Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why practice Chinese medicine if Hashem controls it all?

The question was asked of me, "why practice Chinese Medicine if  G-d controls it all?"  But first, to answer this question, we must clarify exactly what is Chinese medicine, what is Jewish medicine, and why we are here.

Chinese medicine is based upon the integrative observations by brilliant ancient physicians and philosophers of relative cosmological phenomena in a very global  sense, and considering and applying parallels to the human being.  This way of looking at things is a very useful tool in helping to bring balance to the "dis-eased" patient, but specifically, not only physically. For Chinese Medicine also recognizes the profound relationship between physical symptoms of imbalance, and mental, spiritual and emotional components and manifestations of illnesses, a principle which is completely consistent with the Torah and  traditional Judaism, and which particularly manifests in the pulses.  BTW, pulses also play a significant role in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition in the determining of spiritual imbalances which manifest physically.  

From the Jewish physician's perspective, Chinese medicine and other brilliant modalities are valuable tools to be used and applied, much as a skilled craftsman would use a hammer, screwdriver or computer, to diagnose disharmonies and bring healing and balance. However, Traditional Jewish medicine (TJM) goes one step further: By applying specific principles from the Torah and Jewish traditional sources, traditional Jewish medicine guides the patient and physician to understand why specifically the patient has gotten out of balance, what the messages are  in how this imbalances manifest  themselves, and what can be done to not just treat symptoms, but affect a paradigm shift to bring balance and healing.   Each patient's individual constitution, nature and life experiences ( including traumas ) represent significant pieces to be considered and honored in the individuals path that brought him to his present situation. We consider the present inner-conflicts that have engendered the imbalances (aka differential diagnosis), trace backwards in time the path of illness to seminal events before which there wasn't illness or a particular layer, thereof (pathogenesis), while honoring the patient throughout this whole process, never imposing our will upon him, meeting him where he is, (even if he is philosophically opposed to my beliefs) and helping to put the pieces together allowing the patient to heal himself, as a detective, a translator, and a tour guide, uncovering clues, making sense of chaotic signs and symptoms, and safely facilitating the journey back to health.

With that introduction, let me answer your question:  Though, indeed G-d controls it all, He also specifically has given man, the crown of creation, free choice.  The reason for this, our sages tell us, is for us to take those skills, emotions, and attributes that we were given, and use them to fulfill our specific individual purpose as to why we were created. Each person is a distinctly unique piece in the magnificent cosmic puzzle, and each piece is needed for the puzzle to be complete.  Each of us is special and unique, and we need to find out where we belong and how we fit, but even more importantly, what we are supposed to do.  It doesn't matter the degree to which we are brilliant, strong, artistic or charismatic. We are not expected to be like anyone else, and so the concept of jealousy in Judaism is anathema.  Rather each of us needs to figure out what we are supposed to do, based upon what we have been given, and do everything within our power to fulfill that goal.   G-d helps us, much like a GPS, in guiding us towards our life goal and purpose, but gives us absolute free choice, without which we couldn't make creative decisions.  Alas, many spend their lives, hedonistically pursuing pleasure, or mechanically living chaotic lives, yet we are all spoken to and guided towards our goal and life purpose.  Those who don't succeed, this time around come back again, and we keep coming back until we have fulfilled all that we need to do. (In this sense, Jewish reincarnation is very different from Eastern reincarnation, in that in Judaism, the consequences of our choices determine if we need to come back again.)  Maimonides tells us, therefore, that each person needs to direct his inner-thoughts to "Know" G-d.  (It's interesting that Biblically, we are told that Adam "Knew" Eve.  For as our sages tell us, the definition of "knowledge" is unselfishly melding, connecting and intimately becoming one with the other.)  "But," he continues, it is impossible to "Know" G-d if one is hungry, sick or in pain!"  Furthermore, our sages tell us that one who is in prison, does not have the keys to help himself escape.  So to determine one's specific life purpose, or soul correction, one needs to be connected.  And to be connected one needs to be healthy, in balance, and not distracted by noise, hunger or pain.  Therefore to slough off the filth, pain and old baggage that got us into the mess we're in, and get to that place of clarity, health and happiness, we need to find and utilize the most prudent and effective tools. The Chinese medical modalities can be enormously effective tools toward that end, when used wisely.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

Illness and Nature

Upon hearing of the premises in The Garden of Healing,  a colleague of mine wrote that he was  astonished that I could possibly view illness as anything other than a natural phenomenon.  To quote him:

"In all respect, neither the Black Plague nor Ebola are "divine messages" to the afflicted, although certainly they call on us to bring forth the best traits in ourselves in our care for the other, rather than fear and much worse.  Disease IS a natural process, living leads to dying, and from saber-tooth tigers to filoviruses, nature is "red in tooth and claw." 

I responded that  as convinced as he was of his opinion, I was at least as  convinced to the contrary, for the following reason:

As an observant orthodox Jew, among the basic tenets of my observance are  2 statements made by Rabbi Doctor Moses Maimonides:

1.   "I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, creates and guides all creatures, and that He alone, made, makes and will make everything." 
2.   "I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical,  is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him.  

As such, we observant Jews believe that nothing occurs arbitrarily and nothing, specifically, not disease, illness or suffering is by chance. Far from being some old man who created the world and left it to its own designs, or some Olympian god who plays with people like some large soap opera,  we believe that nothing, not even the seemingly most insignificant event such as  a falling leaf occurs without being commanded to do so and regulated by G-d.   The fact that we may not be able to understand as physically and temporally limited beings as to why a certain illness or epidemic occurs, and  who gets sick and who doesn't,  is merely a reflection of our fallibility and lack of spiritual sensitivity.  For our goal as human beings should be to sensitize ourselves to all the events in our lives and reflect upon them, in order to begin to understand the messages that we are clearly given.  This takes work and focus.  We live in world of sound byes, quick one-liners and very limited attention spans.  ADD is rampant.  It is my firm conviction that we can fine tune our spiritual receivers (with proper guidance, of course) and  just like with radios when one is not precisely tuned in to a specific channel  hears static and it's hard to hear the message, so too, we have the ability to tune in in a more refined manner, to clearly hear the very personal messages from our Creator, who created us to connect with, to commune with  and to develop a loving relationship with Him.  

Judaism, and more specifically, Chasidus and Kabbala further teach that we have a choice: We can, indeed become beholden to nature and its rules; to  defer and become swept away, as the existentialists teach, to its tide.  Or we can view this short sojourn that we have been given as an opportunity to develop relationships:with ourselves, with those that we interact with, with our environment and  with our Creator.  Most importantly, it is through clearly hearing these messages, and developing these relationships, that we are able to determine our jobs and purposes that we were brought into this world to accomplish.  

We practitioners, who are the inheritors of the brilliant legacy of Chinese medicine have been taught of the importance of looking at the larger picture and seeing relationships.  And as the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches, there is no such thing as neutrality or detente.  The concept is inherently flawed.  Rather, in all  areas of interaction, there can only be  balance and harmony or conflict.  This holds true internationally,  inter-personally, and internally.  He tells us that when there is internal conflict there is illness.  This is  exactly consistant with Chinese medical theory.  We have been given  wonderful diagnostic tools.  So we are able  to determine that if there is vacuity,  we nourish and boost, if there is repletion or superfluity we reduce or moderate.  If an outside force (which the Chinese call "Wind") invades, we expel it, and so on. If one aspect of the body is replete and another is deficient, we take therapeutic steps to bring balance to the whole person.  So too, as with Judaism, we look at the emotional, mental and spiritual manifestations of illness and imbalance related to specific organs and organ systems.  The founder of Chasidus, The Baal Shem Tov, would say that "if someone has a small hole in their body, they have a large hole in their soul."

Indeed, as my colleague suggested,  one can take the path that Western Biomedicine has taken, looking with greater micro-detail at disease, play with molecules and tweak genes in order to attempt to confound and trick disease.  But I'm telling you, it won't work.  I remember, growing up in the 50s and 60s, hearing that soon the war on cancer would be won. What a lie that was and how deceitful Western medicine has been to con innocent people into shelling out billions of dollars with nothing to show.  Nobody gets well from disease without addressing the  fundamental aspects of our lives:  How we eat, how we hydrate ourselves, how we move our bodies, how we breathe, how we sleep, and how we nurture ourselves spiritually and make ourselves happy.  150 years or so ago, a great debate took place in France between Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp as to the cause of illness.  Pasteur claimed that microbes were the cause of disease, whereas  Bechamp contended that microbes only become virulent in an environment which is toxic and out of balance.  Visualize, if you would, what happens to a river which stops flowing:  Fish die, algae proliferate and the river becomes toxic and foul smelling. So, too, with the human body.   At the end of his life, Pasteur admitted that he was wrong.  

To try and tell you why epidemics or global tragedies occur would be to arrogantly say that I can see the larger picture. That would be a lie.    But for myself, for my patients and for those whose live's impact me, yes, I believe I can begin to tune into the "Divine messages," we are given.  The point is that we are given the choice:  if we choose to address it as such, disease can be a process of nature, and to fight nature we are not only not  going to succeed, but we'll die miserable, empty and alone.  But I choose to take a very different approach, and am constantly learning,  growing and connecting from the remarkable messages I am sent on a daily basis.  (and no, I'm not nuts, and I'm not hearing voices!) 

Hope that you have the opportunity to read and learn from the book.

2 years in preparation and now available: The Garden of Healing

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Garden of Healing,  by Rabbi Shalom Arush. I have had the great privilege of translating and editing this 450 page masterpiece on Traditional Jewish medicine, originally written in Hebrew, and have been honored by Rabbi Arush to add a glossary and compose an additional final chapter, based upon my experience and philosophies in the  practice of Traditional Jewish medicine.  My wife Yocheved, who served as my proofreader, on multiple occasions exclaimed: "This book is amazing and it sounds like  you could have written it!" (which is easy to understand as  Rabbi Arush's presentation is  consistent with the approach that  I take to medicine). 

The book is quite comprehensive,  and Rabbi Arush beside being an extremely sensitive, G-d fearing  and highly developed spiritual individual, is also a scholar in Jewish Traditional Literature of enormous proportions. He is a gifted orator, and his ability to to disseminate his message of emuna  is legendary as can be seen by the fact that his best selling book, The Garden of Emuna, has sold over 2,000,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into  ten languages.  

This is not a book for those looking for quick fixes or  who attribute illness and pain  to natural phenomena. The original Hebrew text was entitled, "Hashem Rofecha" (from the verse in Exodus),which means "Hashem is your Doctor."  As I often say, it is a book whose goal is to get the reader to think differently, and to learn to listen to illness, pain and adversity as Divine messages, even "love letters" from G-d, given to us to wake ourselves up and make changes in the way we relate to ourselves, those whose lives we impact, our environment, and, of course, Hashem.  It is a unique opportunity to  immerse oneself in the pure unpolluted waters which nourish and cultivate the garden of healing.     

Tea and Fluoride--thinking differently

Though I am personally not a tea drinker (Both green and black tea are energetically cooling and I tend to be cold), a recent article stated, ""It turns out that both green and black tea products contain high amounts of naturally occurring fluoride. Tea leaves accumulate more fluoride (from air and soil pollution) than most other edible plants." What  should that mean for us?  Does that mean that one should avoid drinking tea?

From a Traditional Jewish Medicine perspective, I wouldn't be concerned about tea, and I am not simply sticking my head in the ground like an ostrich!   The fact is that the Western model is flawed, and here's why: One of the important lessons we learn from thinking "Eastern" is to not look at minutia, nor substances in isolation.  So much in Chinese medicine cannot be explained biochemically, ie. why certain formulas may be effective to completely resolve certain conditions whereas the individual constituents do not have properties that would seem to be useful or effective, but synergistically or in-vivo, they do work.  

A second important consideration that Western naturopaths and other "health" proponents espouse and which I believe is flawed is the myth of nutritional content.   It is largely irrelevant how much of a certain nutrient a food or substance contains,  but what is really important is the degree of absorption.  For that which is ingested and is not utilized by the body can put  a toxic  burden on the body.  The same may be true with certain toxic minerals or chemicals such as fluoride. Tea may very well contain other constituents which bind or transform the fluoride, rendering it benign and easily allowing it to be eliminated from the body.  Empirically, is there any history of fluoride poisoning by those who drink 2-3 cups of tea daily?  The classic symptoms of fluoride poisoning are mottling of the teeth, and (like with mercury) hypersensitivity of nerves. So if someone is exhibiting these symptoms, indeed they should avoid tea, but others?  I personally wouldn't be concerned.

 Third, and here I speak from an esoteric Jewish perspective:  (and this also relates back to the first point).  According to Jewish tradition, all substances in nature have biochemical properties, which can be explained, but they also have non-explainable, mystical healing properties which are not governed by the laws as nature and will never be able to be rationally explained, no matter how advanced or developed biochemistry becomes.  Sometimes people of science just have to have the humility to accept that which is beyond their scope.  So too, here.  If a food or drink has been used for thousands of years safely, and yet it contains a toxic chemical, fluoride,  maybe, the fluoride in tea is different than the fluoride synthetically prepared?