Monday, March 4, 2013

The Jewish Model of Healing

 I believe that  it is a serious  flaw in judgment to consider simply amelioration of symptoms to be healing.   Unfortunately, this  is precisely  the goal of many allopathic physicians (biomedical and naturopathic): to consider pain relief as therapeutic success.  Among the many lessons that we can learn from the wisdom of the  ancients is the importance of treating the whole person, body, spirit, mind and emotions, and that if one aspect remains out of balance, invariably the physician's "success" with the patient will only be temporary.  This is the problem with using wonderful modern technological devices such as Scenar or effective therapies such as EFT.  Used independently they indeed do relieve pain.   But the problem lies when they are viewed as an end in and of themselves, discouraging the physician and patient alike to look deeper in order  to determine what the pathogenesis of that pain might be and what other manifestations might be underlying.  The great  Chassidic master, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch substantiates  this idea when he says: "If one has a small hole in his body, he has a big hole in his soul."  The point is that as in the Jewish tradition,  the great masters of Chinese medicine also recognized the indivisibility of the whole person, as reflected in their writings of theory and therapeutics.  

This solid foundation requires two paradoxical approaches from us:  On the one hand, we need to view ourselves as the torchbearers of a brilliant, deep and integrated medical and philosophical tradition.  As such, it is incumbent upon us to delve as deeply as we can into ancient sources,  learning from masters throughout the centuries  how to understand these texts, and how to clinically apply that wisdom to our practices.  On the other hand, we need to appreciate the gift that modern  technological  tools offer us:  to confirm, reinforce and expedite  diagnosis  and treatment.  

One final thought I'd like to share: We find in Jewish Talmudic, Midrashic and medieval texts many therapeutic healings, prescriptions and remedies. Yet, for the most part,  these medical practices are ignored. Why, one should ask, is this wealth of medical tradition at best, just glossed over?  It is from the great legal commentator, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, who lived 200 years ago, that we find the answer.  Rabbi Akiva Eiger ruled that one may not rely on these ancient healings, for both man and  nature have changed, and as such, those healings no longer work! 

Yet, the observant Jewish student of Chinese Medical history of course finds this ruling perplexing,  for how can one contend  that ancient Jewish medicinal cures referred to in texts written between 2000 to 3000 years ago no longer work, whereas we know that  medicine written about, in the far East, during the same period, clearly does?  Are not the therapeutics  as valid today as they were when the Nei Jing and the Shang Han Lun were written?!   How can we reconcile , the wisdom and enormous erudition of the Jewish sages in light of this inconsistency?

Perhaps, though, we can consider this approach: The Chinese written tradition consists of characters or pictograms which are understood the same throughout the far east, so that a reader in Mongolia, though speaking a completely different language, will be able to read a text from Southeast China, Japan, Korea or Vietnam.   Within the Jewish tradition, on the other hand, substances have changed names over time.  For example, the great Jewish Egyptian physician and scholar Maimonides uses a term which today means cucumber to describe a melon, in his  Laws of Temperaments, written 900 years ago.  As such, I would humbly suggest that neither man nor nature at their roots have changed, (although the potency and strength of each have certainly diminished from pollution and improper use), but that our understanding of substances found in ancient Jewish texts is not always correct. 

It is the approach of Jewish tradition to view the individual as a reflection of society as a whole.  We Jews, despite having  lived in exile from our land for nearly 2000 years, have learned what it takes to survive.  Yet from a larger perspective, mystical Judaism views this exile as symptomatic of spiritual illness.  We believe that our redemption from exile has been delayed by the imbalances in our lives.   May we therefore merit a time soon, when ancient knowledge will  again be readily available,  and at that time, the role of doctors will be, as the great sage and physician, Nachmanides tells us,  that of educators, teaching us how to maintain vibrant health and balance, both in body and soul rather than treating illness.