Friday, January 28, 2011

Observations on developments in Egypt

Santayana really had it right: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it!" One would think that Mubarak and the other autocrats would have learned from what happened both at the beginning and end of the Soviet Union. Each situation, has two unique problems which it has to face: 1. As Erich Fromm teaches us, there are two types of freedom: freedom from, and freedom to. The Jews were freed from Egypt some 3300 years ago and became a covenantal community, guided by the Torah. The Blacks were freed after the civil war in America, and continue to suffer to this day from without and from within as their freedom left a void. So, too, in Egypt. Not if, but when Mubarak is replaced, will the void be replaced by the likes of Lenin, Stalin and Khomeini, or will the world community provide support to build a meaningful and non-corrupt government of the people. 2. What will become of minorities such as the Copts? The world cries over the displacement of the "Palestinian" refugees, but has anyone considered that a far greater number of Jews were kicked out, had their property repossessed and were involuntarily sent into exile by Arab regimes after the establishment of the state of Israel?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

anger management II

The Rambam in Hilchos deos emphasizes the importance of moderation in all but two character traits. And those two, one needs to distance oneself from as much as possible. One of the two is anger, which is ALWAYS harmful, and, according to Kabala damages one's spiritual bris mila. According to Jewish mysticism, the attribute of Yesod or Foundation is associated with one's behavior relative to modesty, and when one gets angry, this spiritual connection or covenant (bris) is damaged. A little over a year ago, I wrote about anger management. These following 2 stories, courtesy of Rabbi Baruch Lederman, illustrate the Torah way to deal with hostility:

A woman was walking with her friend. They witnessed a mother berating her young daughter in a brutal manner. The little girl was cringing and you could see the terror on her face.
The woman approached the mother. She said with sincere concern and respect, "I can see that you care about your child, and it's obvious that she has done things to get you
angry. I also have children and sometimes lose my temper. I have some ideas that have helped me. You know your child better than I do, but perhaps my experiences can be
helpful for you also."

Amazingly, the mother, who seemed just moments ago to be a terrible evil person, calmed down right before their eyes. "I thank you for your offer. I feel at a total loss. I hate losing
my temper. But I do it over and over again. I would love it if you could give me some tips." Indeed, the frustrated mother, with a little help from her friends, went on to make great
strides, becoming a more fair and effective parent.

The friend, who had observed this whole scene, later asked privately, "All I wanted to do was tell off that horrible mother. I was fuming. No child should ever be treated like that. But
if I did tell her off, it probably would have accomplished nothing - maybe even made things worse. You on the other hand treated her with kindness and compassion, and brought
about such an incredible turn-around. How did you know to do what you did?"

"I never would have had a clue what to do or to think," replied the woman, "But some time ago, I heard a story about the Chofetz Chaim ztz"l that changed my entire perspective.
This amazing story has guided and inspired me ever since:"

Once, a burly, gruff looking, man who had served in the Russian army, entered a Jewish Inn and ordered a meal. When Jewish boys were drafted, it was usually the end of
yiddishkeit for them. The army brainwashed them to worship Mother Russia rather than G-d. He plopped himself down and ate in a most disgusting manner - stuffing an entire
chicken down his mouth. It was revolting that this man, a Jew, could conduct himself in so repulsive a manner, not to mention the fact that he did not recite a bracha (blessing) or
wear a yarmulke (ritual skullcap) while he ate.

The innkeeper and the others present were sickened and embarrassed by this display; though none dared say anything. The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan)
happened to be a guest at that Inn. He saw the young man and slowly approached him. Everyone wondered, what would the Chofetz Chaim possibly say to this man. What could
he say? Surely this oaf would not listen to any rebuke, even from such a holy man.

The Chofetz Chaim asked the man, "Is it true that you served in the Russian army?" "Yes," snorted the man, bracing his defenses for the oncoming tongue-lashing he was fully

"Tell me," began the Chofetz Chaim, "How did you manage to keep your Jewish identity in those circumstances? So many Jewish boys entered the army, only to eventually give
up their Judaism. They are forced to serve for 25 years without any kosher food, Jewish holidays, or any other vestige of Judaism. Yet, when you could have easily gone to any
Inn, you chose a Jewish one. You still identify as a Jew. I don't know if I could have done what you did. You are an inspiration. Where did you find the strength?"

The soldier, caught off guard and clearly moved, looked straight at the Chofetz Chaim, "It was so hard, they did everything to pound it out of us - to make us denounce and forget
that we were Jews."

"It is a miracle that you made it through. Now you can begin to learn the Torah and mitzvos that you were deprived of all these years."

"But Rebbi, how can I possibly do that," the soldier, now sobbing bitterly, responded. He continued through his tears, "I want to return to my heritage, but I am so far removed.
Surely it isn't possible for someone like me to learn."

"No," said the Chofetz Chaim, "It is still possible. It is always possible. I can show you how." As the soldier spoke to the Chofetz Chaim, the stones on his heart began to melt. Had
the Chofetz Chaim not understood and appreciated this man's perspective, this amazing episode never would have occurred. What did happen was: from that day on, the former
soldier began a path to repentance and as the years went by, developed into an observant, well learned Jew.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The process: reconsidering six aspects of our lives

As I have spoken of, I strongly believe that by carefully addressing six aspects of our lives, we can transform ourselves and IY"H hope to live long, happy and fulfilling lives. This transformation is a process, and requires discipline, dedication and diligence, much as a student of martial arts devotes to the mastering of his art-form.

Though I have previously discussed some of these aspects, in this article I would like to briefly go over all of them, considering the various parts of our lives that we may be taking for granted. In coming blogs IY"H I hope to examine more closely each aspect.

Here, therefore, are the six aspects involved in the process of transformation:

1. We need to consider how we should eat. This involves a number of criteria: what we eat and what we should avoid. What should be the proportion and percentages of different foods we eat. How, when and how much we should eat. How we should prepare ourselves to eat, and what we should be doing and thinking of,while eating and afterwards. These questions I have already addressed in Part II of this series.

2. We need to consider our fluid intake, as dehydration is a major root cause of many imbalances and illnesses. From my experience, I find that nearly every patient I see is dehydrated! We need to, therefore, consider what we drink and what we need to avoid, which drinks have diuretic properties which actually cause us to become more depleted of fluids. How much should we drink? When should we drink and when shouldn't we? Should we avoid drinking from certain containers? How can we know if we are becoming dehydrated, And can drinking too much actually be harmful to our health?

3. We all breathe oxygen in order to live, but is the way we breathe actually harming our heath? Amazingly, the majority of toxicity from air pollution is self-induced! Almost everyone I know, with the exception of singers and runners, inhales shallowly, breathing through their mouths, rarely exhaling properly. How can we expect to feel good if we don't train ourselves to breathe out the poisonous carbon dioxide (Co2) which accumulates within? Ever consider that all carbonated drinks get their effervescence from the added Co2? Ever wonder why some people sigh so frequently? In Chinese medicine, frequent sighing is a classic sign of what we call liver Qi stagnation. So what's the connection?

4. Nothing allows us to regenerate better than healthy, adequate sleep. But how much do we need? When is the optimal time to sleep? What activities should we be engaged in before going to sleep? How does the food we eat affect our sleep? Does it matter if our sleep is broken, as long as we get enough total sleep? Does medicated sleep benefit us if we have difficulty fall or staying asleep? What should our environment be like when we sleep? Is it beneficial to fall asleep in front of the TV, listen to a tape, or have soft music on when falling asleep? And how should one feel upon waking?

5. Chinese medicine teaches that pain is equivalent to stagnation or lack of movement or motion. Implicit in this idea is the importance of proper exercise. But what do we mean by "proper" exercise? Does that mean cardiovascular aerobic exercise? Should it be in a gym? And how much and when should be exercise?

6. Finally, besides what we eat, drink, breath, rest and exercise, what are we doing to nurture our souls, our spirits? Is all stress bad? What is considered as good stimulation? What specific activities should we be engaged in to nurture our souls? Is there such a thing as too much nurturing?

These are all very important questions--questions that we should all be asking ourselves. As I tell each of my new patients, I consider myself to be a detective, a tour guide and a translator, deciphering and attempting to put order and meaning into the chaos which so many of us default to. Many of us just keep going until illness or pain stops us cold! But by carefully considering these six areas of our lives, we can really begin to learn who we are, how to put ourselves in balance, and most importantly, what we can make out of our lives.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A quick preview To Tu Bishvat from a Chinese medical perspective

Rav Zevin, ZT"L has a lovely exposition in Moadim b'halacha on the controversy as to when the Rosh Hashana l'ailanos (new year of trees) should be. We paskan like Bais Hillel that it is Tu Bishvat (15th of the month of Shvat), but what he points out which is so very interesting is that if you look at the calendar, Tu Bishvat is the exact middle point between Tekufas Teves, (as mentioned in previous blog, and Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which is the beginning of Aviv or spring. From a Chinese medical perspective, this would be the time of the greatest potential for energetic heat or light being manifested. Though the Chinese teach that the season which is the most Yin (as manifesting in cold, dark, physical and material) is winter, the season which is the most Yang, rather than being Summer, is actually Spring, for Yang (being the manifestation of light, heat, movement, and energy). is viewed as energetic potential rather than the actual heat. So, in their brilliance, Bais Hillel recognized the energetic power of the day of Tu Bishvat!

Happy new year(s)!