Heal thyself: Spiritual health the key to physical health

Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer

By Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, Guest Torah Columnist

Torah Portion: Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, G-d tells Moses, “if you will heed the Lord your G-d diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)

I first became interested in the Jewish modal of healing when I realized that no doctor could help me with my disease of Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, a debilitating vascular disorder which impeded my ability to walk. My doctors said that both my legs needed to be amputated. I was devastated by this diagnosis, but because of my strong faith, I knew that G-d would not abandon me.    

About 30 years ago, I met an observant rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Dresher, who strongly maintained the curative nature of Torah. He directed me to many meditations found in Kabbalistic texts, like Sha’arey Kedusha, Sefer Yetzirah, the Zohar  and other texts that are filled with meditative practices. All these meditations are based on the Torah and I received physical healing that I was not able to receive before I learned about the correlation between Torah, Kabbalah and modern medicine.  And I wrote about this experience in two books, This is for Everyone and Healing with G-d’s Love:  Kabbalah’s Hidden Secrets.

In the preface of Healing with G-d’s Love, I wrote in depth about this week’s Torah portion, which clearly teaches us that illness is connected to ethical action.  This is not to say that, because a person develops a devastating disease, he must be evil.  I certainly never thought I was a horrible person. But, there is an ethical basis to health and illness, and a direct correlation between the human healer and the Divine healer. G-d is clearly teaching us that if we want to escape disease, we need to practice ethical precepts. We need to be good.

Righteous behavior allows us to bring the Divine energies in every cell of our body into balance. The unhealthy person’s cells are out of balance, weighed down by Shechina (the Feminine Aspect of G-d) energy only. Ethical behavior with kavanah meditation lifts up the Shechina and joins Her with the Masculine Aspect of the Divine Hashem that brings good health and balanced Divine energies into every cell.

This week, G-d teaches us that it is important to obey the Ten Commandments and the other mitzvoth.  Jewish medicine, distinct from the medical model taught at American universities, is completely related to moral, ethical and spiritual values.  Kabbalah teaches that it is not enough to repair a broken arm or treat a cancer with sophisticated chemotherapy. If we want real healing, it is crucial to bring in the moral context of a person’s illness.  There is more to illness and healing than meets the eye.

When a person fulfills the Torah with all its mitzvoth, letting not a single one slip away, life flows from each commandment, into its parallel limb, or organ in him. And the Lord G-d makes it quite clear this week, “If you will heed the Lord your G-d diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)  The Lord our G-d is called Rofecha, Your Healer.  Rashi interprets this text thusly, “The simple explanation is that as your healer, I will teach you Torah and commandments, that will avert illness and punishment.”  It is like a doctor would say, “Don’t eat such and such food, lest you come to have such and such an illness.”   

Rashi implies that G-d continually acts as the Jewish people’s doctor, even when not actively curing them.  This means Hashem heals in a preventative as well as a curative sense.  Hashem’s healing, according to Rashi, might be even superior to other healing, in that it extends to even completely preventing the disease.

Once upon a time there were two little fish named David and Rachel.  They met a frog, behind a rock.  The frog said, “Don’t you know you’re in great danger?”

“Why is that so?” asked Rachel and David.

“Because fish cannot live without water. You’d better find some water or you will die,” said the frog.

David and Rachel were frightened, so they swam as quickly as they could to their mother, “Mama, mama, the frog says if we don’t find water, we will die. What’s water?”

Mama Fish, who never studied religion or science, said, “I never heard about water. Let’s go to the otter and ask him what the meaning of water is.”

The wise otter told them, “You are surrounded by water.  This is what you live in.  Water is what you breathe.”

Our Torah teaches that we live in G-d. That’s what we breathe. G-d, as well as Torah, is both curative and preventative.

Hebrew commentaries teach us that, at the time of the giving of the Torah, all the illnesses of Israel were healed. Rabbi Samuel Edels in the 16th century claimed that, since the power of healing is present in G-d, even before illness occurs, the temporary presence of illness in the righteous is no violation of the Torah’s assurance. In sum, this week’s Torah portion is known for recognizing that the True Healer of all is the Lord our G-d, and even though we would be remiss and foolish not to use contemporary medicine and physicians, but we need to remember without a doubt that ultimately healing is from G-d.  I can testify to this, and that is why, beginning in February, we will have a healing prayer circle every month in our synagogue to learn powerful prayer meditations and pray for individual’s physical healing.

Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is the senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.

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