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August 2019

Just Another Piece of Meat?

Bull 30.8
This week's Torah portion, Re'eh, teaches us which animals are befitting to eat and which are not. Wouldn't you be insulted of someone compared you to a piece of meat? On the surface, it seems that King Solomon is doing just that. Could that be?

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, tells us that man is no better than any other animal (see Ecclesiastes 3:19). Rashi explains that both end up dying and both have bodies which will eventually decompose in the soul.

Is that all we are, disposable recycled sacks of fertilizer? It sounds like pretty stiff language that King Solomon and Rashi are using.

Before we get upset, let's take a closer look. King Solomon and Rashi are referring to a flesh-and-blood body; in that respect, we are truly just another mammal. But the Midrash tells us that the mammal is only half of us - the material half. We have another side that's known as the neshama - the soul - our spiritual half.

The more are lives focus on the material, the more we resemble an animal. The more are lives focus on the spiritual, the more we resemble an archangel.

Let's not give animals a bad rap: they eat, drink, and procreate. They also live positive, productive lives, providing society with meat, milk, wool, leather, and fur. Many types of animals serve as means of labor, transportation, and recreation. Dogs fulfill important functions, such as aiding blind people, serving in police and army units, and participating in rescue missions.

A human who simply eats, drinks, and procreates, despite the fact that he or she has a productive job and utilizes leisure time for sports or other positive recreational activities, is still no better than a horse. Horses eat, drink, and procreate, do productive tasks on farms and cattle ranches, and serve as a source of recreational enjoyment to their owners. So, is a person superior to a horse?

A person void of spiritual ambition – a thirst for truth and a yearning for self-realization – is no better than a horse. A horse, like a human, has a basic animal soul. The Divine spirit and soul, which the Creator instills in a human, is the sole point of human superiority over the animal.

When humans utilize their divine spirit and soul to rise above base inclinations, to seek The Almighty, and to behave in a godly fashion, they begin to fulfill their real purpose in life. But, when people misuse or neglect their divine spirit and soul, they are inferior to an animal.

An unblemished soul – one who refrains from transgressing and does The Creator's will on a daily basis – possesses a Divine aura which is reflected by the eyes and the forehead, and casts fear on all of creation, even on man-eating animals.

God blessed Noah after the flood and said (Genesis 9:2), "I have instilled the fear of you in the animals on land, in the birds in the sky, in the creatures on earth, and in the fish in the sea." When people sin, or when they do nothing to develop their spiritual self, their divine soul tarnishes. A tarnished soul lacks the power to generate the holy aura of divine light. Animals and other creatures have no fear of a human devoid of the Divine aura.

The Divine soul is a part of God within us, the spiritual platform that elevates a human above the level of an animal. If the soul is misused or uncultivated, then the human loses his spiritual advantage over the animal.

Imagine that a custodian of a hospital enters the operating room, and takes one of the brain surgeon's fine sterile scalpels for peeling an apple. If caught in the act, such a custodian would surely lose his job. Using an expensive precision instrument for such a mundane task is not only a terrible waste – it's a severe degradation.

By the same token, reducing the soul from its lofty spiritual level to the grade of a mere battery cell that triggers basic emotions and bodily functions is a bitter insult. The degraded soul cries out bitterly before God, "I can't live within a human animal." In turn, the person with the abused soul soon experiences some form of abuse – derision, insult, or embarrassment.

It's time we took stock in ourselves and begin pursuing our true destiny. Anyone with a human soul seeking to get close to G-d is not just another piece of meat.


The Self-Healing Prayer: "Asher Yatzar"

Healing Prayer 28.8.19
A while ago, I delivered a pep-talk to a group of police officers. When I arrived at the headquarters building, my host - an officer with little background in Judaism - greeted me and asked me if I needed anything before I begin my talk. I asked him to show me where the bathroom was.

After the bathroom, I washed my hands three times consecutively with a cup and said slowly with intent the "Asher Yatzar" blessing that one says after visiting the toilet. My host looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "Rabbi, you guys even make a blessing after relieving yourselves?"

I nodded in the affirmative and asked the detective if he'd ever had constipation or diarrhea. He grimaced and said yes, telling me a story of how his whole platoon in the army once contracted salmonella food poisoning during a training maneuver rendering him utterly out of capacity for a week with his intestines totally askew.

"What would you have given to have normal bowel movements back then, instead of the chaos in your guts?" I asked.

"A million shekels!" the officer answered.

"For sure," I responded. "That's why the minimum a person can do is to thank the Creator every time his personal plumbing does its job!"

*******

The Asher Yatzar blessing was initiated by the holy Amora (Talmudic sage) Abayei, (see tractate Brachot 60b). The Gemara relates: "Abayei said, when one comes out of a privy one should say: Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them obstructed, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders."

Our sages promise that by saying Asher Yatzar blessing after visiting the toilet, one is assured of good health. Every time we relieve ourselves, the Creator does a myriad of miracles in maintaining the body's health, casting away dangerous bacteria, microorganisms, and dead body cells in the bodily waste. Even more wondrous is that this heavy maintenance is done in a way that's extremely gratifying to the body.

Taking a few moments to say Asher Yatzar after visiting the toilet is liable to save you hours in down-time, sick-time, doctor visits, and even hospital visits. You'll also save a mint on medical expenses. Better than anything, you'll obtain what no health insurance plan can offer - a guarantee of good health.

As a service to our readers, here is the text in English translation and in English transliteration. There's no time to start saying this lovely blessing like the present.

Asher Yatzar

Blessed are You, Hashem, Our God, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Baruch atah Adonoi, Elohainu, melech ha'olam, Asher yatzar et ha'adam b'chochmah, u'vara vo n'kavim n'kavim, chalulim chalulim, galui v'yadua lifnai chisei chvodecha, she'im yipatei'ach echad maihem o yisataim echad maihem, ee efshar l'hitkayeim v'la'amod l'fanecha afilu sha'ah achat. Baruch atah Adonoi, rofeh chol basar u'mafli la'asot.

The Practical Laws of Visiting the Toilet

No, this is not a joke. Proper deportment in the bathroom is an integral part of health, personal hygiene and holiness. Besides, Jewish Law - Halacha - covers every single aspect of daily life.

As an additional service to our readers, here are the laws concerning visiting the toilet in a nutshell, based on Chapter Four of The Abridged Code of Jewish Law (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch):

  1. One must relieve oneself as soon as one feels the need, without delay.
  2. One must be modest in the toilet, and not relieve oneself in front of other people unless there is a partition.
  3. One must be careful not to overly strain, for it could create problems in the colon.
  4. One must not think about Torah or Torah-related subjects in the toilet; instead, think about mundane matters such as business or commerce.
  5. One must cleanse oneself thoroughly after visiting the toilet, for it is forbidden to pray if one’s body isn’t completely clean of excrement traces.
  6. Every time after visiting the toilet, even after urinating one drop, one must wash one’s hands thoroughly and then say the “Asher Yatzar” blessing.

May the Almighty grant you and yours wonderful health always, amen! Every blessing, LB


The Ten Commandments of Healthy Bones

Healthy Bones 26.8
Your skeleton is your frame; any sturdy structure needs a healthy frame and the human body is no exception. Strong bones, the components of a strong skeleton, are determined by their density: the higher the bone density, the stronger the skeleton. Weak bones are the result of osteoporosis, a condition where the bones ("osteo" in Latin) become progressively more porous ("poros" in Latin). Osteo + poros = "osteoporosis", much of which is triggered by a poor diet, lack of exercise and lack of exposure to sunlight.

Not only karate experts who smash bricks and cinderblocks with their fists and elbows need high bone density. We all do. Strong bones can mean the difference of weathering a slip on a wet floor or breaking a hip, Heaven forbid. Seniors and expectant mothers are two populations that must especially pay attention to bone health, but with the increase of sugary beverages and junk food, more and more children are coming down with juvenile osteoporosis. 

It's our responsibility to ourselves and to our families to do all we can to promote healthy bones and bone density and to prevent osteoporosis. With that in mind, here are some myth-free do's and dont's of healthy bones:

The Five Do's of Healthy Bones:

  1. Eat plenty of calcium-rich foods - sardines, almonds, leafy greens, yogurt, yellow cheese and chia seeds are great sources.
  2. Soak your beans before cooking them, then cook them in fresh water. That will rid the beans of the phytates that bleed calcium.
  3. Eat plenty of protein - I suggest 0.8 gr/kg body weight for people with a non-vigorous lifestyle, and 1.0 gr/kg body weight for athletes and people who perform heavy labor.
  4. Engage at least three times a week in weight-lifting or other resistance training. The more pressure we put on our bones, the more we build bone density. Kneading dough with your hands is an example of a wonderful exercise for bone density. In bodyweight training, pushups are the king, especially doing pushups on your fists.
  5. Get plenty of Vitamin D and expose yourself to sunshine frequently; 30 minutes a day is lovely for people with average skin color; those with lighter skin color bust do less, and those with darker skin color will need more.

The Five Dont's of Healthy Bones

  1. Avoid low-calorie and fad diets. A body starved of calories will bleed out calcium and lose bone density and strength. If you want to lose weight, do it by increasing your exercise and making the right food choices, and not by starving yourself.
  2. Avoid salt! Sodium is calcium's public enemy #1. That means avoiding salty foods such as manufactured foods, fast & junk food, and restaurant foods.
  3. Carbonated soft drinks, especially colas, contain phosphoric acid which increase the calcium that's secreted in one's urine. Stick with water and seltzer, both of which will save your calcium and save you loads of calories. Don't forget, the diet colas might have zero calories, but they're horrible for your bones.
  4. Cut your caffeine/coffee intake way back - you lose about 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of  caffeine you ingest. Since an 8-ounce cup of black coffee has about 150 milligrams of caffeine, it'll rob your body of 9 milligrams of calcium. Don't forget that many soft drinks (infamous #3 directly above) also contain high amounts of caffeine.
  5. Do not buy processed or smoked meats, period! In addition to a load of unhealthy chemicals they contain, manufacturers inject them with loads of calcium-bleeding phosphates.

Follow the above "Ten Commandments" the best you can, and you'll be much stronger. We want you to be able to dance in good health at the weddings of your great-grandchildren. A bottle of cola with a smoked meat sandwich isn't worth losing your bone health over. Swap it for  a vigorous workout followed by a green smoothie with almonds and chia seeds. Let's all say a resounding "No to osteoporosis!" Every blessing, LB 


If You Live it, You Can Give it

Live it give it 22.8.19
Now that America and Israel are back in sync as far as weekly Torah portions are concerned, we're happy to offer our readers some nutrition for the soul with a lesson from this week's portion Ekev:

It's a no-brainer that a parent smoking a cigarette can't tell a child not to smoke. A junk-food, sugar addict parent can't tell his/her child to eat healthy. A parent who perpetually breaks traffic laws can't tell his/her son or daughter to drive safely. The youth of this generation - rightfully so - despise hypocrisy. 

We read in this week's Torah portion, "You shall teach them to your children to talk about them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you arise." (Deuteronomy 11:19).

The Torah commands us to teach our children to "talk about them" – them, the words of Torah - constantly. We would think that the command should say, 'you shall teach them to your children to talk about them, while they sit in your home, while they walk on the way, when they lie down,' and so forth. This is the seemingly logical way of teaching our children to live a life of Torah values, by speaking about and internalizing Torah and its teachings from morning to night, in everything they do. Yet, surprisingly, the Torah instructs the parent to teach them to discuss Torah while he or she sits in the home, walks on the way, and the like. What's the message that the Torah is conveying here?

The Torah is telling the parent that education is not preaching – it's personal example. A child's innate sense of justice cannot stand hypocrisy and inconsistency. A parent who preaches one thing yet practices otherwise is guaranteed to obtain the opposite results.

In simple English, if you live it, you can give it: if you don't live it, you can't give it. Therefore, before a parent educates his child, he must educate himself.

The principle of "live it to give it" is evident in the above-cited passage. Hashem is telling us that the best way to teach our children to be immersed in Torah is when we ourselves are immersed in Torah. The Torah is saying, "while you sit in your home" and the subject of your discussion is Bava Kama and not the New York Times or WhatsApp, then you won't even have to tell your son to pick up a Gemara. When he sees that the Bava Kama is much more important to Daddy than the newspapers, he'll want to learn Bava Kama too.

The same goes for Mom and her daughters. When mom's Friday mornings are devoted to distributing challas that she baked to poor families, her daughter will undoubtedly follow in her footsteps and engage in acts of lovingkindness as well. But, when Mom's prime-time Friday mornings are devoted to the make-up specialists and clothes shopping, then the daughter will conclude from Mom's personal example that nothing in the world is more important than the latest fashion and the eye-shadow with the glittering sparkles, none of which have anything to do with modesty, holiness or serving Hashem. Maybe the daughter will be "Orthodox", but her head certainly won't be in spiritual endeavors and charitable deeds. Because of her material demands, her husband won't be able to devote much time to learning Torah, for he'll be chasing dollars...

Children have highest regard for parents, their chief role-models. As our sages teach, the deeds of parents are stepping stones for the children. If you live it, you can give it! Blessings for a lovely Shabbat! Yours always, LB


Practical Kabbalah: The Key to Successful Relationships

Many people mistakenly think that Kabbalah is exclusively for people who are rolling their eyes and floating on clouds. Not true! As you'll see in the Kabbalah lessons we hope to present periodically, the lessons of Kabbalah are ever so practical. Since Kabbalah is essentially the Divine blueprint of creation, its wisdom exemplifies profound lessons that we can use to learn more about ourselves and how to live our lives in the best possible manner.

Today, we'll learn the concept of "light and vessel", known in Hebrew as or v'kli. To better understand this concept, we relate a story from the Gemara in Tractate Taanit. This is the key to success to establishing successful relationships, whether it's finding your soulmate or picking a best friend. We hope you enjoy it and find it both beneficial and enlightening:

The Key to Successful Relationships from lazerbrody on Vimeo.


Go for the Endorphins

Endorphin Break
We all know how to function in a favorable environment, when everything is progressing the way we want it to. Yet, few of us know how to function in a hostile climate, when nothing seems to go the way we want it to.

Why do we find ourselves so often in the hostile climate, rather than in the favorable climate?

The Creator wants us to be our best. No one ever made character, physical or spiritual growth and gains by eating chocolate ice-cream. Coping with difficulties make us great. That's why we must learn how to function when things are not going our way. These are the stress situations in life, and we all have plenty of them. So what do we do?

Many people reach for pills, liquor, tobacco or any number of other substances as stress relievers. Others check out of the painful reality and turn to social media, a movie or a TV show. None of these help us cope.

I have a better suggestion: why not try a biochemical that the body produces? It's a feel-good hormone called endorphin and it won't cost you a cent. Endorphins have three great affects:

They reduce pain;

They decrease fatigue;

They give you a positive attitude.

The above three benefits enable our brains to function much more efficiently. Once the endorphins start to flow, the stress and anxiety of a few minutes ago no longer look like the end of the world. The brain kicks into positive mode.

The double-great news is that you don't need a prescription for endorphins and they won't cost you a thing. What could be better? The Creator implanted a built-in pharmacy in our endocrine system. Endorphins are also wonderful in that they don't cause addiction or dependence.

So how do you get a good dose of endorphins? A 30-minute workout will do the trick.

"I don't have 30 minutes!" you might be saying. OK, I'll give you a big discount. Try five minutes.

Do things at your own level. Start with simply high-stepping or jogging in place, stretching and loosening up your body. It's easy. Then try pushups; after, continue with planks. Add a few body squats and finish off with some more jogging in place and stretching. Make sure you've had 5 minutes of nonstop activity. This beats a coffee break any day of the week…

This will definitely work for you too - guaranteed. Blessings for your good health, LB


Five Vital Questions to Ask Your Physician

5 Questions Physician
One of my main tasks as a health coach is to refer people to the proper medical professional to attain more specialized care for their health issue, whether it's a cardiac problem, diabetes, or any other chronic ailment. As a health coach, my job is to keep healthy people healthy, or even healthier, and to help ailing people to find the best proper treatment.

It's not enough that you find the right physician. It's imperative to ask that physician the right questions. Here are the five most vital questions one needs to ask, not only in relieving the chronic condition, but in improving overall health:

  1. Should I lose weight, maintain my weight or gain weight?
  2. What are the foods I need to eat and what must I avoid?
  3. What is the best type of exercise for me, including recommended frequency and intensity?
  4. Should I limit alcohol, caffeine, or anything else from my diet?
  5. How does stress affect my particular situation and how can I avoid it?

Any treatment or medications that ignore the vitally-needed answers to the above questions will be only partial at best in its effectiveness. Yet, by rectifying diet, exercise, weight control and stress, one will not only improve his or her quality of life but in many cases, overcome the health challenge altogether.

What's more, don't ever forget Who the real Healer is. Prayer, charity and good deeds always help. G-d willing, we hope to do a separate post soon in the vital questions to ask your rabbi or spiritual guide in coping with any health ailment.

At any rate, when choosing the right physician, keep in mind that if he or she does not exercise or lives an unhealthy lifestyle, they in all likelihood won't be able to help you live a healthy lifestyle. Health professionals should be role models and should be living a healthy lifestyle. If they don't, proceed with caution.

One important note - before a fast day like Tisha B'Av or Yom Kippur, if you have a health issue, consult your physician - then your rabbi - before you fast. Meanwhile, have a wonderful Shabbat and a meaningful and easy Tisha B'Av fast. Every blessing, LB


Tips for a Safe and Healthy Fast Day

Bayit Shlishi 6.8.19

Above image - dreaming of the Holy Temple, which we all lament for on the fast day of Tisha B'Av

This year, Tisha B'Av - the day of the worst calamities that befell the Jewish people - falls on sundown, August 10, and continues until the stars appear on Sunday evening, August 11, 2019.

Since this is a fast day during the year's warmest weather, it's a challenge. A person could be especially susceptible to headaches, extreme weakness, dehydration and hypoglycemia, when blood-sugar levels fall dangerously low. With a few precautions and proper preparation for the fast, the dangers can be avoided and the fast can actually be safe and healthy.

Before the fast:

  1. Beginning with Friday morning, 36 hours before the fast, try drinking a glass of water every hour.
  2. On Thursday night and Friday, eat salty foods (this is no mistake!) such as pickles, olives and goat cheese. These are all the foods that people with edema avoid, for they help retain fluid and therefore prevent dehydration. To avoid thirst, stop eating these foods on the day that the fast begins, namely all day Shabbat (Saturday).
  3. Avoid sugary and starchy foods this Shabbat, for they have a high glycemic index (GI) and therefore cause a deeper GI Levelsplunge in blood sugar levels shortly after eating (see adjacent graphic).
  4. Eat plenty of good quality protein - eggs, fish and high quality pasture-fed (organic, if available) beef and poultry - protein is satiating and will provide slow-release energy during the fast, since they are complex food stuffs that require longer time to digest.
  5. Stay away from coffee and caffeine for 24 hours before the beginning of the fast. Drink herb tea instead.
  6. My favorite rule of thumb is to focus on eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible, not only making the coming fast easier and healthier but promoting better blood sugar balance and better digestion, both of which lead to better weight control. 

After the fast:

Be careful, for after the fast, your blood sugar levels are at their lowest. The worst thing you can do (a cardinal nutrition sin that many congregations commit) is to dive into the coke, fruit juices and pastries the moment the fast is over. This drives blood sugar through the roof and creates a shock to the body; this could actually trigger diabetes, Heaven forbid. What's more, drastic rises and falls in blood sugar cause headaches, nausea and fatigue. In order to avoid this, takes the following precautions:

  1. Break your fast with a glass of ice-water and high-fiber foods such as celery sticks or whole grain/bran crackers.
  2. Add to the above a portion of protein, such as cottage cheese or goat cheese, which will also slow the rise of your blood sugar level.
  3. Avoid all sugary substances, soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and pastries - these are downright dangerous at the end of a fast.
  4. Drink at least 2 glasses of water an hour for the first 4 hours after the fast. This will replenish the body's fluids and slow the increase of blood sugar levels.
  5. Don't eat a heavier meal until at least an hour after breaking your fast in the above manner; preferably, do some light exercise (like a 30-minute walk) before having a heavier meal.

Feel free to pass the above advice along to friends and family. Even better, send them this link so that they can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We have no doubt that the above tips will not only make your fast more bearable, but safe and healthy as well! Every blessing, and may we soon see our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedy and in our day, amen!