Rabbi Reuben Modek
A TALE OF MULTIPLE PANDEMICS
In an interview I listened to on WGBH’s Innovation Hub with Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Doctor shared that according to a study (from April 2020) of COVID hospitalizations in New York City, obesity was statistically more important in determining hospitalization for COVID patients than high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease. In fact, after old age, it was the biggest factor leading to hospitalizations, according to Dr. Mozaffarian. Why was this finding so groundbreaking? Because it exposed the fact that America was uniquely vulnerable to the spread of COVID. “About half of all American adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” Mozaffarian said, “and three in four American adults are overweight or obese. So very few of us are actually healthy and a COVID epidemic can be likened to pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.”
Dr. Mozaffarian described COVID as a fast-moving pandemic stacked on top of a slow moving one, Obesity. For contrast, he suggested looking at COVID in Japan. Japan has weathered the COVID pandemic significantly better than the United States. One of the main reasons Japan has coped with the Corona virus more successfully is their obesity rate. “America has one of the highest rates of obesity in the developed world and Japan has one of the lowest. It’s this gap that is making America’s response to COVID much more difficult,” said Mozaffarian.
COVID was but the tip of an iceberg of a larger public health crisis. We wonder then what has allowed obesity? What conditions further up the food-chain, literally and figuratively, have enabled an obese and sick population? And how has American exceptionalism degraded into the most obese nation in the world? And furthermore, what lessons learned can turn the COVID crisis into opportunity?
LOST OUR WAY
The root cause for these American, and increasingly global public health crises seems to be our cultural devolution - as an advanced and prosperous Western culture we have lost our way. America, at its core a global beacon for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is also currently the greatest destroyer of the natural environment (Hyper-industrialism), the greatest denier of the sanctity of the human body (The puritanism/nihilism axis), a leader in denying humanity’s interdependency (Libertarianism), and a denier and disrupter of our body’s natural capacity for healing and wellness (Medical and pharmaceutical opportunism).
American and other Western societies exhibit some of the worst attitudes toward health and wellness, widely commercializing and marketing lifestyles, foods, medicines, and products that have been proven linked to multiple public-health crises from obesity to depression to opioids-abuse to cancer to heart disease to the alarming rise in children’s mental and physical ailments, to a gun violence epidemic and so on. According to Dr. Mozaffarian, voluminous research indicates that America has been becoming a sick nation particularly over the past four decades reaching an apex with the COVID pandemic. We live in a culture that despite its prosperity and abundant conveniences has devolved into propagating widespread ill health that has been accepted and normalized. However, not all is lost. The exciting news is that, in America and other developed societies culture is fluid, and it can evolve.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF TRUE HEALTH
Dr. Zach Bush MD, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care and an internationally recognized educator and thought-leader on health, disease, and food systems, is one of the most prolific visionaries relating COVID to the environment (click for interview). Dr. Bush is also one of the experts who points out the correlations between the macro and the micro levels of disease processes. The imbalance dynamics observed in the climate and in the natural environment are also observed in the inner ecology of individual persons. Furthermore, we are beginning to recognize, according to Dr. Bush, the complex multi-level causality of disease as opposed to the prevailing uni-causality (i.e. a virus, a germ, a toxin). For example, when a singular physical health symptom prompts us to see our physician, we often learn that our complaint is but a mere indicator for a larger systemic problem in our body/spirit and its environment. For example, remember when you or someone you know had back pain and, in consultation with a physician, you (they) discovered that the reason was rooted in multiple conditions all neatly stacked up to bring you down. Your spine suffered from structural stress as your (their) weight was many pounds too many, and your (their) lifestyle included high stress levels that were manifested as muscle tightness in the lower back, and your (their) mattress was not optimally supporting you (them), and so on and so forth. Your symptoms may have manifested in one organ - your back, your cancerous cells, your ulcers, your pancreas, but the causes were simultaneously located elsewhere in the body/spirit, and/or your lifestyle, and/or in the environment. Dr. Bush discusses cases of multi-level causalities and macro/micro correlations in the cancer process (his research speciality) as well as other diseases. He points to a new paradigm that embraces the hyper complexity of disease and its linkage to a variety of dimensions across human life, paradoxically allowing for simpler, more grounded, and more holistic remedies.
Additionally, we find that the same multi-causal and hyper complex understanding of individual disease applies on a societal scale as well. We wonder then, what are the multi-level causes and systemic originators of leading diseases in the developed world, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, coronary vascular disease, asthma and more? And how did these create the conditions for the COVID virus to burn through like a firestorm in a dry woodland?
Comprehending and adapting the following four foundational principles will help us successfully strengthen each his and her own personal resiliency and innate wellness as well as address the growing public health crises around the globe.
1. A respect for Mother Nature, which of we humans are a humble and integral part.
2. A firm scientific and philosophical understanding of the ecological web of life that interlinks all organisms within the body and all around it.
3. A Subjective knowledge of each his/her own particular body/spirit characteristics and needs. Caring for her specific needs cares for us.
4. An Individual and collective grasp of the human body/spirit’s innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury.
SCIENCE AND SCIENTISM
Let us put all of the above in a bit of historical and cultural context. What is failing and what is thriving in our modern technology-based way of life? “It can’t be all bad, can it” you may wonder? Let’s explain, and it has to do with science. We are a scientific culture. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries in particular have given rise to amazing scientific and technological explorations in all fields, from space travel to the miniaturization of computing devices, to robotics and AI, but most especially in the research of disease. We are the beneficiaries of unprecedented development in medical science and technology that allows us new freedoms and longer lives. However, along with the rise of scientific progress, a rigid approach has evolved in the science community. Philosophers call it “Scientism” or Reductionism. The foundation of science and its awesome power lies in the scientific method - hypothesis, experimentation, refinement, replicability. But gradually over time the findings of science have been narrowly and reductively interpreted through the following cultural/philosophical biases:
1. the bias of Reductionism
2. the bias of Materialism
3. the bias of Isolationism
These three cultural/philosophical perspectives have been dominant in the scientific community and Western culture throughout the twentieth century, at times to great benefit. But they also form blinders that can limit the true understanding of scientific findings as well as the full breadth and depth of the healing process. An elaboration will help us appreciate the significant pros and cons of each.
The Reductionism bias claims that the best way to know things is to reduce a thing to its component parts. It asserts that the best way to know about disease and heal it is to understand smaller and smaller material components of an organ or a pathogen and learn their operational mechanisms. In other words, the more I can take a disease apart the better chances I have for understanding and controlling it.
This attitude has its roots in the Industrial Revolution that ushered enormous innovation, particularly in assembling large arrays of intricately engineered parts into a working whole, The Machine. During this period, we also learned to frame our lives and culture through the lens of the mechanics and the efficiencies of burgeoning early technologies. The human body was perceived by our industrial revolution ancestors as a cluster of attached moving parts. Thus, disease has been interpreted by researchers as the adverse presence of tiny malicious parts or foreign parts or missing parts or damaged parts within the body. Disease can be summed up as a “parts disorder.” “I can manage a disease by manipulating its parts back to their original state,” goes the reductionist’s thinking. The keen Information Age observer, however, rightfully questions whether this “particles” view of reality sufficiently explains disease and whether it is sufficient for true remediation.
Materialism holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are byproducts of material processes, such as the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system. In this worldview, the “abstract” notion of “human spirit” is a superstition or, at best, a poetic notion that is irrelevant to healing disease. But is it not? Contemporary medical research of psychosomatic symptomatology, the placebo effect, and evolving cultural trends affirm a strong link between spirit, healing, and wellness.
The bias of Isolationism is an aspect, and sometimes an extreme form, of modern Western Individualism. To be clear, I am not objecting to Individualism per se, but critiquing its isolationist manifestations. According to the dictionary: “Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires, and value independence and self-reliance, and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the social group” (Wikipedia). Individualism at its worst becomes isolationism. This industrial revolution inspired attitude views the individual as an isolated part amongst a random collection of other parts, an individual as a value-free object, nothing but a rational entity.
Increasing isolationist individualism though inevitably results in system unraveling and collapse that harms all involved individuals. In the lexicon of disease, a cancer cell is an overly individualistic cell. Isolationism as a worldview also separates us from the ecology that sustains our very lives and wellness, as the isolationist tends to view nature as overtly dangerous, unforgiving, and inherently separate from the individual inhabiting it. Thus, we shelter in airtight dwellings, sanitized environments, sheltered from “pathogens”, and ultimately isolated from one another and from aliveness.
This attitude has resulted in weaker communities and weaker immunity. Isolationism in a patient is much more likely to exacerbate disease than to heal it. Isolationism in the medical researcher is much more likely to narrow his/her perspective than to illuminate it. Isolation of the human body/spirit is a likely cause of declining health and death.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
GREATER THAN OUR PARTS
Scientism, or Reductionism, which currently frames our reaction to disease has been a strong motivator for civilization’s progress during the past century. Reductionism, Materialism, and Isolationism, at the time of their emergence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offered refreshing alternatives to the prevailing superstitions and religious beliefs typical of the medieval age. And indeed, the scientific method at the heart of the reductionist paradigm has solved many problems and improved the quality of life for humanity for a time.
But it appears as if the reductionist paradigm and especially its technological innovations have also created an alarming measure of environmental, social, and health threats, setting the stage for a COVID pandemic to run rampant. Reductionism, with its hyper-rational and value-free position, inherently neglects to honor the natural environment, the genius construct and power of our own body/spirit, the ecological and relational webs we inhabit, and our innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury.
Dr. Jacob Israel (a pseudonym to protect privacy), a member of my community, lost his mother a while ago to a multi-disease condition. Dr. Israel has been a beloved and deeply respected pediatrician in our town. His mother, like many of our aging parents, had been geographically distant (isolated), which prevented him from being at her side frequently enough during her last months of hospitalization.
When Dr. Israel was sharing his grief with me at his home in the days following the funeral, he told me the following story. During his last visit to the hospital, shortly before mom’s passing, he took a close look at her medical charts. Dr. Israel noticed that nine different specialists had been visiting his mother’s hospital bed to attend to nine separate diseased organs or systems, each prescribing a separate medication regimen. He described his shock and dismay at the sheer number of isolated interventions, uncoordinated as far as he knew. He suspected that the massive uncoordinated medication cocktail she was receiving may have hastened his mother’s death.
There was something extremely inhumane in the assembly-line health care process Dr. Israel’s mom had undergone at the hospital, though it seemed as if each individual specialist at the “assembly line” was doing exactly the “right” thing. Dr. Israel, thus, felt through the realization that the same medical paradigm he was devotedly and proudly practicing had failed his mother at a time of need. Thus her treatment reduced her to component parts, treating her as a sum of her chemistry, each practitioner isolated in the bubble of his/her expertise. Mom’s treatment looked more like a mismanaged lab experiment than a compassionate and caring effort to tend to a precious living soul. This was deeply disturbing to Dr. Israel. In retrospect, it seems as if his insights were an uncomfortable gaze at some of the fault lines of the Reductionist medical approach.
A PATIENT’S REAL NEEDS
In my early midlife, due to uncomfortable bladder related symptoms, I sought out the advice of a urologist, Dr. P. Over the course of three visits, a variety of urinary statistics were measured and noted. Urine samples were sent to the lab for analysis a couple of times, to be returned with encouraging results. The most fascinating test, though, was the cystoscopy. Dr. P. had reached into my bladder with a probe that was equipped with a micro-camera. As I had received only partial anesthesia, Dr. P. was able to share and discuss the images on the screen before us. He seemed to express genuine pleasure with what he was seeing as nothing looked “grossly out of the ordinary”, certainly not to my untrained eye, with the exception of a red spot “that could have been an infection,” he said.
During my next visit, Dr. P. initiated a conversation that presumed my compliance with more aggressive testing, at which point I balked. “I thought everything was looking good,” I reminded him. He reasoned that “it is incumbent upon us to explore all avenues” and eliminate any possibility of “foreign cells,” a euphemism for cancer. He proceeded to inquire whether I would elect to have my biopsy at the hospital or at his office, with a nudge towards doing it at his office.
Red flags popped up in my mind. My relationship with my doctor began to feel like a visit to the mechanic’s shop for a protocol of standard maintenance tests. It had all been made worse by the gentle push to accommodate Dr. P.’s convenience and/or profit-making interests. A conversation that I had expected to be about a patient’s real needs and concerns took a wrong turn. Visits with Dr. P. had been typically in-and-out. At best I had spent 15 minutes in conversation with my “caregiver” during any given visit. Something about this dynamic was gnawingly disturbing, but I knew it to be “normal”. Having lost trust in my physician, I decided to leave, even though Dr. P. came highly recommended because of his excellent reputation in the community. I still do not doubt Dr. P.’s personal integrity. As I see it today, he was an innocent actor in a quite normative Reductionist, Materialist, and Isolationist medical paradigm.
While we are experiencing systemic challenges in medicine and elsewhere, there is also good news. A new twenty-first century scientific and cultural paradigm, “Holism,” is currently emerging in the scientific and medical communities. The dictionary defines Holism in the following ways:
In the field of PHILOSOPHY:
The theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independent of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts. Holism is often applied to mental states, language, and ecology.
In the field of MEDICINE: The treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.
Holism is a scientific perspective that informs theory and research in fields such as ecology, systems theory, information technology, neural networks, quantum computing, microbiome, microvirome, climate, and sea changes in our understanding of human behavior and, yes, the human spirit. The exciting news is that within this emerging perspective we are more likely to find new and effective solutions to the multiple epidemics in the developed world as well as each strengthen our personal resiliency and wellness.
What happens when a new paradigm like Holism gradually evolves to replace an old paradigm such as Reductionism? Why would something that had worked well for so long need to be replaced? How do we know whether the “new paradigm” is truly new or whether it is any good? What if the new is risky? What happens to the old, tossed away, banned, censored? Let’s learn from the past.
In the early 1600s, Galileo Galilei had challenged the old paradigm in the field of astronomy, that of Geocentrism, or the belief that the sun orbits the earth. Galileo proposed a daring new observation: Heliocentrism, or that the earth was in fact orbiting the sun. Galileo was harshly opposed by both the scientific community of his time and by the Catholic Church, which considered his views dangerously heretical. The science of astronomy then and now is fundamental to the craft of navigation and world travel. How then did Galileo’s findings impact navigation and world travel? As we know Galileo’s findings were ultimately accepted, albeit posthumously, and indeed did not destroy navigation nor travel. His insights helped advance navigation, opening up travel to greater possibilities. Galileo’s insights in fact expanded sea navigation capabilities, ultimately enabling current deep space exploration.
An emerging new paradigm by definition solves problems that had remained unsolvable within the old framework. This emerging new paradigm, Holism, does not negate Reductionism, but builds upon it. It teases out the full potential of the old, just like salt teases out the full flavor of food. With a more accurate and higher bird’s-eye-view of reality, new possibilities and proficiencies are enabled, especially at present time in the fields of private and public health. Viewing the body/spirit as a complex entity constantly and organically inter-coursing within a multi layered ecology rather than a machine allows for a solid and wholesome path to health and wellness.
HEALTHIER THAN EVER
A friend had recommended that I see David Kramer, a seasoned Classical Homeopath with a thriving practice out of his home in Upstate New York. Sitting in David’s office, with a wide-open view of his manicured garden and the rolling farmland beyond, I had described my experience with the urologist, my terror about even the slightest probability of having bladder cancer. I was also frank with him about my reluctance to put my fate in his hands, a healer without a post-nominal MD. David smiled and began an educational process that over time had opened my eyes to a new way of viewing health and wellness, a holistic one.
“Your urologist is trained to address your symptoms through a variety of recommendations and interventions. His goal is to relieve you of your bladder symptoms,” David explained. “Sounds good to me” I replied, “Why else would I go to the urologist?” “The contract with me is an entirely different one,” David continued. “In my practice, you will visit me every six weeks on a regular basis and in ten years you will be, head to toes, healthier than you have ever been in your life.” We proceeded to spend the next two hours reviewing my entire health profile, during which David took copious notes of my “symptomatic picture” -- physical, social, emotional, mental, career, relationships, past, present, all of it. The healing plan for everything, including the bladder, started from there. It felt grounded, real, thorough, connected, and coherent. It had a flavor I had never before experienced in a health care context. In fact, I was all of a sudden realizing that past experiences with conventional medicine had been merely sick care compared to this newly found genuine health care.
My symptomatic picture revealed that I was a normal, hard-working, though exhausted, man in midlife. Besides bladder irritation, I had considered myself to be fairly vital and healthy. I had been functioning quite well with the help of three psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs. But that was okay because lots of people did. I was an insomniac who could hardly ever sleep through the night. But that was okay, a lot of people were. I was a workaholic attempting a second career, exhausted but proud of my dedication and my willingness to work hard. My asthma wasn’t too bad, it just came up occasionally, but I really couldn’t complain because others I knew had it much worse, including my mother. And finally, my relationship with my significant other was mentally and emotionally challenging on a good day, but I chose it and was committed. Egged on by prevailing reductionist cultural influences, I had accepted as just “normal” what holistically would be considered a system under crisis-level stress.
With a good dose of initial skepticism, I had decided to give this holistic system a try. Every six weeks I showed up for my health maintenance checkup, which always lasted for at least a full hour. David continued to take copious notes during each visit as the file kept growing thicker and thicker over time. In a year and a half, I was off all psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs. Dr. M, my psychiatrist blessed my engagement with a holistic practitioner and cooperated with the experiment I had taken on. She was a grounded practitioner of Reductionist Medicine with a kind heart and an open mind. I was cured when I finally left her practice and she acknowledged that it wasn’t her prescriptions that cured my “performance lapses.” They weren’t designed for “curing but for maintenance”, she admitted.
EATING FOR HEALING
Now, fifteen years later, in my late midlife, I am a testament to a holistic health practitioner’s promise kept. I am healthier than I have ever been. With holistic guidance, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and an actual healthcare plan that continues to be hopeful and proactive, I have been solving old health problems with new tools and vision. I was fortunate to discover a “Galileo”, a daring Holism practitioner on the fringes of the healthcare field. The bladder issues were only the tip of my iceberg. Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate to have mustered the nerve to resist a Reductionist treatment path that at best would have “reorganized the furniture on the deck of my sinking Titanic.” Instead, I chose to melt the iceberg.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, stated in his “Innovation Hub'' radio interview that one of the easy and quick ways to increase the resilience of COVID patients (or any patient for that matter), is to improve their metabolic health through diet. “People think that if you’re obese, it takes years and years to deal with that and get healthy,” he said. “But many well-controlled trials have shown that if you have poor metabolic health, and you just change what you eat… within four to six weeks, [there are] dramatic improvements in many metabolic parameters.” Food as medicine and eating for healing is a yet-to-be appreciated path to wellbeing, that Western science is just beginning to recognize and quantify. Perhaps it was the government’s Department of Agriculture, not the CDC, that held the keys to a robust COVID response and still holds core solutions for the various other epidemics that plague our societies. Can we think outside the box?
According to Dr. Zach Bush, toxins in the air, water, soil, and ultimately in our food system are, in the aggregate, a critical determinant of our vulnerability to disease. Additionally, the body/spirit considers certain toxic pharmaceutical medications in and of themselves as intruding foreign bodies that need to be resisted. In fact, many pharmaceuticals for common diseases literally act as toxins, providing short term local relief while instigating and increasing long term vulnerabilities throughout the body. Sometimes those processes are listed in plain view by the manufacturers themselves as “side effects.” Why not simply label those holistically for what they are, “harmful effects?”
Extreme caution and wisdom are required for effective chemical healing interventions, which must be left as a very last resort. From a holistic perspective the smart first response to health crisis, personal or public, usually involves critical nutritional reassessment and lifestyle tweaks. When a car’s engine goes dead, the smart first response is to check the gauge of the gas tank before booking an appointment for an engine replacement, to borrow an industrial revolution analogy.
TRUST YOUR GUT
Gastrointestinal health and its role in immunity is a current emerging field of scientific research that is uncovering the critical significance of the microbial and viral environments, both internally and externally. From a holistic perspective, we are beginning to understand that disease is not necessarily caused by a “malicious” microbe or “nasty” virus. Rather the ecological diversity and health of the microbiome and microvirome, especially that of the gastrointestinal track, are the critical elements that sustain and protect the body/spirit’s health. The richness of the microbiome and microvirome communities not the presence of any isolated “pathogen” determines levels of disease or levels of immunity and resilience.
As Dr. Bush sees it, when you view the body/spirit as its own ecology, you find that no one part can be changed without affecting the entire system, for better or for worse. Thus the significance of running profound risk benefit analyses before initiating any artificial interventions in the body/spirit. With the emerging discoveries about the microbiome and microvirome, a whole new strategic path for addressing disease is revealing itself, highlighting the central role of nutritional and lifestyle interventions in health and healing. With new holistic insights about the inner matrix of a healthy body/spirit a superior approach to disease resiliency, both personally and publicly, is becoming evident, gut health central to it. This new medical approach focuses on metabolic health improvements, natural immunity-building, and vitality-enhancing lifestyle adjustments in order to save lives, and ensure lasting quality of life.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
RETURNING TO HEALTHY LIVING
According to the emerging holistic sciences, returning to first principles of healthy living is not overly complicated, but it does require the courage to think outside of the box. COVID has encouraged a growing number of healthcare practitioners as well as patients to rethink the foundational assumptions about wellness and healing. A fresh look at our options for disease-responsiveness prioritizes the creative embrace of:
1. A humble respect for Mother Nature. Harmony with nature’s patterns and rhythms sustains our health and wellness. Our immunity and wellness thus depend on a balanced climate, and food, air, and water that are naturally sourced and toxin free. Without a well-functioning ecology, both around us and within us, our current attempts to control disease, epidemics including COVID are woefully insufficient. Our response to COVID, while perhaps successful in reducing symptom severity for a time, never met originally stated expectations for controlling transmissibility and protecting against contraction. Perhaps it is so because interventions haven’t been addressing COVID’s root cause in the degraded natural environments as well as the toxic human-made environments we now inhabit? Studies have shown, for example, that the proliferation of zoonotic diseases (passed from animals to humans), COVID believed to be among them, are caused by modern agricultural practices, such as large scale mono-crop operations. Control of modern epidemics will improve when we design solutions that are grounded in an understanding of the fragility and complexity of the natural world (the macro picture), not only the pathogen world (the micro details).
2. A firm scientific and philosophical grasp of the ecological web that interlinks all organisms within the body and all around it. According to general systems theory, all is dynamically interconnected, including microbes and viruses, affecting our health and wellbeing at all times. Developing practical strategies for living in harmony with(in) a viral-rich environment, enhancing immunity instead of attempting to eradicate or suppress pathogens, may simply yield more bang for our private and public-health buck.
By neglecting sound ecological stewardship we have created our own self inflicted vulnerabilities to a host of diseases resulting in hyper vulnerability to COVID across the population. Can we refocus where we truly have control, which are our own individual and collective actions, norms, and policies? Who is our own worst enemy, systemically speaking? We are, not a pathogen. Let’s be real. An ecological approach enables us to accept the purposeful functionality of the virus, the microbe, and the germ, and learn how to work with them, instead of only waging war against them. The ecological approach is proving itself useful in regenerative agriculture, in sustainable energy production, and in bio-mimicry technologies. Why not apply the same wisdom to disease management as well?
3. A subjective knowledge of each his/her own particular body/spirit dynamics. Practically nurturing her nurtures us, truly boosting her will boost us. Engaging in daily physical, emotional, and contemplative practices to enhance personal hygiene in all dimensions, secures true immunity. Each one of us possesses unique body/spirit characteristics that require a designer approach to immune enhancement at any given time. How can this insight translate into public policy and a national (and international) educational campaign theme? Can we create an antismoking-style, or a dental-hygiene-style campaign to promote subjective health awareness that will prevent the next pandemic as well as control the current ones?
4. Individual and collective trust in our innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury. Outside interventions, including chemical ones, merely assist the body/spirit’s natural healing capacity, they do not cause healing. Holistically, a doctor does not heal but rather serves as a “doula” for the individual’s innate healing impulse. Medical clinicians and healers observe and know this truth just too well. At times outside interventions, including chemical ones, assist with the natural healing process. Conversely, they can harm or kill the patient.
Chemical interventions, especially when applied on a large scale need to be exercised with extreme caution as an option of last resort. We need to take seriously the data that proves long-term harm caused by frivolous chemical inputs into our bodies. We need to apply the same extreme caution when introducing toxic substances into our life support systems, such as agriculture, body care, home care, drinking water, and air. The current threats to public and individual health caused by frivolous use of antibiotics, cholesterol management drugs, and even innocent Aspirin, to name just a few, have been well documented. Secondary overmedication through the routine medical treatment of animals-grown-for-food are well documented as well. Prevailing reductionist technologies, and medical practices have been weakening our immunity for decades according to numerous studies. The most sustainable healing interventions both individually and publicly are those that respect and gently enhance our natural and powerful capacity to self-heal.
Not enough was known about how to handle the COVID pandemic in spite of a century long history of reductionist medical successes, including past vaccination campaigns. We have been caught by surprise by a new magnitude of health crisis. The pandemic has exposed critical fault lines in the reductionist sciences that have been shaping our lifestyles. COVID’s ferocity helped to highlight already existing, albeit slow-moving, public health threats, such as obesity and diabetes, a toxin-saturated agricultural system, prevalent abuse of medical drugs, climate and environmental degradation, to mention just a few.
A quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes as follows: "The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." A new scientific paradigm, Holism, that acknowledges reality’s interconnectedness, especially the interconnectedness of health factors as well as disease factors, is the new language that will articulate wholesome and sustainable solutions to current health and wellness challenges. COVID began to open our eyes forcing us to reassess how we manage human life on the planet. You may be familiar with the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A new breed of resolute medical and public health visionaries as well as practitioners have been rising to this occasion. Let’s embrace and join these leaders, such as Dr. Mozaffarian, Dr. Bush and many others as we too each do our part to collectively assure a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.
A CALL TO ACTION
What’s required of us?
1. Engage with a holistic health practitioner to improve your natural resiliency. Set up a regular schedule for periodic meetings. Adopt a proactive holistic health maintenance regimen for you and your family. Begin the process of generating an actual plan for family lifestyle improvement and natural immunity fortifying. An expert holistic advisor is absolutely foundational. We cannot do it on our own. Browsing the shelves at your local health-food store, or the internet, for the latest fad in herbal remedies and nutritional supplements is NOT sound holistic health care. Engage with a classical homeopath or an acupuncturist or a naturopath or a medical doctor practicing complimentary medicine, and so on. As long as you trust the referral and sense a good relational flow with the practitioner, you are good to go. Measurable health and immunity improvements will follow very shortly.
Additionally, support politicians and policies that prioritize integral and complementary medicine. Share your holistic views about health and wellness, and climate change, and everything in between in writing with your representatives. Do not settle for compartmentalized responses. There is no time for addressing one issue at a time. Holistically, all the crises are one, an interconnected continuum, and need to be addressed as such.
2. Commit to spending time outdoors in nature, daily, with family and friends as much as possible. Contact with nature is essential to boosting your immunity. Support policies and politicians that prioritize the preservation and protection of both urban and wilderness parks. Nature bathing is not a leisure activity for the outdoorsy crowd but a basic evolutionary need of the entire human species. Our health depends on it.
3. Exercise generosity, give to and/or help others, either in cash or in kind, regularly. Increased generosity and decreased fear and concern will very shortly ramp up your life force and immune system.
Support policies and politicians that courageously promote holism and sustainability. Ask your leaders to raise your taxes in order to pay for services, regulations, and government infrastructure that ensure healthy natural resources for your entire community. Specifically demand that your taxes fund the transition from destructive industries to clean and regenerative ones in a Circular Economy, and most especially the transition to a true “health care” system.
Generously “pay forward as much as you can in order to fortify both your personal immunity as well as the resilience of your community. Be active in holistically minded civic groups. Live your life in an expansive mindset, being/feeling part of the solution instead of the contractive mindset of fearing the problem. Invest in the “common good” on all levels, local, national and beyond.
4. Walk, run, dance daily to energize your body/spirit. Support policies and politicians that consider life/work balance a labor right, a child right, and basic common sense.
5. Actively cultivate respect for Life’s Mystery. You may choose to take daily contemplative time for reading and/or prayer and/or meditation alone and/or with community. Make it a daily practice to retreat from your busyness. Attach yourself to the strength and love provided by the spiritual community of your choice. Practice falling in love with the valuable soul that you are. This will help your body/spirit manage disease episodes in stride according to most experts.
Support policies and politicians that demonstrate humility and wisdom, as both are required to steer us as a society out of harms way. Computer-modeling analyses published over the past decades predict more adversities. New and worse pandemics, extreme weather events, food supply disruptions, coastal community destruction, species collapse, and climate related migration and war are some of the challenges experts have been warning about. Wisdom and vision are required more than ever.
From the perspective of Life’s Mystery we are called to assess a greater meaning and begin to discern significant personal and collective lessons. What has COVID taught us? How is it changing our attitudes and priorities? If we step back for a moment, can we recognize patterns directed by the “invisible hand of... (select the higher-order-term of your choice)”. Is a redemptive potential peaking at us from behind a chaotic yet poetic curtain? How can these reflections empower us to save lives and improve the quality of life for ourselves, our families, and our communities?
Our capacity to assess wisely and empower visionary leaders that take the longest and broadest perspectives is more crucial now than ever. This is the time for contemplation that generates fresh and emergent ideas, a new paradigm. As terribly lethal as COVID was, we must stay calm, open minded, and wisely focused on the entire field of challenges and opportunities before us. How do we access Life’s Mystery in service of emergent true wellness for ourselves and others?
Begin now! Do all or some of the above five suggestions, regularly. These are not luxuries for the “Latte” crowd. These are essentials for us all. Your life and wellbeing depend on your proactive lifestyle choices and the principled stances you hold. The actions listed above are within reach. They are doable, affordable, and their efficacy is backed by an abundance of emerging research on holistic practice and theory. Natural health disciplines, nature bathing, exercising generosity, physical exercise, spiritual practice, and political discernment have been the foundations of wellbeing since the dawn of civilization, and as such are evolutionarily adaptive. Our body/spirits are conditioned to respond favorably to all these measures. Our social instincts and social structures are conditioned to respond favorably as well. The holistic approach is the emerging next step for humanity and for you.
Thinking out of the Reductionist box is required for us to create a world in which our generation as well as upcoming generations can live well. The emerging holistic sciences that are redefining wellness, when broadly applied, will deliver a robust response to western epidemic level diseases, environmental degradation, climate change, global economical instability, and much more. How fast can we shift?
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE, A LEARNING CURVE
COVID disrupted and devastated the lives of millions becoming a massive tragedy. But nonetheless it was a blessing in disguise too. It has forced us to reconsider our lives on a multitude of levels. Many long held assumptions were and still are up for reassessment both individually and collectively. COVID particularly taught us a lesson about health and wellness. We discovered that the immune-compromised amongst us where the most vulnerable to severe symptoms and death. We were visited by a disease that struck and ravaged much quicker than our labs’ ability to design its medicine. COVID has removed the veil from over the multiple slow moving epidemics that we have been putting up with for the past four decades. Our institutions’ and experts’ efforts to apply the well familiar reductionist, materialist, and isolationist approaches to pandemic mitigation fell woefully short of expectations, as did our political system. Thus we were exposed to the fault lines of our current Reductionist culture. It has become clear to many including this author that, as Einstein said: “we will not solve the problem at hand by using the same thinking that created it”. The ongoing epidemics of the developed world, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, depression, medicine abuse, and gun violence have been incrementally-growing public health disasters, which have failed to sufficiently alarm us. COVID, however, fast and furious, knocked us out and woke us up.
The need for a fresh approach that compliments and exceeds the strengths of the conventional Reductionist model has become apparent. A growing body of evidence suggests that holistic practitioners and visionaries on the fringes of the medical field had a better grasp of the disease phenomenon and were better prepared to assist patients through the pandemic’s perils. History is the story of paradigmatic leaps, when new approaches supplant old ones as they fail to adequately match newly emerging challenges. Such it was with Galileo Galilei to cite a commonly known example. A new paradigm in culture, science, and lifestyle is presenting itself, the holistic one. Holism is charting the path toward mitigation and correction of the Reductionist paradigm’s adverse effects on human life and on the natural environment. A holistic approach on a societal or global level is advantageous in addressing the complex set of risks to human survival on our climate-challenged, toxicity-saturated, and ecologically-collapsing planet. On an individual level, wholesome living and proactive holistic healthcare practices are the key to resiliency and wellbeing. COVID has brought these lessons into stark relief. Where are we on the learning curve?
As a secular Israeli child, my training in prayer was none. I had no reason to step into a synagogue and less so to pray. Loyal to the political and ideological indoctrination of my youth, I had consciously attempted to keep myself “untainted“ by exposure to Jewish classical text and most especially to liturgy. Therefore, when I chose to explore my Jewish religious roots in adulthood I assumed that I was coming to it with a liturgical blank slate.
But to my surprise I found that there was one prayer that had infiltrated my subconscious and had firmly imbedded itself therein. El Maleh Rakhamim, the dramatic and deeply heart-stirring prayer I had heard so often on television broadcasts of military or state funerals. I found that upon recall, the melody would ring loud and clear, the words would avail themselves, and the existential sorrow would rise up to become palpable. El Maleh Rakhamim was my early link to our people’s shared tragedy as well as liturgy.
The melody and words seemed to comfort and offer a repose for grief and reflection. However, one phrase in the liturgy repeatedly left me bewildered. I often tried to make sense of the concept and image described in the prayer as Tzror Hakhayyim, “the bundle of life”. “God, (please) bind up the soul of the deceased in the bundle of life, and may he/she rest in peace at their resting place“, says the prayer. “What kind of bundle; how can a soul be bundled; where is the bundle of life; what does this all mean?”, I wondered.
Dear Rabbi Evan J. Krame,
Thank you for sharing your critical reflections on handling aspects of the interfaith wedding. I appreciate your search for a coherent framework for interfaith weddings that goes beyond “just accommodating”. As you mentioned, many a Jewish partner in an interfaith couple present the need to satisfy their relatives’ or their own desire for a token Jewish presence, and token Jewish symbols, at the ceremony. This presentation seems hardly consistent with, nor honoring of, a Rabbi’s core training and mission.
I am not sure there is a good practical solution to the specific conundrum you described regarding standards for the interfaith Ketubah signing. And perhaps there is no simple solution to the range of questions that emerge as we attempt to be inclusive and welcoming of interfaith couples.
As you said, indeed Reb Zalman was the master of compassionate creativity, and a role-model on how to handle some of these thorny questions. Reb Zalman did teach us how not to fear experimentation. I consider myself eternally blessed by the Rebbe’s example and permission to soar with creativity. But I am also remembering his teaching that experimentation is just that, experimentation. Experiments by their nature may fail, and I wonder to what degree our Renewal community’s experimentation with interfaith marriages has succeeded? Also, Reb Zalman’s creativity had its limits, of which examples abound. And furthermore, Reb Zalman was uniquely qualified to be creative and experimental given his vast knowledge-base, and unusually far-reaching vision.
In the past few years I have been gaining new meta-clarity about some of the deeper issues related to interfaith weddings. This clarity has helped me find greater coherence, some of which I will attempt to share in this letter.
The emerging realization is that interfaith-wedding incoherences, such as you shared, stem from a common misunderstanding or forgetfulness of the essential meaning of Jewishness. How can we establish a true and enduring interfaith pact when the definition of faith itself is murky? Most interfaith couples that reach out, and at times we ourselves, forget the greater context of wedding in our desire to say yes, to be inclusive, and to make a ceremony happen for folks we care about. It is very difficult to coherently negotiate the union between a Jew and a non-Jew when the involved parties have not taken the steps necessary toward maximizing clarity and intentionality around Jewish identity, as well as around Jewish ambiguities.
More often than not both the Jewish and other-faith partner have not had the inclination, nor opportunity to explore the Jewish partner’s Judaism in depth. Usually they view Judaism through the majority-culture lens, that of “religion”, which Judaism is not. Judaism is not a religion but a peoplehood, which Christianity is not. There are other paradigmatic differences between Judaism and other faiths, but let us focus for now on the more common Jewish/Christian case. The difference between being a peoplehood and being a religion is essential for the purposes of negotiating a wedding, and is utterly confusing for most of the couples I work with. I attempt to explain that Judaism is not a religion, but a people with a collective spiritual and practical purpose, which is to be a Mamlekhet Cohanim V’Goy Kadosh, a kingdom of priests and a holy people (Exodus 19: 6).
Most interfaith couples (and for that matter Jewish couples too) in my judgement engage with the Jewish identity question superficially. They, erroneously view the Jewish identity question as a religious one. Since most of the couples who reach out to me identify as non-religious, they often underrate the “religious” components of the ceremony, while expecting this liberal Rabbi to provide quick, and feel-good “fixes”. Perhaps they believe that I can ease their own sense of identity ignorance and inadequacy, most especially by accommodating their desire to so remain.
While these assertions may sound judgmental of, or demeaning to interfaith couples, they are not meant to be. I am clear that the typical interfaith couple’s expectations absolutely make sense in the context of their own lives. When a couple shows up for a meeting they are not seeking to catch up on Jewish studies but are looking for a caring and understanding officiant. They typically want a master of ceremony not a teacher and certainly not a preacher. The question is how do we accommodate, and flexibly embrace without compromising the integrity of our greater rabbinic mission. Furthermore, what is our greater rabbinic mission and where and when do we set boundaries?
The instinct to set boundaries is triggered for me when the couple’s single-most focus is on their personal needs and desires for emotional and spiritual gratification absent a sense of the Jewish collective sphere and their marriage’s place within it, and potential contribution to it. Isn’t the collective Jewish space the core of the Jewish partner’s identity to begin with? More often than not the couple shows up with a superficial agenda colored by Jewish alienation along with a seemingly contradictory soul yearning, a deep quests for a connection to The Jewish mission. It is this disconnect between soul yearning and superficial selfish-interest that leaves us Rabbis dissatisfied, as I see it.
Isn’t it our job to engage at a level that is an order of magnitude higher than merely producing a momentary “religious” experience for a couple and their Jewish side of the family? There are wonderful interfaith ministers who can do an equally excellent job at producing the ceremonial “moment”. Our higher purpose, as rabbis, in my view, is to facilitate a sacred union in the context of our people’s spiritual mission - to serve the world as a priestly nation. Personally, when I am unsuccessful at engaging a couple at that level of conversation, and the expectation is that I accommodate self-centered social, esthetic, or spiritual desires, then I experience a dissonance in my own Neshama (soul). Accommodating for its own sake pains my rabbinic soul, I have come to understand.
Lately I have been studying with Rabbah Saphir Noiman of Israel, a profound teacher of Zohar, and the literature of the Ari Z”l, and Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al HaSulam). Rabbah Noiman offers a Jewish renewalist world view deeply rooted in The Sources while springing forth from a secular Israeli cultural zeitgeist. Her version of renewal is distinct from that of American Jewish Renewal with its roots in the 1960s social and spiritual tremors. I find Reb Noiman’s vision largely consistent with Reb Zalman’s, though she strongly emphasizes the core mission of "Israel” (as opposed to “Judaism”) and questions many of the old Jewish diaspora assumptions that Reb Zalman actually flowed with (perhaps accommodated). Each an authentic renewalist in his and her own cultural context.
Most of us, US Jews, as I see it now, are confused about our Jewish identity as we struggle to reconcile our historical Jewish experience with the powerful influences of an open and welcoming Christian-majority culture. As welcoming as America has been to the Jewish community, it also draws us, ever so subtly, into becoming a “religion” in our own eyes, which we are not. According to Rabbi Ashlag, an early 20th century Israeli prodigy and mystic, the emerging new paradigm is one of a spiritual “Israel” rooted in the collective mission of Mamlekhet Cohanim, a people dedicated to modeling holiness and justice.
Perhaps then a truly coherent interfaith wedding that justifies rabbinic presence and assistance is a union consciously devoted to the Mamlekhet Cohanim mission of the Jewish partner. Accommodating a couple for this purpose allows a Rabbi to remain in integrity and experience deep coherence. In this context negotiating the union of two souls, one of Israel and one not, takes on an entirely new level of integrity and creative possibilities.
Dear Rabbi Krame, I would like then to help frame the critical reflections you so aptly offered in the following way. Is it my role as a Rabbi to perpetuate an anachronistic Jewish identity, distorted by years of diaspora influence, that in essence dilutes the collective mission of “Israel"? Or is it rather my role to facilitate weddings of souls who are called to perpetuate “Mamlekhet Cohanim” toward the Tikkun of the world? (Structural creativity rooted in traditional continuity can emerge from there). I always have the option to refer the couple who is not interested in these more principled considerations of the Jewish transpersonal landscape to interfaith ministers whose sole blessed calling is the delivery of spiritually rich ceremonies. Are we tasked with offering a warm embrace to our “lost” Jewish brethren so they can feel a momentary sense of belonging? Or perhaps we are called to redefine the parameters of belonging?
A Prophecy Worth Its Fulfillment
What is a prophesy? A story about the future. And a self-fulfilling prophecy? By definition, it is a story that generates a future. This common wisdom about the self-fulfilling potential of articulated predictions, is especially apt on Passover, the holiday of “Telling”.
“Haggada”, the booklet we read during the Seder dinner, literally means “The Telling”. The instruction, clearly spelled out for us in the Torah, “...you shall tell to your child on that day (Passover)… (the story beginning with) I left Egypt” (Exodus 13: 8), teaches us that one of the core practices of the Passover seder is telling our story of origin. The Seder tradition is in essence an exercise in passing on “The Story” to our children.
Even though on Passover we tell a story about our past, yet, the way we approach the telling may indeed be self-fulfilling. As we know, a positive tone draws positive outcomes, and to the contrary a negative texture attracts and perpetuates negativity.
This is illustrated by the hidden meanings of two key Passover terms, Pesah פסח, Hebrew for Passover, and Pharaoh פרעה the name of our ancient oppressor. These Hebrew words, Pesah and Pharaoh respectively, include the phonetics and letter construct that translate as “mouth”, “Peh, פ or פה”.
The name of the festival (Pesah), when divided into its two syllables, Peh and Sah, takes on a whole new meaning. “Peh”, as we already know, means mouth and Sah means “conversation”. In other words, Pesah, a “speaking mouth”. In the context of commemorating our people’s sacred origins and cherished values, this means a mouth that speaks sacred words and meaningful speech. The term Pesah, then, joins the word “Haggada” in illustrating the centrality of storytelling on the Seder night.
The Hebrew word Pharaoh, on the other hand, when scrambled and divided into two syllables, spells the words Peh פה, mouth, and Rah רע, evil - evil mouth or evil speech.
We learn that speech, in both its positive and negative aspects, is central to the observance of Passover, as well as to how we live our lives. The former generates freedom, and the latter generates oppression and ultimately self-destruction, “The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the riders, Pharaoh’s entire army… not one of them remained” (Exodus 14: 28).
I am writing these reflections as the news-cycle continues to challenge. This morning a shooting in the Brooklyn subway system, preceded by a weekend of mass shootings around the country, in addition to the ongoing tragic war in Ukraine. A heavy cloud of escalating violence is overshadowing the holiday. The news can easily diminish our appetite for festivities or for telling stories about freedom gained, or a long journey to a promised land, a long time ago.
It is hard though to ignore the parallels between ancient and current events, a Russian Pharaoh insisting on oppressing and murdering freedom-loving Ukrainians, who are led by non other than a descendant of Moses. Our storytelling at this year’s Seder, whether in the form of reading from the Haggada held in our hands or spontaneous conversations around the Seder table, is bound to be colored by the stresses and weightiness of the news-cycle environment. Can we mitigate that? Can we consciously choose to tell stories that generate a path to a “promised land” of peace, justice, and tranquility, in addition to, if not instead of, bemoaning a complicated and distressing present?
At our Seder, can we share words that calm the fears, ease the pain and alleviate the worries? Can we Peh-Sah, converse from a place of positive vision, a place of sacred and generative consciousness? The wise author of the book of Proverbs says “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18: 21). Can we beat the Pharaoh, Peh-Rah, evil mouth, with a defiance of a higher order, weaving a prophecy, our own perhaps, a prophecy that is worthy of its fulfillment?
Yes, we can. Let us dream big about a “promised world”. As a result we will eventually pass-over these challenges as we Jews have done for over three millennia. We have been, and continue to be, the carriers, throughout time, of a vision for peace שלום.
In fact, we have lived “to tell the story”, or rather remain alive as a nation and culture because we stubbornly never ceased the telling. This is due to our intuitive knowledge, held deep down in our collective consciousness, that today’s intentional speech does become tomorrow’s better story.
Each Passover, as we ritually read and tell our story, we draw a bit closer to the fulfillment of a prophecy. Each Passover when we conclude the seder with the words, “next year in Jerusalem” we place another brick in the wall of the utopian “Holy City”, where, according to the prophet Isaiah, all peoples of the world will mingle in peace (Isaiah 56: 7). This is certainly a prophecy worth its fulfillment, let us continue to perpetuate its storyline.
Pesah Same’ah שמח, happy Passover,
Rabbi Reuben Modek
Not Guilty, But Not Right!
A society and its culture are measured amongst other things by how it regulates killing. The recent not-guilty verdict for a teen shooter claiming self-defense raises great concern about the direction of our American society.
We can learn a great deal from the experience of the ancient Israelites. Their law allowed killing, even when forbidding murder (see the ten commandments). For example, capital punishment is allowed in response to certain crimes, i.e. murder (Exodus 21: 12). War is justified under defined conditions, and killing in self-defense can be forgiven depending on circumstances (Exodus 22: 2-3).
The sages of that time recognized that killing is an unfortunate reality whether accidental or intentional. Though, they also recognized that humans, individually and collectively, had a choice of attitude. The spectrum of choices runs from willing participation on one hand to profound circumspection on the other. The predominant attitude chosen at any given time indicates a culture’s ethical compass and social cohesiveness.
The sages of the Talmud clearly demonstrate this spectrum. They state that “If someone comes to kill you, rise and kill him/her first” (Sanhedrin 72a). In other words, if your life is in danger, you must preserve it by killing your attacker. While this stands to reason, the discussion does not end there. Elsewhere the Rabbis warn: “A Sanhedrin (court) that sentences a person to death (even if only) once in seven years, is considered (a) murderous (court)… Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: “Had we been members of a Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death” (Mishna Makot 1). The ancient court had the authority to execute, yet was expected to make killing the rare exception, if any. Elsewhere in scripture, God proclaims human society “murderous”, and therefore floods the entire earth (Genesis 6:13). The Noah story teaches that a society, fast and loose with its killing, does not justify its own existence.
The ancient Israelites, thus teach us that a society’s institutions and culture, can and should set legal standards and social norms that discourage killing, even when technically justified. Last week’s not-guilty verdict seems to be another milestone in the growing American vigilante and gun culture that will lead us to mayhem and social breakdown.
The loose standards for a self-defense claim, enshrined into law by the Wisconsin legislator, are egregiously wrong. It enabled the rebranding of horribly poor judgement by an immature young man as justified self-defense. According to the spirit of Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva’s pronouncement, these are a “murderous” legislator and by extension a “murderous” court. A tragic commentary indeed on the degrading moral state of Wisconsin’s civil society, as well as civil societies across America who have established similar irresponsible laws.
Killing a person may be justified at times, and yet such claims must meet a rigorously high bar, whether executed by government, by courts, or by private citizens defending themselves. Israeli society, where I was raised, and with which armed forces I served as a soldier, is a case in point. Life in Isreal is almost perpetually in a state of self-defense due to the ongoing violent conflict, yet moral standards apply. The state of Israel drafts, trains, and arms most of its citizens with high capacity firearms. Training is typically extensive and grueling. Rules of engagement are precise even under combat conditions. Safety procedures for handling weapons in battle and in civilian spaces are strict and enforced. Possession of firearms is highly regulated. The expectation for compliance with clear standards of responsibility, and accountability keep citizens safe and society civil. The wild-west-style US gun culture has little guardrails, if any, and pales by comparison.
Last week’s verdict has exposed the low bar for regulating killing in America. We are living through a historical moment marked by a growing flood of misguided gun and vigilante laws and norms. Our response to this moment will determine whether American democracy, American civil society, and American exceptionalism thrive or disintegrate. While the judicial procedures and the jury’s considerations that led to the young killer’s verdict seem to have been mostly proper, his acquittal on all charges is socially injurious and morally far from right.
The Hebrews or Ivrim עברים discovered YHVH, the divine presence, while in
the Desert. During their journeys they encountered the threshold between this world and the world of spirit. They recognized the limitations of the material world and the vastness of the spirit world. They named this spiritual threshold Adonai אדני, which derives from the Hebrew word Eden אדן, threshold.
When the Hebrews settled in the land of Israel they built a sanctuary for Adonai, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. King Solomon built it in about 1000 BCE. For a long stretch of about a thousand years the Hebrews, who were later called Judaeans or ״Jews״ for short, attended the Temple in Jerusalem for rites and rituals that kept them in awareness of… connection with The Threshold, with Adonai. Their spiritual life, their culture, their national identity depended on the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
In 70 c.e. the Jews rebelled against the Roman empire, which now ruled the civilized world including Judaea. The Romans in turn crushed the rebellion by placing a siege on Jerusalem… eventually conquering the city... burning the thousand-year-old Temple down to the ground. They killed many... exiling the rest to Rome as POWs and slaves.
Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai, a contemporaneous sage, escaped the besieged city before its destruction and struck a deal with Titus the Roman general.
(Continued from part 2)
Not enough is known about how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of a century long history of reductionist medical successes, including past vaccination campaigns. We have been caught by surprise by a new magnitude of health crisis. The pandemic apparently is revealing critical fault lines in the reductionist sciences that have been shaping our lifestyles. The pandemic is revealing profound systemic and slow-moving crises such as the obesity pandemic, a toxin-saturated agricultural system, climate and environmental degradation, to mention just a few.
(Continued from part 1)
GREATER THAN OUR PARTS
Scientism, or Reductionism, which currently frames our reaction to disease in general and to COVID-19 and its variants in particular, has also been a strong motivator for civilization’s progress during the past century. Reductionism, Materialism, and Isolationism, at the time of their emergence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offered refreshing alternatives to the prevailing medieval religious superstitions of the day. And indeed, the scientific method at the heart of the reductionist paradigm has solved many problems and improved our quality of life for a time.
The campaign to vaccinate a nation during a pandemic has brought into sharp relief a dimension that we, individual-freedoms-loving Americans often resist, that of the “common good”. “In ordinary political discourse, the “common good” refers to those facilities… that the members of a community provide to all... in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common.... The term itself may refer either to the interests that members have in common or to the facilities that serve common interests (The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy).”
It takes everyone to fight a pandemic, and as such embracing our common interest becomes necessary so we can prevail over COVID 19 and its variants. The transmissibility of the virus taught us early on that as individuals we must protect not only ourselves but also those around us, as we did originally with the simple COVID 19 prevention practices of social distancing, and mask wearing, followed later with the “Warp Speed” vaccine campaign. This demanded that we act as a collective. We learned that a scaled up response coordinated by the highest levels of government would be best suited for this level of challenge, as the virus did not recognize local, regional, or state borders, nor did it distinguish between people’s conservative or liberal ideologies.
Rabbi Reuben Modek