TAKING THE REDEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE AS INSPIRATION, NOW IS THE TIME TO REDEDICATE OUR OWN LIVES FOR A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE. CENTURIES AGO, MAIMONIDES ESPOUSED THAT MAINTENANCE OF HEALTH IS A PRIORITY.
By Michael Braun M.D.
The inspirational story of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which celebrates the heroic struggle of the Maccabees to regain their land and their temple in Jerusalem, can also carry a message for a personal quest. Miraculously, one day’s worth of pure ritual oil was discovered and burned for eight days, seven more than possible, allowing the temple to be resanctified or rededicated. In fact, in the Hebrew language, Hanukkah translates to “dedication.” As a physician practicing in South Florida for twenty years, I often find myself in the role of educator, promoter, or even coach. I draw upon the revelation of Hanukkah to motivate my patients to consider their personal path of rededication and purification for both physical and spiritual renewal. As my patients embark on a process of self-introspection and self-improvement, I hope to inspire each for a path to wellness and vitality. The greatest and most significant Hanukkah gift that we can bestow upon our families, our communities, our synagogues, and ourselves is our health and well-being.
In our quest for “self-rededication,” we can reflect on the teachings of perhaps the greatest rabbinic scholar and physician, Moses Maimonides. As the first holistic physician, he acknowledged that even before his obligation in the treatment of disease came his obligation to aid patients in maintaining their health. He urged his patients, as I do today, to focus on lifestyle choices and habits that for most of us will guarantee good health and vitality. Ironically, his basic concepts for disease prevention, developed a millennium ago, are now proven by modern medical research to be the basis for wellness. Maimonides’ health-based approach is actually more insightful than the disease-based medical model in which physicians and patients now find themselves submerged.
Strongly influenced by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, this country spends more on medical care than any other nation, but it is far from being the healthiest nation. Rates of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer continue to increase. Doctors have become part of the disease and symptom-treating paradigm. Patients without proper knowledge make poor lifestyle choices and attempt to balance these with prescriptions and treatments. Following the wisdom of Rambam, you will realize that your health and vitality are essentially in your own hands. With the help of a physician that focuses on wellness and not only on disease, you and your family can choose a vital life of enjoying and giving. Your own genetic make-up and family history are a remarkably small part of your future health; most is determined by you. You do not need to exist, as many do, in a state between health and disease. This less-than-optimal state that plagues us today was well known 1,000 years ago when Maimonides predicted these diseases of indulgence. These diseases come from our poor habits and choices that drain our energy and alter our lives.
- The Rambam simply focuses on a few areas that shaped the health of his patients 1,000 years ago:
- Quality and quantity of food that an individual consumes
- Daily physical activity of an individual
- The degree of mental stress and anxiety that an individual experiences
- Healthy digestion and elimination of waste and toxins
Begin to take charge of your health. Keep in mind that chronic disease can be prevented, halted, and reversed. The path and the goal lie in moderation, although this may be quite the challenge when you are tempted with latkes and jelly donuts, for example. In the spirit of Maimonides and to help you begin the process of rededication for a healthier life, here are ten suggestions.
- Eat less animal protein, including dairy. There are direct links between animal protein and disease, especially cancer.
- Avoid processed carbohydrates: refined sugar, white flour (especially bleached), and pasta.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, the “rainbow” of foods that are red, purple/blue, green, orange/yellow and brown/white. These colors represent the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Drink more water: half of your body weight in ounces each day.
- Avoid drinks with sugar and artificial sweeteners. These contain harmful chemicals linked to osteoporosis and dementia.
- Add fiber to your diet with whole grains. Moving waste more quickly avoids prolonged exposure to toxins.
- Keep moving. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy. Take the stairs, and take a break from the computer and television.
- Stop worrying. Although this is not easy, the mind-body relationship is important in overall health and disease prevention.
- Try to sleep 7-8 hours each night. A good night’s sleep cannot be undervalued. Lack of sleep is a known preventable form of aging and thus disease.
- Meditate or pray
Hashem’s greatest gift to you is your body and mind. As Maimonides realized so long ago, health is a blessing and an obligation. Without it, we are unable to serve G-d and live as He intended.