Biblical Medicine

Daati Biblical MedicineWe all care about health for it is a priceless commodity that, like a rare and precious stone, must be guarded. The last century has seen an unprecedented effort to unify medical traditions, new and old, toward the single goal of advancing global healthcare. Hospitals, medical clinics, even college campuses now boast integrated facilities wherein doctors from many a diverse background can help patients meet their wellness goals. While medicine can get very complicated, in principle, it all really revolves around four distinct spheres: body, heart, mind, and soul. To say it another way, our defined self - who we are - is shaped not only by genetic factors (the body we occupy), but by our sense of self as it arises from our emotional (heart), mental (mind), and spiritual (soul) toil.
Hence, to be truly healthy, we must devote daily attention to our totality (our four spheres), for therein lies our wellness. There is one more detail that must be mentioned; for the above 4 spheres to function optimally, it is essential they learn to “flow,” to communicate as one. This “communicative unity” is termed simply integration - the ability for different (but complementary) systems to achieve optimal connection. Think of it like a car engine, all parts need not only be functional (“healthy”) in their own right, but able to connect (integrate) with one another. Combining all the above we can now say that human health depends on 4 factors that are in truth 5: body, heart, mind, soul, and integration - the web that unites them all. But how does any of this relate to the Torah/Bible? Explains the great genius Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (affectionately known as the Vilna Gaon), each of the 5 dimensions of body (elucidated above ) corresponds to one of the 5 Books of Moses! Meaning, when we learn and practice the law of God (as contained in the 5 Books) we nourish all the above mentioned 5 spheres!

To briefly summarize the relationship:
Genesis = Integration
Exodus = Soul
Leviticus = Mind
Numbers = Heart
Deuteronomy = Body
To briefly explain:
Genesis relates to integration because it’s Genesis that deals with creation. As creation is common to us all (we were all created), it is the great web that binds all phenomena. Hence, when we study Genesis we tap into the Divine power that integrates all systems together.

Exodus relates to Soul because it is Exodus that deals with emancipation from slavery. Explain the Rabbis, leaving slavery (the laws of man) to embrace freedom (the law of God) is synonymous with “birthing” the soul - revealing its potential. Hence, when we study Exodus we tap into the Divine power that reveals the soul.

Leviticus relates to mind because it is Leviticus that deals with the laws of sacrifice. Explain the Rabbis, a Biblical sacrifice is only kosher when the mind is involved - when we Intend through the sacrifice to come closer to God. Hence, when we study Leviticus we tap into the Divine power that reveals the Godly mind. 

Numbers relates to heart because it is Numbers that deals with the rectification of the heart. This, explain the Rabbis, is the secret of Israel’s 42 encampments in the desert - from Egypt to Israel (chronicled in detail at the end of the book of Numbers.) The mystical significance of the number 42 relates, as explained at length in Kabbalah, to 42 specific traits of the “broken” (dysfunctional) heart. By encamping 42 times, Israel sought to fix these 42 broken traits by converting them into Holy qualities. Hence, when we study Numbers we tap into the Divine power that reveals the Godly heart.

Deuteronomy relates to body because it is Deuteronomy that deals with the consequence of going astray - departing from a Godly path. Explain the Rabbis, going astray (sinning) is only possible at the level of body because it is there, in physical consciousness, that good and evil are found. Hence, when we study Deuteronomy we tap into Divine power that reveals the Godly body.

In conclusion, by learning diligently the Torah/Bible - God’s law as contained in the 5 Books of Moses - we nourish each of the five spheres of the body. May God Bless us all to attain our most optimal and resplendent health.

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Our 3 Fold Sanctuary

Daati 3 PillarsStaying sane in an insane world is difficult, for who amongst us is immune to its temptations? First the challenge: We are living in a high tech, fast-paced, impulse-driven reality in constant danger of becoming just another diseased mind (distracted and confused) of a 21st century machine. Our newly elected “overlords” sell us cheap thrills and demand we enjoy it, and enjoy it we do! Think about it, if thriving on the pain and misery of others wasn't immensely popular, the exploitive media, e.g. tabloids, would be out of business. Now the good news: there is a path, a Biblically inspired system formulated by the great Talmudic Rabbis that can help reorient the wandering mind and heart to focus on what truly matters: our soul, a relationship with our Creator.
In their (the Rabbis) original language, “The world stands on 3 pillars: service, study of Torah, and acts of kindness” (Talmud).

To clarify:
“Service” = Prayer.
“Torah study” = daily Torah/Bible learning.
“Acts of kindness” = good deeds.

These “pillars” are as if support beams, created to strengthen our “spiritual house” (our spiritual self), equipping us with the knowledge needed to weather the mighty storms of our complex world. Question: Why 3 pillars, why not 5 (like the 5 Books of Moses) or 10 (like the 10 commandments)? In Kabbalah, we are taught, man’s conscious self, the part of him susceptible to corruption, exists at 3 levels: thought, speech, and deed. Hence, if he (man) is to guard himself from the distractions of the world, he need erect a shield that protects these 3 areas of vulnerability.

To simplify:
“Service” (prayer) protects the mind.
“Torah” (Bible study) protects the heart.
“Good deeds” (acts of kindness) protects the body.

Let’s begin with prayer, the first of our 3 pillars.
Prayer (in Hebrew “Tefilah”) derives from the Hebrew root whose meaning is “connection.” When we pray we connect our all, our totality, to the Creator. That being said, there is a “general”, a leader of the body if you will, without which we can’t form a meaningful connection to our Creator. That “general” of the body is our mind. In the words of the great Tzadik (righteous holy soul) Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov, “You are where your thoughts are.” A wondering mind (a mind distracted by the vanities of the world)  prevents us from connecting deeply and meaningfully to God. To remedy this, the Sages instituted daily prayer, i.e. “connection,” as explained above. Such connection binds the mind of man to his/her Creator thus enabling all of him/her to maintain a sustained relationship.

Our second pillar is Torah (Bible) study.
In the 5th book of the Torah, Moses commands Israel, “And you will speak in them” (Deuteronomy 6:7). “In them,” explain the Sages, meaning, in the words of the Torah (the Bible). From this verse the Sages of the Talmud learn that one’s mouth should be preoccupied only with God’s words - God’s Holy writ as recorded in the Bible. Question: How can a person practically speak only about God? What about everyday conversation, casual banter? Explain the Sages, one must seek to reveal God wherever he or she is found; hence, even a casual conversation must be steered toward meaningful spiritual topics. No wasted speech! To help us rectify our speech so the words of our mouth should reflect Godly consciousness, the Sages instituted daily Torah/Bible study (the amount of which, great or small, depends upon the individual). By learning and vocalizing God’s word (as recorded in the Torah/Bible) we strengthen our ability to shift reality toward its intended spiritual expression.

The 3rd and final pillar is “Good deeds.”
The great Tzadik (righteous and holy soul) Rabbi Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk once said, “In previous generations, Divine service emphasized  Torah study. Now, in our time, Divine Service emphasizes (more than anything else) good deeds.” Question: Why is our time (our generation) especially focused on good deeds?
Explains the great Tzadik Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Rebbe), “Holy actions touch the simple essence of God.” To briefly explain, holy actions reveal Godliness at the level of the body (since it is the body that is used to carry them, the actions, out.) When we physically practice kindness, e.g. charity, we fulfill God’s ultimate desire, “And they will make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them” (Exodus 25:9). Ask the Sages, what does it mean “in them?” Who’s “them?” Explain the Sages, in their (the people’s) experiences! Hence, when we “act” (physically perform acts of kindness) we make a dwelling place (in ourselves) for Him. Such unity (God and man) at the level of body fulfills our Creator’s ultimate desire. Explains the Rebbe, as we near Moshiach’s (the Messiah’s) time (when His ultimate desire - to dwell with us- will be fulfilled), we prepare by creating “vessels” through holy actions. Such practice sanctifies and protects man at the level of body.

Conclusion: By practicing daily Prayer, Torah/Bible study, and Good Deeds, we protect our thoughts, words, and deeds from the vanities of the world. Such a 3 fold sanctification elevates our human experience to become a vessel (a holy vehicle) for Him.

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Constructive Conflict

DaAti Healthy CompetitionHuman-beings are a contentious bunch. Just ask any historian, or better yet, read your daily newsfeed (plenty of evidence there). Let’s face it; we all love a good fist fight, and, surprising as it may sound, the Torah (Bible) actually ok’s it! Explain the Sages, our need to challenge (our competitive spirit) has given rise to astonishing innovations, breakthroughs that have occurred precisely because we stood up and challenged the status quo. From a Torah perspective a little “duality,” a little healthy friction, is useful provided it’s growth-promoting. If so, we must ask the following: When does “constructive-conflict” (growth promoting confrontation) become destructive? At what point is the duel no longer beneficial?

Healthy sparring, explains the Talmud (Tactate Ta’anit), is likened to “Two knives sharpening each other.” To clarify, the friction caused by two “knives” (two sharp minds) “colliding” (disagreeing on a given topic) “sharpens” (matures) both parties regardless of who wins. Simply stated, if conflict is done right - with a Talmudic spirit - the parties engaged will emerge faster, sharper, and wiser. And here lies the great secret to achieving “sagely conflict”: always strive for truth. To constructively “do battle” and grow from a challenge, we must remember that it is never about us (our ego). It’s about discovery. It’s about chipping away at the proverbial stone, the barriers to our clear understanding, and finding the diamond (the spark of truth) within. Such an ability (setting aside ego in favor of truth) is termed “sagely” because it requires years of practice to achieve.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, “We pray daily that God will grant us just a moment of authentic truth.” It’s that rare! So embrace your conflicts and remember, it’s only about the truth.

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Always Look Below

Garden of EdenBiblical history paints a stunning portrait of the human experience. It tells of great heroes, evil kings, selfless acts, and tragic losses. In short, it is a mirror of our experiences, the journey of mankind. Perhaps, the most emphasized theme in all Biblical literature is “evil” - the great antithesis to mankind's spiritual mission. On the very same day Adam was formed, placed in “Gan Eden” (the Garden of Eden),  and given the command to not eat from the forbidden tree, evil got busy. It searched high and low for a “gateway,” a portal into man’s psyche. It found its would-be-messenger in the form of a “Nachash” - the “snake” of Eden. Our Sages, of Blessed memory, tell us that this “snake” stood upright (it had legs) and possessed illustrious faculties second only to man himself. Explain the Sages, it (the snake) was intended to be the great “servant” of man - an extension of his spiritual mission. Sadly, its great potential, its noble destiny, was never realized, for the snake possessed one particularly loathsome trait that would transform it into an agent of evil: jealousy. The snake was jealous of Adam and Eve’s love (the bond they shared) and desired nothing more than to take Eve for himself. Evil rejoiced for its search was finally over, a deliverer had been found. Evil “hijacked” the snake’s faculties and, using its insatiable envy, contrived a plan that would culminate in the death of mankind.

        Such is the danger of jealousy, for it robs a person of happiness (the good fortune he/she possesses) by affixing the “eyes” (the focus of the mind) on the blessings of others. Now, if jealousy is indeed the “gateway” to all evil - the first of all negative traits mentioned in Torah - it stands to reason that its fixing is the “gateway” to all good! Simply stated, when we stop lusting after the riches of others we become greatly attuned to the riches (the Divine gifts) we possess. In short, we become happy.

And how may one reorient his/her eyes to see (and hence appreciate) the good fortune in one’s life?

Answer: look down!

        Explains the Talmud (last Mishnah in Tractate Ta’anit), when the unmarried maidens would seek out a potential husband (this occurred twice a year) they would prepare by borrowing a simple white garment. This ceremonial garment could only be taken from one who was “below” in status, e.g. the daughter of the king (the highest status in the land) would borrow from the daughter of the High Priest (the status directly below). Each maiden would borrow a garment (for the duration of the event) directly from another who was one step below in status and rank. Question: why is it so important that each maiden acquire her “evening gown” from one who is “below”? Is it really so wrong to “look up” and ask one who is more privileged for the required textile?

Explains the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad (known affectionately as the “Ben Ish Chai”), there is a great lesson to be learned from these maidens about achieving lasting happiness. In short, when one practices “looking down” and seeing (internalizing) that, compared to so many others, one’s lot (one’s good fortune) is truly abundant, happiness is fostered. Explains the Ben Ish Chai, if, God forbid, we practice “looking up” (fixating on the possessions of others), we will always feel (for lack of seeing our own good fortune) deficient. Such an emotion leads to the jealousy that robbed from the snake of Eden its Divine potential and future happiness - seized as he was by evil’s merciless grip.

Summary: Jealousy (the trait of the snake) begins with a shift of perspective, a change of the eyes from “below” (seeing the difficulties of others and appreciating one’s good fortune) to “above” (fixating on the holdings of others and forgetting one’s good fortune). To rectify this primordial tendency (this ancient character flaw) we need only remember that when it comes to happiness, ALWAYS look “below”!

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Evil Has Two Faces

Daati Wave Burning“The wave that sinks the ship has a white face with burning coals at its base.” So declares the Talmud describing evil’s more deceptive nature - “white face” (pure in appearance) with “burning coals” (evil) “at its base” (hidden within). But evil isn’t always so cunning. Sometimes, explain the Sages, it really is that horrid monster lurking under the bed, i.e. Kabbalah teaches that evil’s degree of sophistication

(how it appears, hidden or obvious) directly mirrors the maturation of the one it engages. For example, children will encounter (due to their lack of cognitive complexity) evil of a far simpler nature, e.g. stealing candy because, “It tastes good and I want it.” Adults, on the other hand, due to a fully functioning frontal lobe, can be much more  sophisticated in their justifications, e.g. “I am not stealing this because I want it, but rather, because it’s owed me.” They find a creative way to justify their immoral behavior (“cognitive dissonance reduction” in the terminology of psychology). Because the adult grapples with moral complexities in the abstract and the child does not, evil must “switch costumes” (change tactics) to be effective. This leads to an intriguing question: If adults, by definition, are more complex in their processing, why do they succumb (at times) to silly childlike impulses? Wouldn’t their robust mental prowess (their advanced cognitive ability) prevent them from stumbling into such silliness? Explains Kabbalah, human beings possesses two primary states of consciousness: 1) “Expanded consciousness ” and 2) “Constricted consciousness.”  Simply defined, “Expanded consciousness” is when I sense Godliness in my moment to moment reality - I am aware of the source. Constricted consciousness,” in contrast, is when I do not sense the Godliness behind the experience - I do not sense the presence of Him. Explain the Sages, depending on which state (expanded or constricted) we are in, determines how evil approaches - sophisticated (the wave with the white face) or simple (coarse and obvious).

And how should we best deal with evil’s two faces? Explains Master Kabbalist Rabbi Hillel Paritcher, when evil arises from the mind (the level of adult) “use the mind to overturn it” - look deeper beyond evil’s “white face” (deceptively innocent appearance) until you find its “burning coals” (poison.) Once revealed, you will be able to maintain your righteous posture having exposed evil’s true intention - to “burn” you. Explains further Rabbi Hillel, when evil arises from above mind (the level of child), “Transcend the mind to overcome” - turn away quickly from the evil impulse and run (like a child without thought) from the danger, i.e. do not mentally engage.

When we learn to identify evil’s two faces (sophisticated/adult and simple/child), being careful to respond according to Rabbi Hillel’s instruction, mind (when adult) and above mind (when child), we close the portal of vulnerability - secure the soul from every side - thus preventing evil from gaining a foothold. 

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Fires Within/Fires Without

Daati firestormFires rage, bullets fly, lands quake, and rivers flood. It seems like violence (natural and otherwise) is fast becoming a daily reality, and we are given front row tickets (courtesy of modern media) to behold its fury. Amidst all the chaos one can’t help but wonder, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” If the basis of Theism (the practice of which is Theology) is a God/man relationship, where is our heavenly “partner” in this, our hour of need?

To understand the Divine lesson in “struggle”, we must first begin with the following Talmudic axiom: “Evil does not descend from Heaven.” Clarify the Rabbis, God never causes evil to descend “from heaven,” i.e. from the spiritual worlds above. Meaning, evil (as a mechanism) exists only “below heaven” - in the consciousness of our world. And what is its purpose? Explains Kabbalah, to cause an awakening (“evil” in Hebrew, “Ra”, when inverted - A before the R - forms the word, “Er”, the meaning of which is “awakening!”) Evil, in any manifestation, explain the Rabbis, comes to awaken us to the existence of an uncorrected weakness - a flaw in our lives (our consciousness) that has persisted too long. And how should we respond to the evil that rises before us? “Teshuvah” (“repentance”) answer the Sages. By aligning our behavior (our thoughts, words, and deeds) with the Creator’s will, we create a Godly center - a refined spiritual core.

The masters of Kabbalah teach, when we shift inwardly (evolve to a more Godly plane) reality - the world around us - shifts (changes) outwardly - becomes beautiful. Did you read that carefully? Reality actually changes (for better or worse) because we change! This phenomena is known in philosophy and science as, “Biocentrism”, or, the creation of outer space (physical reality) from inner space (our reality.) This “man creates his world” hypothesis is fundamental to Torah practice (as seen in many places in Talmud and Kabbalah). Perhaps one of the best examples of this Torah Biocentrism is the Messianic prophecy, “The wolf will live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6). Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimonides (RAMBAM) explains that the wolf and lamb are literal - the wolf (predator) will “live with” (no longer attack) the lamb (prey). Why? Because nature, explains the Rambam, will change upon the Messiah’s arrival, i.e. will become kinder. Other commentators take a very different approach, explaining Isaiah’s “wolf” and “lamb” to be a metaphor for our animal soul and Divine soul. Hence, when the Messiah comes, our “wolf” (animal soul) will “live with” (peacefully coexist with ) our “lamb” (Divine soul).

Question: which perspective is correct? Explains the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Blessed memory), they both are, for the peaceful coexistence of the wolf and lamb without (physical nature) depends on their peaceful coexistence within (spiritual nature). From the above we can see that nature’s harmony depends on man and is thus a Biocentric expression of his/her consciousness! And this, then, is the lesson, we (human beings) are given the keys to determine our fate. If we unite in peace, love, friendship, and respect, (making Godliness our principle preoccupation), nature will become beautiful - align with the spiritual beauty of our inner space. But if, God forbid, our divisiveness continues (chaotic consciousness), nature will continue her violent assault - a Biocentric expression of human turmoil.

May we all commit to being just a little kinder, patient, giving, and more loving as if the fate of the world depends on it!

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