Thursday, April 8, 2021

Is Kosher Food Healthier than Non-Kosher Food?


Parashat Shemini

Is it True that “You are What you Eat”? 
I used to be a vegetarian before I embarked on the Torah path. So were my husband and many of our friends. We felt, that not eating un-kosher meat, greatly protected us from its negative effect. Therefore, we were more disposed to embrace the observant Torah way. Conversely, it is possible that those who chose to abstain from devouring meat already were less materialistic types and more spiritually inclined. We wanted our diet to be in line with sustainable living and many of us cared about the way animals were treated. Another concern was how a carnivorous diet exploits global resources and depletes the environment. It was only a natural step up, to go from living caring, moral, environmentally conscious lives, to accept the Divine guidelines for becoming ethical Jews striving to become tzaddikim (righteous) in action, speech, and thought. Learning about the Torah dietary laws, made many of us adapt our vegetarianism to include eating kosher meat in honor of Shabbat. Personally, I try to stay away from eating meat except for organic free-range animals. We are fortunate to have a G-d-fearing ritual slaughterer in Bat Ayin, who provides us with organic, grass-fed beef. As someone who raises chickens, we are aware that taking the life of an animal mustn’t be taken lightly. It can only be justified by eating it mindfully and using its energy to perform Torah and mitzvot. My friends from the past used to say: “You are what you eat!” Let us explore if this dictum holds true according to Torah. 

The Chosen Animals 
Hashem selected the Jewish people for spiritual leadership, for the purpose of elevating the entire world in His service. He, therefore, provided us with the means to achieve our exalted purpose as the chosen people, by giving us the laws of the Torah, including the dietary laws. 

:ספר ויקרא פרק יא  פסוק ב דַּבְּרוּ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר זֹאת הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכְלוּ מִכָּל הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֶץ
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: These are the creatures that you may eat among all the animals on earth” (Vayikra 11:2). 

The word חַיָּה/chaya – ‘living creature’ denotes חַיִּים /chayim – ‘life.’ Since the Israelites cleave to the Omnipresent and are therefore worthy of being alive, accordingly, G-d separates them from impurity and decrees mitzvot upon them [through which they can live] …This is comparable to a physician, who went to visit a patient, who was incurable and allowed him to eat anything he wished. Whereas, when he went to his patient, who was to recover, the physician imposed restrictions on his diet, that would ensure that the recoverable patient would live.…” (Rashi, Vayikra 11:2 based on Midrash Tanchuma). 

Are we Permitted to Ponder the Reasons for Kosher and Non-Kosher Food? 
Parashat Shemini provides us with the criteria for kosher animals and also lists the unkosher beasts, fowl, and fish. The laws of Kashrut (kosher food) belong to the category of Chukim – statutes for which we don’t have logical explanations – and which we must accept simply because Hashem decreed them. Nevertheless, Sefat Emet explains that when we accept to keep the statutes out of pure faith, without demanding to understand their reasons, their reasons will eventually be revealed to us. Everything in the physical world has corresponding spiritual energy that it parallels, symbolizes, or embodies. Ramban notices the difference in nature between kosher and unkosher animals. Namely, milk of kosher animals can curdle, whereas milk of those unfit for food does not coagulate and cannot be made into cheese. Thus, they are physically different. It is possible to say on the basis of this difference that just as their milk is different, so is the meat of unkosher animals different in a way that may harm those who eat them (based on Ramban 11:13).  

Nourishment for the Jewish Soul
The food we consume greatly affects both our physical and spiritual health. Our character and our spiritual sensitivity are greatly influenced by what we eat. Non-kosher foods coarsen the body, and thereby, cloud the holiness of the soul. 

:ספר ויקרא פרק יא פסוק מג אַל תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם
“You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping creature that creeps, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, that you should become impure through them” (Vayikra 11:43).

The first warning וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ/lo titam’u refers to our bodies, whereas the second warning, וְנִטְמֵתֶם/venitamtem refers to our souls. The word וְנִטְמֵתֶם is written without the letter א/alef after the letter מ/mem. The missing א/alef indicates that anyone eating these creatures becomes מטומטם/metumtam – ‘dull-witted’ as a result. Man’s heart becomes ‘encrusted’ through the ingestion of such forbidden creatures so that it can no longer access the Holy Spirit (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Vayikra 11:43). 

Therefore, the Torah warns us against forbidden foods, upon which dwells extraneous impure energy. A person who eats unkosher food makes his soul impure, distances himself from kedusha (holiness), and weakens his connection with the G-d of Israel. Conversely, eating kosher foods, with holy intention causes the attachment of a holy pure spirit so that the soul will enjoy and benefit from the food as it states, “A tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul” (Mishlei 13:25). The holiness of the food thus affects our soul positively (HaShelah HaKodesh, The Gate of the Letters, the Holiness of Eating 1). 

The Cruel Nature of Unkosher Birds
Many Torah commentators draw parallels between the character of animals and their kosher status. All kosher livestock are not beasts of prey, while the rest devour others. Likewise, the list of forbidden birds includes all the predatory birds. These birds are unkosher due to their cruel nature (Ramban, Vayikra 11:13). Any bird which attacks with its claws is automatically known as an impure bird. Our sages (BT, Chulin 62) mention that the reason the Torah forbade the consumption of such birds is that they are more hot-blooded. Their blood turning black indicates a cruel streak in the character of the bird. Eating such a bird leaves a residue of the character of the animal in the person who consumes it. The objectionable part of such a predator bird is that it hunts live prey and does not kill it before feasting on it. Apparently, hawks operate in this manner (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Vayikra 11:13). 

Physical and Spiritual Impact of Kosher Fish 
I’m fortunate that since early childhood, my parents discovered that I was allergic to shellfish, so I was safeguarded from eating prawns, lobsters, oysters, and other sea creatures, which lack the two kosher signs: fins and scales. These two characteristics of kosher fish have both physical and symbolic impacts. Ramban explains that fish, who have the kosher distinguishing features, make their habitat in the upper part of seas or rivers. The waters there are clear and absorb a certain amount of daylight and sunshine. This influences their growth and development. The scales are for fish what hair and wool are for mammals, helping them retain warmth. Fish that lack these features make their habitat in lower layers of the water and so are exposed to the darkness and the murkiness of the waters prevailing there. (Ramban, Vayikra 11:9). Symbolically, the fins with which fish navigate reminds us to navigate through the wisdom of the Torah. The scales are the coat for protection is given to all of those that carry out the mitzvot (Ma’amurei Admur Hazaken, Inyaninim, pg. 130).

Predatory Animals are not Fit Food for the Jewish Nature
Perhaps, we may say that the two signs of a kosher beast teach us to become more mindful and connected to the spiritual dimension. To chew the cud teaches us not to act instinctively on impulse, but to think carefully before blurting out or acting in haste, taking into consideration the consequences of our words and actions. Split hooves, with which the animal connects to the ground, teach us that although we need to interact with the material world, we still maintain a conscious separation (Mordechai Wollenberg, You Are What you Eat). Mild-mannered, submissive, good-natured, kosher cows, deer, and sheep are naturally timid, modest, non-predatory, and quiet animals. Since kosher animals all possess these desirable character traits, this indicates that the Torah concurs with the dictum,  you are what you eat!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Pesach and Renewing our Belief in Miracles


The Challenge of Believing in Miracles when Life gets Tough
healing in the parsha
Pesach is in the air while the dust is dancing to the rhythm of our heavy-duty carpet beater. As we clean and scrub, we must not forget to renew our belief in miracles. Even if we surely believe in G*d and in His Holy Torah, it can be difficult to integrate this belief into our personal lives, especially when things get tough. Sometimes we fall into thinking that Hashem has forgotten us, allowing the negative side of darkness to have free rein. When we go through personal difficulties, we may be about falling so low into despair, that we think that everything is lost. Even when still believing that everything is from Hashem, and for the best, we may be prone to think, “It is for the best to punish me for all my multitude sins and shortcomings. I surely deserve that everything will end up in the worst possible way.” We may still think we have great emunah (faith) understanding that emunah is not just the naïve belief that everything will turn out well in the end, as many things don’t really turn out so well in the end. We all know that true emunah is to believe that even when things don’t turn out well, like the Holocaust; it’s still for our best. So we may spiral down into the negative thinking of the worst possible scenario that could happen to us, which of course in our great ‘emunah’ we accept would be for the best. 

Fear of the Evil Eye
Sometimes it may be that due to selfish bragging we open ourselves to the evil eye – (ayin hara). The Talmud quotes Rav proclaiming that “Ninety-nine percent of those buried in the cemetery died as a result of the evil eye, and only one percent died naturally.”[1] However, ayin hara only affects those who believe in it, because if we look at ourselves through Hashem’s eye of kindness we do not leave room for the evil eye to have any power over us. The problem arises when we allow other people’s evil eye to affect us, and we begin to look at ourselves in their negative judgmental light. However, as long as they are unable to affect our positive hopeful attitude towards ourselves, then we do not allow ayin hara to have any effect on us.

G*d’s Unity Transcends the World of Light and Darkness
Negative thoughts of despair are really like idol worship because they empower the sitra acha (the side of impurity) by telling ourselves that the one and only G*d, has hidden His face and allowed evil to take over. This is almost like giving power to a dual Deity, the G*d of goodness and G*d forbid the god of negative darkness and evil eye, etc. The Torah teaches us to believe in One and only G*d, whose unity overrides the world of dichotomy including good and evil, light and darkness, etc. The existence of darkness is only for the sake of illuminating the light which grows brighter through contrast and counterpoint. This is why Israel had to go down to the very darkest most perverse place in the world – Egypt, before we could be redeemed to receive the greatest light of the Torah.[2]

The Effects of Positive Thinking 
So is it not naïve to always believe that everything will turn out good in the end?  Why should I believe in something which may be unrealistic? Positive thinking can affect the final outcome of every situation, according to the saying: “think good and it will become good.”[3] The righteous women in Egypt acted according to this principle when they packed their tambourines. “Miriam the prophetess sister of Aaron took the drum in her hand.[4] The righteous women of that generation trusted that Hashem would perform a miracle for them, and they therefore brought drums with them from Egypt.[5]  King David writes in his Tehillim, “Hashem is your keeper; Hashem is your shadow upon your right hand.”[6]  Just as the shadow follows the movements of the person, likewise, according to how a person acts below, so is he acted upon from Above. In the same vein when we have mercy towards others, Hashem will have mercy upon us. Therefore, if we are sure that Hashem will provide for all our needs, all our requests will be fulfilled from Above. However, if we are always worried, then the object of our worries will come to pass, G*d forbid.  “Happy is the person who won’t forget You, but places his trust in Hashem, then Hashem will be his shadow.” King David trusted so greatly in Hashem, that he would recite songs of praise to Hashem before the redemption from the many troubles he experienced. Likewise, Israel recited song at the Sea before the actual redemption, as they trusted that Hashem would surely part the Sea for them. When we trust that Hashem will fulfill all our needs, then G*d will fulfill all our needs, for He is our shadow.[7]


Believing in the Best Possible Outcome
True emunah is to believe that things will turn out according to the revealed best possible way, even if it will take a miracle to make that happen, for “is anything too hard for Hashem?”[8]  Our positive thinking will affect the final result both because a positive attitude energetically attracts positive outcomes, and also because our actions are affected by our attitude. If we have a positive outlook, we will act in ways that bring about a positive end result. Our prayer is so much more powerful when we believe that Hashem will answer it for good. However, if in the end, things don’t turn out the way we had hoped, then is the time to have emunah that this too was from Hashem for our own good. Yet, to begin with we must always believe in the very best possible outcome. Even when things look impossible, “Hashem’s salvation is like a blink of an eye.”[9]  

Exodus from Darkness
The Pesach story teaches us to believe in miracles to bring about a happy end. Although we had sunk into the very lowest level of being absorbed within the darkness of Egypt in the 49th gate of impurity, Hashem still took us out with a strong arm[10] full of wondrous miracles, to the 49th gate of purity. The Exodus is called: יסוד היסודות ושורש הכל /yesod hayesodot v’shoresh hakol – “The foundation of the foundations and the root of all.”[11]   Through the revealed miracles of the Exodus we learn to recognize the hidden miracles of everyday life, which are the foundation of the entire Torah.  In order to have a portion in the Torah, we need to believe in everything described in it which is all miracles beyond nature.[12]   

Let us take every opportunity to thank Hashem for His goodness and blessings, and let us strengthen our emunah that for those who are still single the right man is just around the corner, that the barren women will bear fruit, and that we all be strengthened in the belief that the final Geulah (redemption) is at our doorsteps! May our strengthened emunah draw down the Shechina to become our shadow for the ultimate good!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Why Did I Choose to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19? Part II.

 
Parashat Tzav

In Part I of this article, featured last week, Parashat Vayikra, we discussed the Torah criteria for deciding who is to be trusted in medical issues, since a non-professional reader has no ability to assess the arguments circulating regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. I also shared with you my results when checking the credibility of two Anti-Vaxxers. Furthermore, I compared the number who died from COVID-19 with those who died from the COVID-19 vaccine. Finally, I briefly addressed the question of whether the current pandemic is a hoax invented by ‘Big Pharma. Read Part I of this article. I got more comments on my blog and also privately than I could have imagined. I only responded occasionally, due to time constraints, and also because I don’t believe that it is possible to convince the anti-waxers (by the way that word is not meant derogatorily and I certainly didn’t use it to vilify anyone, but only to write more concisely). I do not expect you all to agree with everything I write although I’m happy for comments, but let us keep them on the topic, without making hateful judgments. 

Has the COVID-19 Vaccine Been Properly Tested?
I do understand those who are hesitating to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to it being relatively new, without much time to prove or disprove whether the vaccine could cause long-term side effects, G-d forbid. Yet, considering the devastating pandemic, that has claimed millions of lives worldwide and more than 6,000 lives in Israel alone, it is understandable that the FDA granted emergency validation to Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a year after the outbreak of the pandemic. This was only after the vaccine had been going through rigorous phase III clinical trials, tested on more than 30.000 volunteers, and proven safe and efficient by numerous competent experts. In order to be qualified for evaluation by the FDA, the vaccine must first be approved by the DSMB, which is composed of independent experts, who remain anonymous, to prevent pressure from vaccine manufacturers and government officials. Today, more than 14 million people have been vaccinated and monitored. Although common side effects include sore muscles, headaches, and fatigue, these discomforts typically subside after 1-2 days. The COVID-19 vaccines in current use did not show evidence of unexpected serious adverse events. The effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccination is furthermore verified by the fact that thank G-d, Israel sees a 60% drop in hospitalizations for age 60-plus 3 weeks after the 1st shot. The effectiveness of the vaccine is even more evident from the drastic decline of active cases of COVID-19 in Israel from when the immunization of the vaccine kicked in (about 1-3 weeks after receiving the second shot). On Feb 4, three days before the end of the third lockdown in Israel, there were still 80,889 active cases of COVID-19. Despite opening the lockdown on February 7th, the active cases have steadily gone down, and today, March 24, Baruch Hashem we are down to 14,002 active cases on  Worldmeter Israel. Thus, since the vaccination, the active cases declined more than 65,000 cases so far!

Hashem Prepares the Cure Before the Wound 
We have a Talmudic principle, that Hashem always prepares the cure before the wound (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13b). More than 30 years ago, the method of mRNA used in Pfizer vaccines today, was developed by a Hungarian female biochemist called Katalin Karikó, based on scientific discoveries launched in 1961. Karikó was an ugly duckling in the academic world, but she persisted in her research, until, together with Drew Weissman, she finally received patents for the mRNA technology in 2012. When mice were injected with this modified mRNA, they lived. Both my mind and heart resonate very much with Karikó, and I believe she is sincere when she says, “I always wanted to help people…That was the motivation for me, and I was always optimistic. But to help that many people, I never imagined that… ”

What do the Rabbis Say? 
It is easy to compose a long list of rabbis who are both for and against anything because the term ‘Rabbi’ is very broad. It ranges from a Cheder rabbi, who teaches 5-year-olds, to a halachic posek, whose authority to render halachic decisions is accepted by hundreds of thousands of Jews. The anti-vaxxer list of supporting rabbis does not include top halachic poskim (halachic authorities). As expected, many of the rabbis opposing the vaccine are Breslev, a group known to shun the use of medicine in general. Rabbinic halachic authority, including those in the forefront of medicine and halacha, concede that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is a halachic obligation, for the sake of saving lives. The rabbis concur that there is a Torah halachic obligation for an individual Jew to expose himself to a minimal future danger, in order to save someone else from a greater present danger. There is a halachic consensus that this is the quality of righteousness (Rashi, T. (2018). When the Arrow Came before the Trolley: Jewish Perspectives on the Trolley Dilemma. Philosophia, 46, 193–206). This halachic principle is explained well by Rav Asher Weiss, Rosh Kollel, Av Beit Din, and the posek for Shaarei Zedek hospital, responsible for answering weighty questions that require a blend of Torah erudition, a background in medical knowledge, and sensitivity to the issues involved. Another well-known Rabbi and Israel Prize laureate, who adheres to this halachic principle is Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, who serves as Director of the Medical Ethics Unit & Chairman, IRB Committee, and is Senior Child Neurologist at Shaare Zedek Hospital; Chief Editor of the 27 volume Head of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, and author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics. I am not attempting to supply a comprehensive list, but it includes Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky, Gershon Edelstein and Shalom Cohen, and many other highly respected Rabbis in the world of halacha. Also, the Biala Rabbi, Rabbi Ben Tzion Rabbinowitzthe late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed in the importance of vaccines. “For preventive medicine to be most successful and effective, it is necessary to start it from earliest childhood—beginning with vaccination…” There is virtually no dispute among contemporary rabbinic authorities (including Chareidi rabbis) regarding the halachic position justifying vaccination. Therefore, the reasons that some Chareidi communities apparently advocate vaccine hesitancy and skepticism are simply not rooted in any halachic approach… (Jewish Ethics Regarding Vaccination, Tsuriel Rashi, The Moskowitz School of Communication, Ariel University). 

Torah Sources on Vaccinations 
The Rabbis’ ruling, mandating COVID-19 vaccination, is based on Torah sources and the rulings of the Rabbinic authorities that preceded them. Commenting on the Torah verse, “Beware for yourself; and guard your soul and body” (Devarim 4:9), the Rambam writes, “It is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters. If a person leaves a dangerous obstacle and does not remove it, he negates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates the negative commandment: Do not cause blood to be spilled. Our Sages forbade many matters because they involve a threat to life. Whenever a person transgresses these guidelines, saying: I will risk my life, what does this matter to others, or I am not careful about these things, he should be punished by stripes for rebelliousness” (Rambam, Laws of Murder and the Preservation of Life 11:4-5). This principle, which prevents life-threatening danger is reflected in the Shulchan Aruch: “For any matter that threatens human life, there is a positive commandment to remove it and to guard against it and to be very careful about the matter, as is written, “beware and guard your soul” (Devarim 4:9). If a person does not remove it but leaves the matter resulting in danger, he nullifies a positive mitzvah and transgresses [the negative mitzvah] “you shall not cause blood [to be spilled]” (Devarim 22:8). Anyone who transgresses one of these things and related items, and says, ‘Behold I endanger myself and others,’ or ‘I am not careful in this,’ [the Court] gives him lashes for rebellion, yet, those who guard themselves against these will receive good blessings” (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 427:8,10). 

On this background, Dr. Edward Jenner’s development of the first vaccine for smallpox, in 1796 was welcomed in the Jewish world. The leading 19th-century sage,  Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz (1782–1860, Danzig) wrote, “…the righteous Jenner, who has invented this vaccine, is certainly one of the righteous among the Nations and will be rewarded in the next world for having saved thousands and tens of thousands from illness, death and the plague” (Tiferes Yisrael, Pirkei Avot 3:14). Even in the past, when vaccination was much more dangerous than today, the halachic authorities recommended them: “Although, there may be a certain danger caused by the vaccination, and some died through vaccination since the danger of avoiding the vaccination is so much greater, one is obligated to become vaccinated” (Tiferes Yisrael, Yoma 8:3). Avraham Hamburg collected several halachic responsa of the Rabbis of his time who answered unanimously that one must get vaccinated. This was despite the fact that in their time, some people would indeed die from the vaccine (Abraham ben Solomon, Aleh Terufah [Leaf of Healing],1785). “In (the previous generation), praise be to Hashem, we had expert physicians, who produced safe vaccines, which are used daily (Zivchei Tzedek). And now, physicians have become wiser, making an injection with a needle in the arm of the children, whereby, the children do not contract smallpox” (Rabbi Chaim Falagi, 1786-1868, Turkey, Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:60). 

What Convinced me to Get Vaccinated 
When I heard COVID-19 Vaccine in Halacha A Shiur By HaRav Asher Weiss Shlit"a,
I was extremely touched, not only by the Rabbi’s Torah erudition and the logical sequence of the many halachic sources that he quoted but by his caring, loving attitude. He spoke about feeling the pain of others and caring to do everything in our power to diminish their falling ill and suffering. “People are dying, people are suffering, but we can alleviate this awful pain, and diminish the suffering and save many people…” With these words, Rav Asher Weiss lifted me out of my selfishness, which I had, unfortunately, absorbed from my surroundings, thinking, “why should I, a healthy individual, risk bringing toxins into my system, when, most likely, I would survive, if G-d forbid, I was to contract COVID-19. Rabbi Weiss reminded me that we should care not only about ourselves. Rather, we need to feel the pain of others. People are suffering and dying by the millions, but if we are willing to do a small sacrifice, entailed by the risk of taking the relatively safe vaccine, we have the ability to end the pandemic. The Torah teaches us to care for the general community and mandates that we take a small risk, even to our own lives, in order to save many more lives in the long run. This caring attitude was a jarring contrast with what Sherri Tenpenny uttered: “I told all my family that if you get the vaccine, I will not take care of you when you get sick, I will not shop or cook for you or support you in any way.” This statement is diametrically opposed to the Torah outlook and halacha. For example, even when a person caused his own dangerous illness, we are still obligated to break Shabbat to take care of him or her (Rabbi Asher Weiss, The Laws of Healing on Shabbat and Yom Kippur pg. 28). The anti-vaxxers condemn the doctors, the medical system, and the government as being one big conspiracy, claiming that they will purposely try to kill us with their vaccine, whereas the inventors of the COVID-19 vaccine and the rabbis who advocate it, emphasize the importance of saving lives. When King Solomon decided the dispute between the two women, both claiming to be the mother of the same baby, he noticed that one claimed, “her baby is dead!” whereas, the other emphasized, “my baby is alive”. The wisest of all men then knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the one who emphasized life spoke the truth (Malbim I Melachim 3:22). 

Some Recommended Relevant Articles and Videos of Halachic Approaches to Vaccine and more:
https://revivimen.yhb.org.il/2021/01/01/vaccination-against-the-corona-virus/
https://traditiononline.org/halakha-approaches-the-covid-19-vaccine/#easy-footnote-bottom-4-13392
https://www.yutorah.org/download.cfm?materialID=550132
https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2185973/jewish/Vaccination-and-To
https://academic.oup.com/phe/article/13/2/215/5877016?searchresult=1
https://www.thelehrhaus.com/commentary/vaccines-hysteria-and-rabbinic-responsibility-a-plea-from-the-trenches/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvdRqMiPfL4...
https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-ultra-orthodox-rabbis-recommend-community-vaccinate-against-covid-19/
https://www.timesofisrael.com/orthodox-rabbis-in-us-israel-tell-followers-to-vaccinate-but-will-they-listen/
https://www.thelakewoodscoop.com/news/2020/12/forgery-harav-shmuel-kamenetzky-disputes-individuals-who-falsely-claimed-his-endorsement-against-covid-vaccine.html
https://5townscentral.com/2020/12/14/rav-shmuel-kamenetsky-responds-to-a-false-letter-in-his-name-regarding-covid-vaccine/
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/04/wellness-qanon-coronavirus/
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-25841-001

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Why Did I Choose to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19? Part I.

 

Parashat Vayikra

Although I don’t consider myself extreme, I’ve been seriously health conscious most of my life.  Yet, I’m certainly moderate compared to some of my raw-food dietitian mentors, such as Shoshanna Harrari, but that, of course, is all relative. I try to eat organic, for the most part. I will never consume inorganic grapes or strawberries since they are especially heavily sprayed with poisonous pesticides. The other day, my husband bought me a fresh-squeezed juice at a juice bar in the Yehuda Market of Jerusalem. However, since it included strawberry juice, I wouldn’t touch it. So, he gave the Nis-20 juice away to a passerby. I also avoid medicine like the plague. I don’t recall ever having taken as much as an aspirin. My medicine cabinet includes valerian, passionflower, sage, elderberries, and thyme. I laugh, when my husband, the doctor, tells me about new medical research, proving the benefits of various herbs, that we in the herbal community knew about all along. 

Why am I telling you all this? Being an environmentalist, who lives a holistic life, would naturally place me in the anti-vaccine camp, but I am not a conformer to any kind of herd mentality. I try to remain not only an independent thinker, but I also follow my heart and my inner intuition. Having to make a decision about the COVID-19 vaccination came upon me suddenly and unexpectedly. Less than three months after I first realized the choice before me, I find myself one of the 6% of Bat Ayin residents, who have received two vaccination doses. It’s already been a while after the second dose, and despite the horror stories told on the web, we, Baruch Hashem, still remain alive to tell the story. 

So, I will try to share with you here, why, despite being a person who avoids modern medicine as much as possible, I decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This, notwithstanding the sea of anti-Vaxxer warning YouTubes, I’ve been flooded with by my herbal community. Since there is so much to say, and you may not have time to read to the end, I will encapsulate here the main decisive factor that convinced me to make the sacrifice and take the risk of the vaccination. The main Torah principle I live by is: that no matter what, saving lives overrides everything else. To save lives, we are even permitted to break the holy Shabbat, so surely, we must be willing to take future health risks for the sake of saving current lives. 

What is the Torah Criteria for Deciding Who to Trust When Truth is Absent 
One of the signs of the forthcoming redemption is ‘conflicting information overload.’ It is becoming more and more difficult to tell truth from lies, as it states, “In the times of the approach of Mashiach, impudence will increase… and truth will become absent” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 49b). This notion explains why so many people today are being misinformed about the COVID-19 vaccines. Not being a scientist, I’m unqualified to investigate the biochemical operations of the various vaccines available and decipher the real truth about vaccines, as Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, one of the greatest current Zionist halachic authorities in Israel, writes: “There is no point in reading articles refuting the vaccine because a non-professional reader has no ability to assess the arguments and check the data…” Yet, having received a solid Torah foundation helped me decide whom to trust. Jewish law mandates trusting medical experts on medical issues. For example, on Yom Kippur, a sick person must be fed according to the decision of a medical expert (Mishna Yoma 82a). Even when the patient himself doesn’t want to eat, but a physician – even a non-Jew – says that he has to eat, the patient must be given food as directed by the doctor, provided he is a מוּמְחֶה/mumche – ‘expert’ (Shulchan Aruch Harav 618:2). What is the halachic criterion for determining who is an ‘expert’? Simply, an expert is someone endorsed by other experts. A medical expert is a well-known specialist in his field or someone who has published scientific articles, that are endorsed and cited by other medical experts. The Torah instructs us that in matters of medicine, we must act in accordance with the majority of doctors. The vast majority of doctors, who are experts in maintaining health, hold that it is very important to be vaccinated. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to listen to them (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Vaccination against the Corona Virus, January 1, 2021). I resonate with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s attitude, to give leeway to doctors and specialists, who oppose the vaccine, to prove their point. “It would be valuable if they delved into their research and attempted to prove their position – perhaps they could benefit the entire world… In any case, the ones who need to determine whether the claims of those who oppose the vaccine are convincing, are the majority of experts in the field of medicine” (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Ibid.). Today, through social media, any charismatic charlatan can say whatever he feels like to thousands of people through his YouTube channel. But, why should I believe him or her? What is the reliability of such and such so-called expert? Who endorsed them and their ‘scientific’ articles? 

Checking the Credibility of Some Anti-Vaxxers  
Actually, the multitude of Anti-Vaxxer messages I receive, are mainly YouTube broadcasts, rather than published scientific articles. I didn’t find any of their scientific articles published in reputable medical journals. Their names do not appear in accepted medical platforms such as PubMed; MedScape; WebMD; WHO; American Medical Association etc. To this, you may respond that these are all agents of the accepted medical establishment, who work for ‘Big Pharma’ and are part of the conspiracy to control humanity. I can only answer, that the consensus among past and present halachic authorities, is that these are the medical experts that must be relied upon in medical issues. In addition, I personally know many physicians, who could be considered part of the so-called ‘conspiracy,’ and I can tell you, that none of them have yet grown horns.

On the other hand, the ‘conspiracy believers’ do not get such good reviews to their credit. For example, Sherri Tenpenny is an American osteopath and anti-vaccination activist, who supports the disproved hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. She is the author of four books, opposing vaccination. Her 2015 lecture tour of Australia was canceled due to a public outcry over her views on vaccination, which go against the established scientific consensus. Dr. Tenpenny’s opinions, while disproved by science and criticized by medical experts, are not against the law and should be allowed a forum.  (Anti-vaccination views are misguided - but not illegal. Sydney Morning-Herald. 11 January 2015). 

V. A. Shiva Ayyadurai (born Vellayappa Ayyadurai Shiva, is an engineer, politician, entrepreneur, and promoter of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and unfounded medical claims (Breland, Ali. Wellness Influencers are Spreading Qanon Conspiracies About the Coronavirus). Ayyadurai makes the widely disputed claim to have invented email (Kolawole Emi, February 17, 2012). Similar disapproval has been given to most of the other sources sent to me, by well-meaning friends, from my wellness community. A comprehensive listing is beyond the scope of this article.  

Comparing Numbers of Who Died from What 
Responding to all the anti-Vaxxer claims, I’ve heard and read, could fill several books. Therefore, I’m just choosing to discuss a few claims, concerning which I just cannot remain silent. I was shocked by what I heard on Sherri Tenpenny’s YouTube warning, against the danger of the COVID-19 vaccine. Who is she to make a prophecy of doom that everyone who gets the vaccine will die within a year? This kind of scare-technique goes against all medical ethics and certainly has not been verified. The Phase 3 clinical trial of BNT162b2 began on July 27 and enrolled 43,661 participants.  As of November 13, 2020, 41,135  have received a second dose of the vaccine. This is more than four months ago when according to Tenpenny they were already supposed to have experienced the severe fatal symptoms. Tenpenny’s claim, that an outrageous number of ‘vaccine victims’ who already ‘died’ of anaphylactic shock immediately after receiving the vaccine, is also completely incorrect. Out of 13,794,904 people who received the vaccine, a total of 113 deaths were reported to VAERS, 65% of which were among LTCF [Long-term Care Facilities] residents. This is a death rate of 0.00081914 % of those vaccinated. Compare this number with the  3% death rate of those infected with COVID-19 globally! That’s more than a 10.000% higher mortality! There seems to be a double standard among the Anti-Vaxxers. Regarding those who died after receiving the vaccine, they maintain that the vaccine caused their death, but concerning those who died of COVID-19 it is claimed: “The number of deaths that have actually been caused by COVID-19 is entirely speculative. There have been countless reports from all over the world that hospitals have been listing COVID as the cause of death, even when patients died of entirely unrelated causes…” 

Is the Current Pandemic Invented by Big Pharma? 
Time and again, I had to listen to people claiming that there is no pandemic! “Whistleblowers have reported being instructed to list COVID as the cause of death if even a tiny, harmless trace of the virus was found in the body.” Oh, come on! Do I really have to document that hospitals the world over are filled to the brim with Corona patients, and many have been running out of drugs, beds and ventilators? How can anyone claim that there is no pandemic when more than 2½ million people have passed away of COVID-19? Who doesn’t know someone who has succumbed to this terrible plague? To those who claim that although Rabbi, Dr. Avraham Twerski died from Corona at the age of 90, he was old and would have died anyway, I will counter, that without COVID-19, He may possibly have lived another year or even decade, granting the world another brilliant book or even ten! 

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, which will be featured next week, Parashat Tzav. It will discuss the following topics: Has the COVID-19 vaccine been properly tested? What do the Rabbis Say? Torah Sources on vaccinations, and finally I will share what personally convinced me to get vaccinated. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Do the Precious Metals of the Tabernacle Have Healing Properties?

Healing in the parsha.

Parashat Vaykhel/Pekudei


My Penchant for Pure Metals

I’ve always detested anything fake. This includes imitation pearls, fake gold, and simulated silver. I’d rather have genuine, inexpensive, semiprecious crystals, than faux diamonds. I love my pure, iron skillet and have been searching for a pure copper kettle, but they seem to all come with a coating. When their interior is stainless steel, the precious healing properties of copper, which I will discuss further on, are lost. If you know of where to get hold of a kettle, made completely of copper inside and out, let me know!

I try to live my life in an honest, genuine way, never pretending to be more or less than who I am. I adhere to the principle that our inside must match our outside. Only such a person is worthy to learn Torah. We learn this from Rabbi Gamliel, who would place a guard to the door to the study hall, and only allow entrance to those whose inside matched his outside (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 28a). Furthermore, it states, “Any scholar, whose inside and outside are not the same, is not a scholar (BT, Yoma 72b). In principle, there should be nothing wrong with gold-covered, silver earrings. Also, the ark in the tabernacle consisted of gold-plated wood. The difference is that the silver earrings have a gold façade to pretend to be gold, whereas, the wood of the ark had its own importance, reflecting that the Torah must be a tree of life, alive and dynamic, rather than a frozen static material. Trees grow, they bear fruit, and they bend in the wind. Metal is unyielding, unchanging, without potential. Therefore, all the wooden gold-covered Temple vessels must be regarded halachically as being made of wood, and not gold, even though their golden surface appears on the outside. In addition to wood, the Tabernacle and its vessels were mainly constructed from the pure metals of gold, silver, and copper. Knowing that the Tabernacle and Temple were spiritual-healing structures, let’s explore the healing properties of these precious materials.

Gold for Atonement

Gold is associated with atonement, since the gold of the mishkan served as atonement for the sin of the golden calf (Midrash Tanchuma, Teruma 8). Yet, on Yom Kippur, we are not supposed to wear gold, just as the Kohen Gadol was prohibited from wearing gold then, in order not to recall the sin of the golden calf (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 26a). However, the greatest atonement takes place by using the same tools of sin for a mitzvah. Thus, Hashem commanded us to use gold in the construction of the tabernacle, to give us the opportunity to elevate our misdeeds. “For the tzaddikim find favor to the extent of the tools of their sinning” (Shemot Rabbah 33:3). Therefore, we atone with gold – “This is the gift that you must take from them – gold…” And the Holy One Blessed be He said: “For I will bring healing to you, and I will use (the material of) your wounds to heal you” (Yirmeyahu 30:17); (Midrash Tanchuma, Teruma 8). Since pure gold is so expensive, donating precious gold is a more efficient atonement, than offering a lesser gift to G-d. As there is no greater healing than atonement, it makes perfect sense that gold is considered “the master healer,” in new age terminology. It is an excellent metal for the purification of the physical body.

Gold Engenders Purity

Gold symbolizes purity, spirituality, and character development. It also lessens past trauma and assists us to actualize the intrinsic potential of the self. Gold balances energy helps eliminate ego conflicts and feelings of futility. It can also help to assuage the overburden of responsibility and combat feelings of depression and inferiority. It has been said to attract honors, wealth, and happiness; to provide composure, to stabilize the emotional system, to alleviate tension and stress, and to amplify positive feelings. It also assists us in attuning to nature and its healing forces. When in proximity to another metal, gold provides a stabilizing influence to the energies of that metal. Much research indicates that gold has wound healing properties. In addition, gold nanoparticles can be functionalized with antibodies to specifically target cancer stem cells. Preclinical studies using photo-thermal therapy have demonstrated the feasibility of targeting chemo-resistant cancer cells to reverse clinical chemoresistance.

Protective Silver

Silver has been used for its antibacterial properties for thousands of years. Some bandages use silver to help reduce wound bacteria count. Silver is so good at providing bacterial protection that many clinics and hospitals use silver-based surgical tools as well as furniture to help limit the spread of any disease. According to the Silver Institute, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly staph germ that is resistant to many other hospital-grade antibiotics, can often be wiped out through silver-based dressings. Due to its intrinsic therapeutic properties and broad-spectrum antimicrobial efficacy, silver nanoparticles have opened new horizons towards novel approaches in the control of infections in wound healing. The silver-infused dressing provides the silver-based bacterial protection while also absorbing wound discharge. Silver was used in the foundational sockets of the tabernacle, built from the half-shekel donation of each Jew, in order to act as a foundational protection from spiritual bacteria, such as the energy of Amalek. The specific measure of a half-shekel teaches us that in order to harness this spiritual protection, we must become whole, by unifying with each other.

Copper – The Energy Balancer and Multi Healer

It is not by chance that the serpent that the Israelites gazed at – in order to be healed from the bite of the serpent (Bamidbar 21:9) – was made of copper, as copper is the universal symbol of healing. After researching the many health benefits of wearing a copper bracelet, I hope my husband will remember and get me one for my next birthday! Wearing copper jewelry may protect from negative energy and emanate healing energies. It’s reported that copper bracelets alleviate stiffness of the joints and arthritis, lower cholesterol, strengthen the immune system, slow down the aging process and facilitate iron and zinc absorption through the skin. According to medical research, copper has two key properties: 1. Copper has potent pesticide and fungicide properties. 2. Copper is involved in numerous physiological and metabolic processes critical for the appropriate functioning of almost all tissues in the human body. Clinical studies show that medical device products, embedded with microscopic copper oxide particles, improve the well-being of the skin. These include a) a cure for athlete’s foot and improvement in skin elasticity; b) improving skin well-being and reducing facial lines and wrinkles, and c) enhancing wound healing; by copper oxide embedded socks, pillowcases, and wound dressings, respectively.

Perhaps, due to the purifying quality of copper, the washbasin for the kohanim to wash their hands and feet in preparation for their holy service was made completely out of copper. In Hebrew, copper is called ְנחשֶׁת/nechoshet, a word that shares the root with the wordנַחַשׁ /nashash – ‘serpent.’ I believe this is because copper can overcome the negative energy of the serpent. It is also possible that the energy balancing quality of copper reminds us that ultimate healing is only from Hashem, as it states, “does the [living] snake cause death or the [copper] snake give life? But, rather, when Israel focuses upwards towards Heaven and subjugates its heart to its Father in Heaven, they would be healed, and if not, they would be destroyed…” (Rosh HaShana 3:8; Rashi, Bamidbar 21:8).

Correspondence between the Three Metals and the Three Ways of Serving Hashem

ספר שמות פרק לה פסוק ה קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה לַהָשֵׁם כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת הָשֵׁם זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחשֶׁת:

“Take from yourselves an offering for Hashem; every generous hearted person shall bring it, [namely] Hashem’s offering: gold, silver, and copper” (Shemot 35:5).

According to the Rebbe of Lubavitch, the three kinds of metals correspond to three types of Jews, with their respective ways of serving Hashem. Gold, the most valuable material, corresponds to the speech of the ba’alei teshuva (returnee to Judaism), who can reach a greater closeness to Hashem than even the greatest tzaddikim (BT, Berachot 34b). They went through the hardest struggle and therefore deserve to be crowned in gold. Silver כֶּסֶף/kesef, shares the root of the word כִּסּוּפִים/kisufim– ‘yearning,’ and corresponds to thoughts of the FFB (A Jew born to a religious family), tzaddikim, who are constantly yearning to be close to Hashem. Yet, since their lives were more shielded and with fewer obstacles and temptations, they are compared to the less valuable silver. Copper, a coarser material, which easily becomes tarnished corresponds to the actions of the sinners of Israel, who can still be polished and become shiny again.

The Three Precious Metals and the Three Primal Fears

According to Rav Ginsburgh, the origins of disease can be traced to three core traumas in the human psyche. In the collective consciousness of the Jewish people, the main fear is fear of exile – the communal state of disease. The Talmud likens the three major exiles of the Jewish people – Egyptian, Babylonian, and the present exile (of Edom) – to being attacked by a wolf, a lion, and a serpent, respectively (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 13a). These three beasts can be overcome by the three Temple materials. Gold, linked to יִרְאַת הַשֵּׁם/yirat Hashem – ‘awe of G-d,’ rectifies the fear of the wolf זְאֵב/ze’ev – etymologically linked to the word זָהָב/zahav – ‘gold. Silver, כֶּסֶף/kesef cognate to the word כִּסּוּפִים/kisufim– ‘yearning,’ engenders love. Connected to אַהֲבַת הַשֵּׁם/ahavat Hashem – ‘love of G-d,’ it rectifies fear of the lion, through the holy yearnings of a strong heart.Copper, which encompasses both the awe and fear of G-d, rectifies fear of the serpent, as understood from the connection between ְנחשֶׁת/nechoshet – ‘copper; and נַחַשׁ /nashash – 'serpent'.


Metal

Gold – זָהָב/zahav

Silver – כֶּסֶף/kesef

Copper – נְחשֶׁת/nechoshet

Temple part

The Holy of Holiest

The Tent of Meeting

The Outer Courtyard

Archetypal Animal

Wolf – זְאֵב/Ze’ev

Lion – אַרְיֵה/Arieh

Serpent – נָחָש/Nachash

Exile

Egypt

Babylon

Current (Edom/Rome)


For further insights on the meaning of the Temple metals: http://rebbetzinchanabracha.blogspot.com/2019/02/what-is-spiritual-meaning-of-metals.html