Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rebbe Nachman's principles of Simcha (Joy)

The following are quotations from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, on the subject of Simcha.

Our sages tell us that with Simcha and optimism truly any problem can be resolved, and that nothing enables us to connect to Ha-Shem better than joy.  The converse also applies, though, and negativity and depression will  lead one down the slippery slope to illness and misfortune.

Please read through the quotations slowly and meditatively, reflecting on examples from your own life of when they have applied. Note that the Hebrew word "B'simcha" (with joy) contains exactly the same letters as "Machshava" (thought)  Therefore THINK of the future: as you read, imagine that you are implanting policies and procedures, to be activated if and when you lose your joy, and may not be able to think clearly or creatively. Set the intention that, when needed, the right quote and strategy will come to your mind and to your aid.

1. Remember: Joy is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital.

2. Nothing is as liberating as joy. It frees the mind and fills it with tranquility.

3. Losing hope is like losing your freedom, like losing yourself.

4. Finding true joy is the hardest of all spiritual tasks. If the only way to make yourself happy is by doing something silly, do it.

5. Depression does tremendous damage. Use every ploy you can think of to bring yourself to joy.

6. Today you don"t feel up. Don"t let yesterdays and tomorrows bring you down.

7. If despite a desire to be happy you feel down, draw strength from happier times. Eventually joy will return.

8. If you don"t feel happy, pretend to be. Even if you are depressed, put on a smile. Act happy. Genuine joy will follow.

9. Get into the habit of singing a tune. It will give you new life and fill you with joy.

10. Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship.

11. Sometimes people are terribly distressed but have no one to whom they can unburden themselves. If you come along with a happy face, you cheer them and give them new life. Always wear a smile. The gift of life will then be yours to give.

12. Don"t confuse heartbreak with sadness and depression. Depression is really anger, a complaint against God for not giving you what you want. But when you have a contrite heart you are like a little child crying because its parent is far away. Heartbreak involves the heart, while depression involves the spleen. (note-in Chinese medicine, overthinking damages  the Spleen and the digestive tract, and Depression damages the Lungs.)

13. It would be very good to be brokenhearted all day, but for the average person, this can easily degenerate into depression. You should therefore set aside some time each day for heartbreak. You should isolate yourself before God with a broken heart for a given time. But the rest of the day should be joyful.

14. When you"re happy, it"s easy to set aside some time to pray with a contrite heart. But when you are depressed, secluding yourself to speak with God is very hard to do. That"s why being happy is so important that you should even force yourself to be happy, if that is what it takes.

15. Most people think of forgetfulness as a defect. I consider it a great benefit. Being able to forget frees you from the burdens of the past.

16. Avoid depression at all cost. It is the root of illness and disease.

17. Never despair! Never! It is forbidden to give up hope.

18. No matter how far you have strayed, returning to God is always possible. Agree therefore that there is absolutely no place for despair.

19. Never despair of crying out, praying and pleading with God. Keep at it until you succeed, until the nearness you long for is yours.

20. If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can repair. If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.

21. Remember: Things can go from the very worst to the very best in just the blink of an eye.

A prayer from Rebbe Nachman:
Dear G-d, I stand beaten and battered by the countless manifestations of my own inadequacies. Yet we must live with joy. [We must] overcome despair, seek pursue and find every inkling of goodness, every positive point within ourselves, and so discover true joy. Aid me in this quest, Ha-Shem. Help me find satisfaction and a deep, abiding pleasure in all that I have, in all that I do, in all that I am. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

etiology pathogenesis and treatment of Dementia and Alzheimer's

This past weekend I attended a seminar given by the  Upledger institute  on Craniosacral Therapy of Longevity and Reversal of the Aging Process.  On the first day, the presenter made a statement that deeply moved me, and is prompting me to get unstuck, change the topic of my Capstone dissertation and complete my DAOM.  He stated that research has shown that 40% of Alzheimer's patients coincidentally suffer from diabetes and many others from other inflammatory diseases and processes.  By promoting the production and flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), CranioSacral therapists have (validated by published studies one of which was a pilot study that the presenter conducted funded by the NIH) demonstrated a reversal of Alzheimer's symptoms. The presenter was Michael Morgan, LMT CST-D.   Based upon his conversations and studies with the late John Upledger, DO,  he theorized that inflammatory "hot spots" in the body caused by any number of  precipitants such as diabetes, musculo-skeletal diseases,  cardiovascular disease, digestive dysfunction, cancer and chemo and radiation treatments, and the sequela of surgery and medications among others causes, connect over time, accelerate the inflammatory response, percolate upward (inflammation involves heat, and heat rises upward in the body, right?) and compromise and cross the Blood Brain Barrier leading to Dementia and Alzheimer's.  It seemed to me that this complements beautifully the  two theories of aging that I am aware of in Chinese medical theory--those of Blood Stasis and depletion of  Yin manifesting as severe Yin and Jing Vacuity, for what is the CSF if not a form of Yin and Blood?  

My idea is, therefore, to explore these and other theories of aging in the Chinese Medical literature, come up with an anti-inflammatory treatment protocol, and perhaps even conduct a study to determine its efficacy in the diminution of symptoms. 

If anyone can direct me to specific additional research or studies that would support this premise I would be very grateful.     

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kehillas Chasidei Breslov d'Los Angeles

Dear Friends,

B'Chasdei Ha-Shem we had 3 wonderful Shabbosim together, but for at least this Shabbos we will  be meeting neither Friday afternoon nor Shabbos for mincha, as far as I know.

Let me share with you the 5 remarkable criteria that were the basis of our  minyan, and why this week we won't be meeting (and BTW, special thanks  to our friend and comrade Seth Merewitz for the inspiration and our meaningful exchange).

1. Achdus(unity)-This is everyone's minyan,  such that we would hope that each person would take initiative and feel a pride of ownership, working to spread the word, and feeling that we all  share our  davening and  activities with caring friends, and with a vision of forming a community.
2. Leibedickeit(warmth and spirit)- Everyone feels a warm spiritual lift from the avoda that brings us all together,  and  this is expressed with singing and dancing at appropriate times.
3. Kevod b'vais ha-tefila(decorum)-Together with these expressions of inclusiveness and expansiveness (hispashtus as an expression of Chesed) we also feel an awe of being  in a holy place, a house of prayer, with our behavior reflecting this awareness.
 4. Iyun tefila(prayer as reflection)-Davening is a thoughtful opportunity and not a mechanical obligation which one wants to get over with.
 5. Learning Breslover Chasidis- There is nothing like learning Rebbe Nachman's toras inside to speak to our inner depths, especially on Shabbos, and even more so with a community of friends.

I don't know about you, but these five principles really resonate with me and really made for amazing Shabbosim.  So what went wrong?  As a Breslover, one must answer emphatically, NOTHING and recognize the sweetness in everything that comes our way!  Yet one must also listen carefully to the hevel halev, that small inner voice which lovingly and carefully guides us  towards refinement and completing our tasks in this world.

The truth is that each of the 3 weeks our numbers dwindled for a number of reasons: Some people felt uncomfortable leaving their established minyanim, some felt that it was just too far, some just weren't prepared to make a firm weekly commitment, and some just didn't like the idea of learning before davening and davening slowly and thoughtfully.

But whatever the reasons, without a solid core, to put the minyan together becomes a burden on just one or two people rather than a group project which it needed to be to succeed.
That being said, personally, BE"H  I will continue bringing in Shabbos early and will continue learning Likutei Moraran each week at Congregation Tifereth Tzvi on Beverly Blvd 15 minutes before candle lighting time. Anyone is welcome to join me, this week at 4:25 pm

With much gratitude to Rabbi Huttler, president Phil Yankofsky and the congregants of Etz Jacob for the warmth and hospitality.  May you and all your loved ones be blessed with abundance, good health  and  harchavas  hada'as  (a  breadth  of  knowledge  to  always recognize what will please Ha-Shem).

Much simcha and brocho,


Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Uman Remembrance: 3:00 AM Friday Morning

I returned two  nights ago from Rosh Hashana in Uman, Ukraine spent basking in the light of Rebbe Nachman. Words give but a small glimpse of the transcendental and transformational intensity of the week that  I spent there, in therapy with 55,000 fellow Jews.  I want to share with you just  one of many amazing remembrances from the trip:

I was blessed to connect closely with some of the highest souls in the world, and even merited to treat one of them on numerous occasions. B"H the tzadik that I treated said that he now has much more energy and feels remarkably better.  Anyway, the  night before I first treating him, I chose to go to the mikvah first, and completed  the treatment at about 12:45 at night.  It that  point I headed for my apartment, but as I sat down to say Shema and prepare for bed, I suddenly had this strong urge to go to Rebbe Nachman's tzion (tomb) and just talk to him.  It's funny, that invariably, when I daven, when I talk to Ha-Shem during hisbodedus (personal prayer), I invariably will speak about my family, my friends and my patients.  But this time, it was the wierdest thing, I suddenly had this overwhelming need to talk about myself and how at age 60, though perhaps others may not recognize it,  parts of me are beginning to not work as well as they used to.  So from 1:00 to 2:00 am, I started going from head to toe sharing with Rebbe Nachman what I felt inside of myself.  Tears flowed from my eyes and the time just flew by, but when I finished I felt amazingly stronger and clearer minded, but I also seemed to hear inside of myself a small voice tell me, "you can have it, but you'll have to pay."

As I left the Tzion, I suddenly realized that my only towel that I had brought with me to the mikvah, I no longer had.  So from 2:15 till 2:30 am I scanned the benches and racks in the Uman mikvah,  unsuccessfully, looking for my towel.  As I was about to leave,  one of the Ukrainian guards, suddenly bellowed out, "Meester!" and pointed to me to come to him. As I approached I became aware that next to him was a blind 20 something chasid who needed help going to the mikvah, and rather than being put out, I was thrilled that I was able to help this young man, at 2:30 in the morning, to get undressed, shower, go down the steps into the mikvah, help him out, help him to get dressed and walk him out to the the guard that awaited  him. 

So at 3:00 am I again found myself walking back in the cold of the Ukrainian autumn,  to my dormatory-like apartment (shared by 24 fellow travelers) feeling strong and incredibly invigorated, and profoundly grateful for having been given by Rebbe Nachman, the opportunity to "pay" in such a sublime way for the gift that was bestowed upon me.  Oh, and  my towel? It was right where I left it, at the tzadik's house waiting for me, right where left it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Jewish dietary laws relative to Chinese Medicinal Substances

The  great medieval Jewish philosopher, scholar and physician Moses Maimonides (also known as The Rambam),  teaches in his magnum opus on Jewish law The Mishnah Torah,  that  physical pleasure  should be viewed as a  Divine gift, and  when  partaken in a permissible manner is both sanctified  and elevated  through  awareness and  practice.  This is the meaning, The Rambam says, of the verse in Proverbs (3:6)  "Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths." How though can mortal Man begin to know which pleasures and foods are permissible and which are not?   To answer this question, the observant Jew turns to the Torah, which is made up of the Written  (The Pentateuch) and Oral (The Talmud) laws, and encompasses both the revealed and mystical traditions for guidance.     
In Leviticus, the Torah explicitly lists which animals are  permitted to be eaten and which are not. According to the Jewish mystical tradition, one reason why the Torah restricted certain foods,  was because food is viewed as spiritually potent, and just as certain medicines can nurture one's Divine spiritual connectedness, so to, other foods can contribute to a spiritual dullness and physicality.    To understand this idea, the Midrash Tanchuma brings the following parable:

"A physician went to visit two patients. He saw that one of them was in mortal danger, therefore instructing the members of his household to, 'give him whatever he asks for.' He saw that the other was destined to live and said to them, 'He may eat such and such food, but may not eat other specific foods.' They asked him, 'Please explain why you say that the first person may eat any food he asks for while the second you say may not eat certain foods?"

The physician answered, "Concerning the one destined to live I said, "this eat and this you may not eat." But regarding the one destined to die I told them," Give him whatever he asks for, for he is destined to die anyway."

So, too, the Holy One Blessed be He, allowed idol-worshipers  to eat swarming and creeping thing. but  Israel who is destined to Life Eternal, he  told , "Be holy for I am holy," so don't make your souls abhorrent."

Beside the spiritual benefit that this Midrash addresses, it is interesting to note that many 
non-observant  Jews as well as non-jews, as well, often go out of their way to buy kosher meat and food products, in the belief that they are healthier and of  better quality. But is it so?

This issue is actually debated by the great medieval Jewish commentators.

The Rambam, explains in his Guide to the Perplexed (3:48), that  "It is not the signs of a kosher animal which make it kosher, nor the signs of the non-kosher animal that make it non-kosher. These signs only serve to indicate which animals are permitted and which are forbidden. Rather, the reason that forbidden animals and fish do not have these signs is because they damage people's health. G-d knows of the injury that forbidden foods cause to man."

The Spanish commentator Abravanel, on the other hand, says, "Far be it from me to believe this, for then the Torah given by G-d is no more than a minor medical treatise, and this is not in keeping with its holiness and eternity. In addition, we ourselves see that other nations do eat these forbidden foods, and they not in any way affect their health. In addition, if the reasons were medical, then there would also be various plants which are harmful, yet the Torah does not forbid them...therefore, the Torah prohibits the consumption of non-kosher foods because of spiritual destructive effects that they have on a person's soul."

This approach  seems to be consistent with the Gemara (Yoma 39a), which learns that the word "venitmeitem" (and you will become contaminated) Vayikra(11:43) also includes "venitamtem" meaning to be spiritually blocked.  Rashi explains that this means becoming insensitive to the entire Torah experience. With respect to the eating of forbidden foods,the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 73) notes that the harm caused by eating these foods is not physical. Rather they prevent a person from being able to 'tune-in' to the A-lmighty, His Creation and His Commandments - and to reach a higher spiritual level.  For that reason the Rama rules that it is forbidden to give small children non-kosher foods (Yoreh Deah 81:7).

But what of non-kosher foods and medicines ingested not for nutrition or pleasure, but rather for purely medicinal reasons? Would they be permitted to be used internally?  It is interesting to note, that  in  both the Chinese Materia Medica and pharmacopeia as well as  
The Rambam's Glossary of Drug Names, though most,  perhaps  90% of the substances used do come from the vegetable kingdom, some most definitely are of   mineral and animal sources.  
 In all cases, when preparing formulas or prescribing medicines,  the Jewish observant practitioner needs to consider the following  questions:
1.   What is the degree of prohibited severity in  each substance considered, assuming that it would be used culinarily? The most severe prohibition involves ingesting insects (including their shells) and reptiles, followed by edible parts of non-kosher animals, animals not slaughtered in a kosher manner, prohibited  parts of kosher animals (ie. the sciatic nerve), non-kosher sea animals, and finally inedible parts of animals and inedible shells.With this in mind,  whenever possible one should display the greatest degree of care when considering the use of prohibited substances, even for medicine. A practical example of this would be the medicinal use of Quan Xie (scorpion) or Wu Gong (centipede) in the treatment of neurological conditions such as Parkinson's or Seizures.  When indicated, these should be taken  in capsule form and prepared with vegicaps.   
2.   Are the substances of animal origin  clearly inedible or bitter including such substances as sea shells, snake skins, and bear bile,  or are they edible or pleasant tasting? 
In my practice of traditional Jewish and Chinese medicine, I avoid using non-kosher ingredients in the preparation of formulas or the prescription of medicines in powdered or pill form, unless I am unable to achieve the desired effect or result without including them (for example, in cases of infertility, potentially life threatening illnesses or conditions, or conditions that seriously compromise a patient's quality of life), and when faced with the decision to  use these substances, whenever possible I will try to use substances whose prohibition is less severe and which are inedible.  That being said though, it is interesting to note that there is a section in the laws of blessings in the Code of Jewish Law, The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chayim 204:8,9), that clearly states that if a non-kosher substance or medicine is used for medicinal purposes and it has a pleasant flavor, that one actually makes a blessing on it.
The bottom line, of course, is that the Jewish observant physician needs to consult with a recognized and competent Orthodox Rabbinic authority whenever in doubt, and needs to carefully consider all of his options when prescribing  non-kosher substances, weighing carefully the immediate and/or long term benefit of prescribing such substances  against the "timtum halev" (dulling of one's spiritual awareness) that we spoke of earlier,  when one eats them.   

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why go to Rabbi Shimon on Lag Ba'omer--A guest article by Yechiel Frischman

The question is commonly asked, even by religious people,   Why make such a big deal about Lag Ba'omer and going to to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai?  We rarely even paskan like Rabbi Shimon in the Gemara, and  besides,  aren't there many other equally great and  holy Tanaim such as Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Meir, and Rabbi Yehuda that  we could go to and ask to intercede on our behalf?   Why should one go to all the trouble of traveling all the way to Meron, and waste so much time which we  could be spending learning Torah? And why specifically me? Why do I need to go! I don't have any family crises or issues that necessitate a deliverance. And even if you want to contend that Rabbi Shimon was unique in that he revealed the Holy Zohar, I would answer you that I am not a kabbalist, and I've got plenty of revealed Torah, meaning Gemara which I need to learn first.  So what does Rabbi Shimon have to do with me and what do I gain by going to Meron?

The answer to all of these questions can be found in the Gemara Shabbos 138b, which tells us that after the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the sages moved from Jerusalem to Kerem B'Yavneh and lamented that the Torah was destined  to be forgotten.  But only Rabbi Shimon emphatically disagreed, quoting the verse in devarim 31:21, "  For [the Torah] will not be forgotten from the mouth of his offspring."

Why however,  didn't the other great Tannaim also consider  this famous verse? Didn't they know of it?  The answer  though, and the deep meaning of this story as explained in the holy books,  is as follows:  Of course the tannaim were familiar with the verse and understood it's meaning.  But what they were unable to grasp was just how  the Torah could continue to live as  a  vital guide to communal life after the destruction of the Holy Temple? As we say in davening, "for they (the Torah and the Mitzvos)  are our lives and the length of our days." And though the Torah would certainly continue to be observed, at least for one generation, how could they be assured that without the prophets and without the Bais Hamikdash,  that there would not be a great disconnect, and that their children and grandchildren would not be able to withstand this enormous challenge and G-d forbid, assimilate?!

It was to this troubling problem that Rabbi Shimon triumphantly declared, The Torah itself explicitly guarantees that what you fear, will never happen, as the verse says, "  For [the Torah] will not be forgotten from the mouth of his offspring."

It's also interesting to note that Rabbi Shimon is even hinted at in that verse, for the last letter of each word of that verse spells out Yochai.   But why specifically through Rabbi Shimon will this promise be fulfilled?  Because as Rabbi Shimon writes in the Zohar (Nasso 124) ‘With this composition, (The Zohar) the Jews will come out of the exile.’ Meaning that in the merit of the holy Zohar, which reveals to us the inner meaning of the Torah we learn the great mercies of Ha-shem how He is with us and cares for us even in our most bleak situations,  and  how to apply this mercy to our daily lives.   This is the essential message of the Zohar,  and it is this great mercy which has enabled the Jewish people to attain a great quality of holiness, even to this day, and which has kept the Torah vital and alive, and has made us worthy of being redeemed.  So why go to Rabbi Shimon on his Yahrzeit and "waste time" from your learning?  Because your entire existence is due to his vision.   Therefore,  shouldn't you  show your appreciation,  and give thanks to the one who has  enabled you to have a Torah from which you can  learn with peace of mind, and has  assured us  that the Torah would remain living, vital and eternal,  even in the darkest of hours and after the greatest of tragedies?

Hope to see you there!


Rabbi Shimon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iyar and Healing

We now find ourselves in a very special time of year, the counting of the  ha'omer in general, as we refine our character traits,  and the month of Iyar in particular.  The letters of the month IYAR, are an acronym for the words: "Ani Ha-Shem Rofecha" (Exodus 15:26) which translated means, I am Ha-Shem, your Doctor.   Indeed, the Holy Bnei Yisisschar  tells us that this month  is particularly conducive to healing since, during this month our forefathers began eating the Mon (manna) though which  all who were sick  among the Children of Israel were completely healed in preparation for the Giving of the Torah.
I was reminded, this unusual rainy late April evening,  here in Los Angeles, that there is a special segula connected with the month of Iyar.  A segula (literally meaning treasure) is a spiritual cure which defies logic, which has been handed down trough oral tradition from generation to generation, and which clearly works. It is brought down (I've seen it quoted in the name of three holy rebbes: The Ohev Yisrael of Apt, The Rebbe Reb Pinchas Koritzer and The Rebbe Reb Menachem Mendel of Riminov) that any rain that falls during the month of Iyar is a great remedy to cure all illnesses.  To affect the cure, one needs to stand in the rain with one's open one's mouth an let  the rain  fall directly in.

May the merit of all the holy tzidikim protect us, and may this month bring you any healings and deliverances that you need.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pesach, ghetto slavery and balance

Having been raised in LA, in a color blind home, I was always taught to view people based upon their actions, behavior or spirit as opposed to the color or their skin or their features. And yet, it is important to consider what factors do contribute to the resentment and contempt that so many white folks have towards blacks. What I speak of, though, in my humble opinion has little to do with racism or discrimination, but much more so to a social phenomenon, one that my educated black friends and associates tell me causes them to cringe as well. This is the phenomenon of the "ghetto" stereotype, which to my thinking is deeply inbred and whose roots go back 150 years. In Erich Fromm's book, "Escape from Freedom" he speaks about two types of freedom, freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from is the freedom without considering what comes next, and without structure and a framework, a slave remains a slave, even though he is no longer in physical bondage. This, I believe, is the root of our tragic Afro-American experience, which has resulted in a demographic group which has significantly higher crime, much low rates of 2 parent families, a generally lower level of education, a much higher rate of cardio-vascular disease, a much shorter life span, and so much anger and resentment toward mainstream society. It is a culture where "bad" is good, and where it is cool to not smile (with the notable exception of Magic Johnson!).

Yet, I strongly believe that had an internal "Marshall Plan" of sorts been instituted after the Civil War to promote and encourage integration into mainstream society, teaching skills, and making available educational opportunity, that we would be a very different country today, a country which with each successive generation would be farther away from this slave mentality. Yet sadly, our ghettos not only perpetuate it, they glorify it, ironically serving as role models for white young people to imitate. This is the essential flaw that Chesed (kindness) without Tiferes (the beauty that comes from balance) presents, and is also, the avoda, the character trait which we are specifically enjoined to work on today, this 3rd day of the omer, in our journey toward the receiving of the Torah, a little less than 7 weeks from now. And it is that Torah which enabled our forefathers to receive as their freedom some 3300 years ago, a freedom which not only enabled them to escape from the bondage of Egypt, but much more importantly gave them the structure and purpose to become a covenantal community, free to serve G-d and connect with him 24/7, and free to fulfill all the many commandments that could only be observed in the holy land of Israel.

So too, as we are l watch events in the middle east continuing to unfold, I fear that this same problem is repeating itself, just as it did when colonial Africa was freed a generation ago: That without strong leadership, education and moral guidance the exhilaration of liberation will be short lived and will be replaced by a new tyranny.

It is important to understand, also, that freedom and balance have a connection to our health and well being, as well. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that the root of all illness is internal conflict and lack of balance, and just as we find in Chinese medicine, all phenomena are relative, both internally and externally. For if any organ or system dominates another, or if any is weaker than another, illness will result. Our goal with every activity that we engage in, should be to have a consciousness and awareness of what we are doing, making sure to always promote health and balance by our actions. This was the lesson that Hillel Hazakein, made sure to teach his students. Once, when he was about the leave the Beis Hamedrash (study hall), his students asked Hillel where he was going. He answered that he was going to do a mitzva, "and what mitzva would that be?", they asked. "I'm going to the bathhouse" He answered. "And that's a mitzva?" " Yes, just as they wash and carefully maintain the statues of he king to keep them clean, how much more so should I who was created in the image of G-d, show my respect for that image by keeping it clean." Another time, again, Hillel's students asked him where he was going. This time he answered that he was going to do an act of kindness for a guest in his home. "But do you have a guest every day? rebbe?", they asked. "But is not my poor soul a guest in this body? Today it is here, but tomorrow it will be gone!"

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why I live in Los Angeles (and why, maybe, I shouldn't?) Part III

Back around 6 months ago I wrote about why, after all these years I am still here in LA, and really quite happy and fulfilled. In the last two weeks, though, 2
occurrences have got me reflecting and reconsidering where I need to be:

Last week we had the wonderful opportunity of hosting our son Yechiel and granddaughter Chayale (age 1 1/4) for a week. I had hoped that this trip would ignite a spark to perhaps set the wheels in motion so as to have Yechiel, Rivki and family relocate here in LA for a couple of years, at least. I considered three possible advantages of having them move here: 1. It has been tough for them to make ends meet, and each month they seem to fall a couple of hundred dollars short. Perhaps there might be a position enabling them to save up a little. 2. Yechiel is a gifted and charismatic teacher and scholar in halacha, gemara, chasidus as well as kabbalah, and though he has followers in Elad, Israel, where he lives, I feel that his talents could much better be realized in a place like LA. and 3. Living here in LA for a couple of years would enable our grandchildren to learn and master English. Indeed the trip was clearly informative, but in a very unexpected way.

As I have written of before, I absolutely believe in and constantly work on focusing in on my "hevel ha'lev." I believe that we are constantly being spoken to by Ha-Shem, a message that our hearts receive, deep inside, of guidance on what is in our best interests, and how we can best connect to our Source. This communication, the kabbalists call "hevel ha'lev" and we all have it within our grasp to fine tune our receivers. Getting back to Yechiel and Chayale, though, it was interesting to note that this trip was probably the first time that Chayale had ever seen a dog, and rather than being afraid, she was delighted--chasing it with her doll stroller laughing and barking back, "uf uf!" in pure delight as the bewildered dog ran away from her! It got me thinking, this purity, this joi de vivre, how long would it last living in a city like Los Angeles? Opportunities? I made it very clear to a number of community leaders and educators who knew Yechiel growing up here in LA that he might be available should an appropriate opportunity present itself, and essentially the impression that I received was that the economy here in Los Angeles was actually worse than it is in Israel, and it probably would not change any time soon. But if something did come up, they would call me. (yeah, right!)

Bottom line, to relocate and uproot everything, based upon a nebulous maybe, seemed to be as clear a message as could be. (furthermore, it now seems that a local "Zevulun" is interested in a learning partnership with Yechiel, which should put his finances in balance, IY"H anyway!). So though it was bittersweet saying goodbye to them, in my heart I know that Israel is the place where he needs to be.

The second incident that I want to share with you happened this morning. My sister Hope has needed to move as her apartment is being converted to condos. Last week she excitedly shared that she had found a guy on Craig's list who owned a condo in a nice area who wanted to lease it out for 6 months for a reasonable price. They met with him last week, and gave him $5000 for first last and security, and moved in yesterday. But as they were moving in, the building manager chased after them, and informed them that the lease was fraudulent and the name he used wasn't even his, and the guy not only didn't own the condo, but was being evicted for not paying his rent. Therefore, the $5000 was lost, and they needed to get out of the apartment within 3 days. Hope called me this morning asking me what she could do, and I told her what I would have told myself, had I been in her situation, that everything that happens is guidance and communication from Ha-Shem, we need to reflect and hone in to discern what that message is, and we need to have absolute certainty that everything that happens comes from Him and is for the very best. But how to do you explain this to someone who has suffered so much already and is trying so hard to put her life in order? And who now seem to be on the threshold of losing everything she owns and being out on the street?

As I told her, I believe that the message is exactly the same, and even though one might think "easy for him to say!" nonetheless, do we have any constructive alternative to consider? Yes, this approach is asking someone to blindly go against all logic. Yet, it is that strength of character and optimism which is the essence of Judaism. As King Solomon says in Mishlei (proverbs) "know Him in all of your ways, and He will straighten you paths." It is the knowing and the trusting that opens new opportunities for us, and often, what we think is in our best interest really isn't, and only our Wise and Loving Father can see the total picture.

So what's going to happen with Hope, her husband and son? Well first, I offered to have them stay with us as long as they need to, but our place is just too small. I told Hope to contact all of her friends to see if someone might be able to take them in, for at least a month, so that they could find a place, but it seems that now that the chips are down, no one seems to be able or willing to help.

I've put out feelers and have made it clear that I will 100% vouch for them should someone have for rent a two bedroom ground floor or apartment with an elevator, in a decent area of LA, preferably in the west side, but really anywhere.

G-d willing they won't lose everything they have and G-d willing the story will have a sweet and happy ending, but again, I see this as another reflection of the filth, deceit and financial instability that our lives are surrounded with, as well as the lack of depth that so many relationships have (consider "friends" on Facebook?)

As I said, if anyone reading this has apartments for rent, please do contact me, and I will guarantee that you could not find better tenants, and I will stand behind them. As our sages tell us, a good name is a cherished possession indeed!

Again, as I review these last two weeks, I reflecting on whether it really is wise to stay here for the indefinite future or whether the time to start slowly considering a move to Israel has now arrived.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Know him in all your ways--with all Five senses

The wisest of all men, Shlomo Hamelech (king Solomon) tells us in Mishlei (Proverbs) "Know Him in all your ways and He'll straighten your paths. This amazing idea is really the essence, foundation and first principle of Traditional Jewish Medicine. It essentially serves as the roadmap as to how we need to conduct ourselves and lead our lives. Essentially, what Shlomo Hamelech is saying is that we need to constantly recognize how Ha-Shem is interacting with us, literally on a moment to moment basis. But even more, this relationship should not be misconstrued as one of a stern Father watching, intimidating, or as some might mistakenly assume, even manipulating us. On the contrary, our loving Father is constantly coaxing and encouraging us to protect us from harming ourselves and is directing us toward the path which best enables us to bring harmony, success and real spirituality into our lives. This is the concept of "Hevel Halev" that there is a still, small voice which is constantly broadcasting into the depths of our hearts and minds. But there's a caveat: we have to take the first step: we have to recognize his involvement in EVERY aspect of our life in order for us to tune in, hear His voice and feel His love and sweetness.

So how does one come to the cognizant appreciation of "knowing Ha-Shem" of acquiring this quintessential Knowledge? I believe that the key is to learn to focus all of one's senses to that purpose, so that what we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we feel, what we taste, and even what we say (which at first glance does not seem to be a receptive sense but can actually also be "received" when we make ourselves into "Chariots" of the Shechina (Divine presence), that all of these senses can be pathways to connecting with Ha-Shem.

I think that two examples can be informative: The first one comes from the wonderful weekly Shulweek bulletin sent out by Rabbi Baruch Lederman of San Diego. He shares with us a story of how easily our vision can be distorted and how important it is to "see" through bright lenses, as King David teaches us in Tehilim (Psalms): "The Mitzvos of Ha-Shem are clear, they enlighten the eyes:"

"A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. "That laundry is not very clean", she said. "She doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap." Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments. About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband: "Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this."

The husband said, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

And so it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the purity of the window through which we look."
A second story is told of the great Chasidic Master: the Rebbe Rav Zishe of Anipol. In his younger days before he was known as a Rebbe, Reb Zishe took upon himself the practice of "praven Galus," leaving the comforts of home and wandering from town to town is order to share the pain of the Divine Presence in exile. One day, Reb Zishe was sitting in the Beis Hamedrish (house of study) of a town where he was completely unknown, sitting and learning, when in charges a woman and screams out, "Where's my husband?" The story, it turns out was that this woman was an aguna, a chained woman whose husband had disappeared ten years earlier, and not knowing if he was dead or alive, and without receiving a formal bill of divorce, she was unable to remarry. Reb Zishe looked up from his sefer (holy book), and matter of fact tells her, " You'll find him in the hekdesh (communal poor house)." Well off she went, and lo and behold, there he was! Suddenly, Reb Zishe was the talk of the town. Was he a prophet? Did the holy spirit rest on him? Was he a hidden Tzadik? But Reb Zishe was clearly unimpressed with all the excitement. "Well how then did you know where her husband who had disappeared so many years earlier, how did you know where to find him?" the people asked. "Very simple," answered Reb Zishe. " This morning I was in the kretchmer (coffee house) having breakfast when in the next table over, I overheard one fellow say to his friend, "Did you hear, there's a new guy in town who's staying at the hekdesh." "Well it bothered me all day, why I would hear this useless bit of information," said Reb Zishe. "Because I only hear what I am supposed to hear, and so when the aguna suddenly demanded to know where her husband was, I realized that that was the reason why I heard it!"

For us to develop such a sensitivity seems astounding and out of reach, but for the holy Rebbe Reb Zishe, it was obvious and a matter of fact, but this is the challenge that we should all take upon ourselves. Ha-Shem wants us to hear, see, feel, taste, and smell the pure unpolluted emanations that he is sending our way. But one must never say that they are too far away to feel His presence. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches us that we must never give up, and just having the desire to get close to Ha-Shem, "to return" to the main highway, just to have a real sincere desire is enough to transform us into the status of tzadikim (the totally righteous)!

Never underestimate the power of will. The Torah guarantees us that if we make the effort to know Him in all of our ways, with all of your senses, He will unblock you and open up all of the pathways to enable us to feel the sweetness of His presence. The fact is that we are only limited by our fears and imagination.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Holistic Healing Found in Torah Sources

Dear friends,

Back in 2006, I gave a lecture Entitled, "Holistic Healing found in Torah Sources," as part of a seminar on Torah, Kashrus and health. Some of the other lecturers in the program included Rabbi Elchanan Tauber of Congregation Bais Yehuda and Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of KosherQuest.

Though I knew that the lecture was recorded, I just found out that and it is available to hear online. To follow is the link to it. I hope that you enjoy it and find it to be enriching.