Health & Nutrition

The Rambam on Health and Nutrition: Forget Everything That You Believed About Disease

The gemora has a well known story about Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, who after his surprising appointment to the head of the Sanhedrin at the age of 18, said a memorable sentence: “I am like one who is 70 years old.”

I hope my readers don’t mind my applying this statement in a more mundane way. I can candidly say that from a young age, I have felt “like one who is 70 years old” in matters of health. This led me to investigate numerous health experts and search for information that would enable me to be healthy and strong.
 
Any health aficionado in Israel who is looking for serious information on the subject, will quickly find out about “Natural Health”. It is taught in a Shir Chadash workshop which is held several times a year and continues 5 days and nights. The program involves resting, exercising, eating according to a diet devised by those who invented the program, learning how to live within its guidelines, and why it’s so worthwhile.

During the workshop, they give many Torah lectures connected to the subject. The workshop is supervised by chareidi rabbis and the lectures, practical demonstrations and meals are held with men and women separate.
Bar Mitzvah
As I mentioned above, a short time ago I participated in this workshop and am returning to you to tell you about it. A group of 25 men and women from all over the world and Israel converged on Or HaGanuz in the Galilee. The calm vista and clear air which was balm for the soul and body, concealed from us the difficulties that awaited us later in the week as well as the points of light and pleasure that we would also experience.

My personal feeling is that the main problem for me and the rest of the participants was due to the fact that for most people, change is extremely difficult. In many cases, we prefer the familiar bad, despite knowing it is not good for us, over something we know is good.

Besides that, like other people who are used to eating whatever we feel like, I keenly felt the lack of familiar food especially during the first days because we only ate fruits, vegetables and legumes during the 5 days of the workshop. If you had a thought detection device, and would have walked among the group of people participating in the workshop, you would have probably seen hamburgers, steaks and pizzas floating in our minds during the first two days…

Despite the feeling of lightness that we felt from the first moment, the craving for familiar food kept intruding in the beginning. The body, who is used to getting big-sized portions of caffeine, sugar, salt and other sinister substances, needed time to get used to living without them. 

The long-awaited change occurred on the second day. After we cleaned out our system, as happens whenever one weans oneself off unhealthy substances, we felt the special pleasure reserved for returning to a real, honest-to-goodness natural diet.
Suddenly me and my friends in the workshop (who were mostly men) realized that a big vegetable salad is also a lunch. A lentil soup for evening could even be a great meal for the end of the day. As for breakfast, we saw with our own eyes and felt on our flesh that fruits were the best solution.
Jewish Rabbis
I want to note that here and there the body was still demanding a jumbo slice of bread, and the heart was still craving a piece of chocolate, but the professionals in the workshop said that that was exactly the reason that G-d created dates. It was interesting to see that as the workshop continued, we began to understand the reasons why this diet makes sense, we increasingly felt more at ease, and we became familiar with a new world that had seemed strange before.

The truth is that food is a big part of our lives. If we look at the Jewish calendar, we’ll see that food surrounds us in every place and on every occasion. From when we come into the world until we take our last breath, we have to satisfy our hunger every few hours (in the best case) to have strength to continue. Besides our basic and existential need to eat and drink, food has become a significant factor also in other important areas such as culture, creativity, studies, jobs and more. Many of us also find food as the fastest and easiest way to relieve our boredom and general feelings of dissatisfaction.

G-d of course intentionally planned the central place of food in our lives and He wouldn’t do that without giving us exact instructions how to eat properly. We can find these instructions in several places. Beyond the well known laws of kashrut, which foods we can eat and which we can’t, the Torah also gives us a large range of laws and good advice concerning food. It begins with the best hours to eat, continues with the proper amounts and extends to the best kind of food to eat. 

Maimonides was famous as the Torah scholar who engaged extensively in this field, and he even said the following unbelievable statement which he wrote after giving instructions on the optimum way to eat.

In the Mishna Torah, in the Book of Knowledge, Laws of Beliefs, Chapter 3, he writes: Anyone who conducts himself in the ways we specified, I guarantee that he will never get sick his entire life until he reaches a hoary old age and dies. He will not need a doctor and his body will be perfect and he will remain strong his whole life.”

The Jewish sages in every generation taught their followers to maintain a healthy soul in a healthy body. They even taught that maintaining one’s health is an obligation upon each Jew. We didn’t always have the knowledge about what food is nutritious, but with all the awareness of healthy food in recent years, there has been an increase in this direction in the Jewish world too. As in every new field, there are several methods that claim to be the most reliable and beneficial, and in this article, we will talk about the Natural Health method which is propounded by Rabbi Yuval Hakohen Ashrov. The workshops teaching the method are led by Assaf Elzara who I met to discuss the method.
Judaism in united states
Let’s begin with the method’s underlying principles. What does it actually say?
It’s lengthy and complex, and impossible to properly explain in this short time and place, but I will at least try to say a few ideas. It’s important to understand the mechanism of natural healing on which the Natural Health method is based, which is drawn from our sages and other ancient healing methods.
 
Every disease is a kindness from G-d. A disease, which in Hebrew is machlah, becomes chemlah (compassion) when you change the letters around. What western medicine calls a disease, we see as healing and a health potion. For instance, coughing. Western medicine tries to eradicate it. It doesn’t relate to the fact that G-d in His great kindness created a smart body that can identify something not going right in the respiratory system and try to disgorge it by coughing. Coughing is not a malfunctioning that has to be overcome; we encourage coughing and let it end naturally. 

According to the Natural Health system, the only thing that heals us in the world is the life force which G-d inculcates in us every second. There is nothing besides it. Not medications, not vitamins, and even not healthy and nutritious food. When G-d stops channeling down to us this life force, we die. All we have to do is to learn how not to prevent this life force from reaching us in the right way.”
Assaf explains that there are four main things that we have to pay attention to so the life force will reach us without disturbance: 1. A balanced emotional state. Or in plain words — happiness. 2. Proper nutrition. 3. To maintain a balanced blood composition. 4. Too much or too little physical activity.

“Let’s focus on the matter of nutrition. The moment we eat the wrong things, we force our body into overdrive to get rid of the poisons and waste, and we overload it with things that are difficult for it to handle. This hampers the natural healing that the body does all the time.

Health healing means cleaning out the poisons and wastes that naturally accumulate. Also, just as there is no healing without cleaning one’s system, there is no cleaning of one’s system without rest. This means that to be healed, I have to clean myself out, and this is only possible by letting the body rest in general, and the digestive system in particular.
Jewish Holidays
“We recommend a breakfast based on raw fruits only,” says Assaf. “Raw fruits give a tremendous amount of energy, they are rich in minerals and vitamins, and they have disaccharides and glucose which provide the fuel needed to live. For lunch, which is a starch meal, it is recommended to eat a salad of raw vegetables for most of the meal, and some vegetables baked in an oven. The recommended menu for supper, is a protein meal, which is again a raw vegetable salad with cooked legumes like lentils, etc. It’s best not to eat supper after 8 o clock, and it’s not a good idea to take a night snack or to sleep right after the meal. The next meal should be fruits in the morning, which should last until noon. In this way, we gain a very significant time of 16 hours in which our stomach and intestines are working on a low in-take and is resting, cleaning itself out and healing itself.

What should one eat when one is ill?
Eating when one is ill feeds the illness and not the sick person. To understand this, you have to realize how the body’s immune system works, and the process in which bacteria develop in the body. Simply put, we can compare our body when it is sick to a country that is forced to wage war. From the moment of invasion, all of its forces are directed at the battle ground where it was attacked. Now, when we eat, our digestion is put on hold since it is another “battle ground” where resources and energy have to be directed. In the meantime, the food is getting rotten and beginning to ferment. The bacteria create decay which raises our temperature and makes us feverish. So the food is feeding the disease and not the sick person.
 
What a person should be doing is resting, drinking water, and if they want to eat — only some fruit. When we are sick, we naturally don’t have an appetite. The body doesn’t want to overload itself with another activity when it is already dealing with the disease. G-d created the entire world, and especially our body so smart and wondrous that it’s worthwhile listening to it.
 
We began to discuss the kinds of foods that are best to completely avoid. This subject too was clearly elucidated by Assaf. 
“It’s best to almost completely avoid animal protein such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, etc. You can save them for Shabbat and even then not to exaggerate and eat too much. Excessive daily consumption of animal protein contributes to greater acidity in the blood, which is one of the causes of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and more. Likewise for all the kinds of coffee, cola and soft drinks, snacks, sugar and salt — all these should be strictly avoided.
 
“Everything that the body needs is in the menu we mentioned above. One should definitely not eat until he is ‘exploding’. It’s best to eat until just before he feels satisfied.”
Jewish Rabbis
What can you tell us about these workshops that you run? Who are they for?
Our Shir Chadash Nutrition and Health workshop is for everyone who wants to take responsibility for their health. Who want to do their utmost to keep “you shall carefully preserve your lives” just as G-d commanded. 

We hear amazing responses from many who have begun to live according to the Natural Health method. Even if their health is not 100%, the main thing is that most of their food intake is healthy. The beginning is not easy, but they very quickly discover that it is enjoyable and worth it. 

The workshop is for both those who are healthy and those who are sick with joint pain, diabetes, high blood pressure and more. We have people coming to us who are desperate for good health, or people who were not helped by regular treatments. We also offer workshops teaching how to make juices, which cleans out the body better. We also do a lot of work on our thinking and emotions. Many of the lectures are connected to topics such as spiritual eating.  Besides that, all our workshops are held completely separate for men and women and under the supervision of chareidi rabbis. We see huge changes in people and feel we are getting heavenly assistance.
 
Towards the conclusion of our conversation, I asked Assaf about people who are not suitable for the workshop for various reasons, but nevertheless express interest in making a substantial change in their lives for the sake of their health. I asked him what these people should do.

“Besides our regular 5-day and 10-day workshops, we also have a clinic where we privately treat people and where I give them a healthy diet tailored for them. Bottom line, I don’t do anything. I only direct and offer guidance. It is all about heavenly assistance, and the patient doing the maximum for himself. 

“There are people I didn’t even meet, and we spoke only on the telephone. They took responsibility for themselves and their lives changed from one extreme to the other,” he says. “These medical principles were advocated by Maimonides. It’s amazing that Maimonides understood so well how our stomach works, without a microscope or advanced medical devices. Until today we can’t figure out how he knew all this.”

For additional details and consultations for health and nutrition, Assaf Elzara can be reached at shirhadaash@gmail.com

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