins from the food we eat. Eating smaller portions, therefore does three things: 1. It gives our bodies a greater chance of digesting and absorbing what we eat, and 2. We feel better and 3. We lose weight. Now it should be noted that even though the Rambam says that one should eat until 3/4 full and then stop, here I am taking a stricter stand than the Rambam because of the enormous stresses that we daily face. And even if, therefore, one has difficulty gaining weight, they should still eat no more than until they are 3/4 full, to give the body a chance to absorb and utilize rather than toxify the body. Speaking of stress, we must recognize that emotions can play an enormous role in our ability to either benefit or actually be harmed by the food that we eat, which leads me to the next 2 recommendations:

4. NEVER EAT WHILE EMOTIONALLY STRESSED IN ANY WAY, WHETHER IT BE ANGER, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, PANIC, WORRY, FEAR, SHOCK, GIDDINESS, NERVOUSNESS, TENSION, EXCITEMENT, OR ANY OTHER EMOTION. Biochemically, the hypothalamus transmits a series of strong signals through the spinal column to nerve centers throughout the body. In the throat, large amounts of thyrotropic hormone (TRH) are released. Near the kidneys, a flood of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is produced as the adrenal glands are called into action. These hormones then trigger a series of programmed responses throughout the body. The blood vessels in the skin and the digestive system undergo a rapid constriction to direct the blood to the muscles in the arms and legs (hence, the term "pale with fright"). This prepares the body for the "fight or flight" response. Simultaneously, the spleen (here we are referring to the anatomical Spleen as opposed to the Chinese functional Spleen that we spoke of earlier) contracts and releases white immune cells and platelets into the bloodstream to protect and respond to any anticipated injuries caused by these emotions. The liver also releases a glucagon to feed the extreme demand for sugar (quick energy) made by the aroused emotions. The saliva in the mouth dries up, the nostrils expand to take in more oxygen, the eyes dilate to take in more visual stimuli and abdominal gas moves downward and forces stool or urine to be excreted, lightening the body and preparing it for fight or flight. This is the emotional aspect of "Sur me'ra" (turning away from evil). But we also need to consider that second part of the verse--"asey tov" (do good). This brings us to...

5. NEVER MULTITASK WHILE EATING! Digesting is not an easy function, though most of us tend to take it for granted until sometimes it's too late. As mentioned earlier, just as when we say a blessing with purpose and concentration, we affect a release of sparks of holiness that were trapped and unavailable heretofore in the food, so too, as we eat, we should always consciously focus on chewing our food well, and pray that the biochemical nutrition contained within the food should be distributed and absorbed where it is needed in our bodies. This is very difficult to accomplish if we are involved in other activities while eating, no matter how seemingly relaxing they are. For in truth, any other activity engaged in while eating, will stimulate other brain centers, and compromise on the efficiency of our digestive function.

6. DETERMINE REACTIVE OR ALLERGIC FOODS AND AVOID THEM! Food sensitivities are the great pretenders and manifest themselves in many ways, some quite insidiously. Some examples include:

a. Upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as rhinitis, sinusitis, post-nasal drip,
b. susceptibility to colds, and chronic asthma.
c. Dermatitis, rashes and itching.
d. Fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
e. Digestive disorders including ulcers, gas, belching, bloating, abdominal pain and chronic indigestion.
f. Palpitations, racing heart, elevated blood pressure or even chest pain.
g. Infertility.
h. Brain symptoms such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), brain fog, constant sleepiness after eating, headache, fatigue, and even anger, depression or mood changes after eating.
i. Candida albicans (fungal or yeast infections)

Pay attention, and if you DO notice that you have any of these symptoms after eating then try doing the Coca Pulse test. Arthur Coca, MD, discovered that under stress, the heart and the pulse work harder and beat faster. Therefore, if one suspects that a food is causing reactivity, he can confirm it with the following test:

1, Take the patient's pulse for 30 seconds, before eating the suspected food.
2. Twenty minutes after finishing the food, again take the pulse for 30 seconds. If the number of beats increases the second time, there is a high probability that the food is reactive.
3. For the next 72 hours, completely avoid that food completely, to purify the system of it.
4. Three days later, now in a pure cleansed state, again eat the suspected food. If indeed the food is reactive, there will be an immediate and dramatic response to eating it.

7. CONNECT WITH YOUR STOMACH AND HELP IT HEAL. In CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release we learn and speak about energy cysts. These are places where our body is unable to release physical and emotional traumas that have occurred, and so encapsulates them. These energy cysts can manifest as "hard places" which can be palpably felt and are often found in the abdominal cavity. Because of the disconnect that occurs between the brain and the gut that we spoke of above, these hard places clearly interfere with our digestive function, and it behooves us, to help ourselves by releasing them one at a time. You may actually find that after releasing an energy cyst, another one will suddenly appear in the same place! In reality, this is not the same energy cyst, but rather a different one on a deeper layer. Try to think of the rings of a tree trunk, and just as each ring represents a different layer of growth, so too, as we release each layer, we come closer to putting ourselves in balance. Here's how you can effect a release: Place your two hands on your abdominal cavity and gently find a place which seems harder than surrounding tissue. Place your two hands on it, close your eyes, smile, and slowly inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. You should start to feel a gentle pulsating or percolating sensation that almost feels like a heartbeat (but it's not!). This pulsating sensation is a phenomenon called a "therapeutic pulse", and is the body's way of slowly and gently releasing deep pent-up tension or trauma. Once you feel the therapeutic pulse, I want you to address your abdomen and say, "I'm sorry that I caused you pain." Then continue with your eyes closed to smile and breathe deeply and slowly until the pulsating stops. It should take about 10 minutes, after which the abdomen will be soft.

8. DRINK GREEN SMOOTHIES. Around 2 months ago, a patient of mine recommended that I read "Green For Life" by Victoria Boutenko--and it has revolutionized my practice and my life! Chimpanzees, the author points out are genetically 99.3% identical to human beings, and once they reach their full adult size, they essentially don't age--that is, until the last 2-3 months before they die! We, on the other hand, age rapidly from age 30 on. The key difference, she concluded was their diet, which essentially consists of fruits and green leaves. Green leafy vegetables and leaves are the highest food source of chlorophyll, which molecularly is almost identical to hemoglobin, and hemoglobin is the iron rich protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. The problem though is how to access the chlorophyll in the greens, for to prevent them from wilting, the wise Creator made leaves with a tough and stringy fiber called cellulose. For Chimpanzees, this presents no problem because their teeth are much sharper than ours, they eat their food slowly (do you know anyone who REALLY eats slow?) and the Hydrochloric acid in their stomachs have not been compromised by stress. Considering this, the author came up with the GREEN SMOOTHY, which, as I said, I have been drinking daily 3-8oz cups daily for the last 2 months. The results for myself, my wife and my patients have been remarkable, and here are some of them: 1. my mustache and the roots of my beard are turning brown, as impossible as that sounds (come by and check it out if you don't believe me!). 2. I am getting by on 1 hour less sleep per night, and not paying the price. 3. I feel more energetic and am definitely thinking clearer. 4. I have less gas and belching. 5. My skin is definitely moister and softer. 5. I believe that my vision is sharper and my eyes are definitely less red. 6. We are definitely seeing a significant change in my wife's neurological condition (I don't want to comment more than that, but thus far I am VERY encouraged!) 7. Patients that needed to lose weight have lost about 2 lbs per week, and those that needed to gain weight noticed that they have gained about 1 lb per week. I essentially consider each green smoothy as a blood transfusion! Now here is the recipe that I have been using: take 2 bananas, 1 pear, two cups of water, and two cups (16 oz) of green leafy vegetables (packed down) and blend them to a creamy consistency. I would recommend getting a Vitamix and even though it's expensive, it's a very good investment. We purchased ours 25 years ago and it's still going strong. But even a decent blender should suffice (though I don't know how long it would last under the daily burden). One other benefit: Believe it or not, they're delicious and refreshing. Which green should you use: Here's a sample list to use as a starting point: romaine lettuce, parsley, cilantro, celery leaves, carrot tops, beet tops, spinach, arugula, kale, chard, collards, bok choy, mizuna, mustard greens and mint leaves. I would definitely rotate the greens, to vary the taste and maximize absorption. Which brings me to another important issue--digestion and absorption: In Boutenko's book, she brings down two other important benefits to consider: 1. the green smoothies serve to alkalinize the blood, make it less conducive to degenerative disease and 2. As mentioned above, and as validated by the Roseburg study discussed in the book, a majority of people with digestive problems, rather than having too much acid, are actually severely lacking the stomach acid needed to break down protein and absorb vitamins and nutrients in foods. The Roseburg study proved that a diet consisting of a quart of green smoothie daily dramatically increased the production of hydrochloric acid, and the resulting better absorption of nutrients. (I, BTW, take supplemental Betaine Hydrochloride with each smoothy to further support digestive function.

Anyway, that's it! Like I said, if you are not feeling good and your digestion and absorption are compromised, I guarantee you that you will see a dramatic improvement to your health by following these eight recommendations.

As always, I welcome your comments and gladly will provide support should you contact me!