Tuesday, 28 June 2011
One of the most frustrating things to deal with as a physician is the unrealistic expectation. Some people have their heads screwed on straight. They know that good health and well-being require daily effort through proper diet and exercise. Others believe they have an inalienable right to eat and drink what they want, spend their spare time on the couch, and maybe smoke or drink in excess but still maintain a good physique and state of mind. When I tell them that the cost of their lack of maintenance efforts is the long list of complaints they keep seeing me with and that the foundation of any therapy for their diabetes/arthritis/heart diease/etc. is a good diet and regular physical activity they invariably ask "But Lord Ironheart, isn't there just a pill I could take?"
No, there's no pill that gives one flat abs, good sleep, lots of energy and a well-functioning car.
Now there's no shortage of suckers out there willing to believe such a pill exists. Heck, that's the foundation of the alternative health care" industry: miracle cures without side effects for whatever ails ya.
When it comes to the spiritual it seems that many folks are no different. As first noted on the JewishWorker blog (scroll down until you see the picture of the rigns) and then picked up on over at Rationalist Judaism, one of the latest scams is the segulah ring. Promising health and happiness it seems packed with spiritual powers to grant its owners their greatest needs or desires. The only catch is you can't wear it but have to keep it under wraps at all times.
(As an aside, that requirement reminds me of the comic book issue in which Superman was killed by Doomsday. The prized first edition came wrapped in black plastic shrink wrap with a white Superman insignia on it. It was very clear that if you broke the wrapping all future value of the issue to collectors would be lost. At the time I asked a friend who had camped out at the comic store to get one: how can you be sure they didn't just throw in an Archie comic?)
I've never liked the idea of segulos. I'm not dismissing the mystical side of Judaism, mind you. It is very clear from our sacred literature that, to paraphrase Shakspeare, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are realized by our physical senses. All throughout Tanach there are hints towards the parts of creation we cannot physically interact with and Chazal and the Zohar both deal with the subject (the latter exhaustively, of course). I would never disrespect the subject simply due to my ignorance of it.
However, things like these segulah rings are ridiculous. From what I can tell of them they are the equivalent of the magical homeopathic cure for physical illness. Spiritual fitness is, in some ways, similar to physical fitness. Specifically you have to work at it through limud Torah and kiyum hamitzvos. There are no short cuts. Nowhere in Chumash does God say "Thou shalt learn this Torah and keep My mitzvos but if you're short on time and dedication there are shortcuts you can use instead to achieve My favour." (I've checked) Closeness to God is earned through hard work and dedication to His ideals, not through a double wrapped silver ring or other fancy object endorsed (supposedly) by a Gadol HaDor.
I think it was for reasons like this that my father has never gotten into chasidus despite coming from such a background, and why he was always careful to guide me away from those circles. The idea that a person or object can influence your connection to God is anathema to him. As Rav JH Hertz notes in his commentary to the Shema in his Chumash, the point of krias Shema is to declare that there is only one true power in the universe and that God, in addition to running everything, is able to maintain an individual connection to each and every one of us at all times. If I need to speak to Him, He can hear me. God is not a medical specialist with a secretary, deaf to the calls of His children unless they have an appointment or an agent to get them through His office door.
There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out. Dveikus with God is achievable for anyone but only through great and ongoing efforts that lead to the Divine reward in Olam Haba. Trying to bypass this process in the hopes of skipping out on an arduous journey can only lead to disappointment.