The secret Jewish Cannabis History and Wisdom teachings of all ages

Monday, July 25, 2005

Medicine is not holy. It's better!

And the other reason no psak can ever prohibit marijuana is... and this is one of the deepest halachic principles EVAR...

Rabbis have no authority over medicine. It's just not their field.

How do we know this? The gemara in Brochos is chock full of folk cures for different conditions, olive oil soup with beets for fevers, incantations for choking on bones... And a pious person might think, he's required to use these particular treatments for such conditions... Or at least that our tradition, given us by the Lord God Himself, would have the correct thing to do for any sickness, right?

For that matter, any strictly religious person would have to imagine that he'd rather die than use something non-kosher for medicine. Wouldn't God appreciate that so much? I mean, if the halacha is the true reality, it would stand to reason that we couldn't heal ourselves except by it's prescriptions, right?

I'll tell ya, I had a moment once... It was one of the most powerful psychedelic clarities i've ever had, and it was relatively drug free. It came from a gall stone, at the right time.

After I left the morrocan Breslov Yeshiva, after I left Bat Ayin the second time, I was a bit orphaned yeshiva wise, but still desperate to continue my education. There was some very important Torah that I still longed to learn, where could I go?

At the time I was going on sunday and thursday nights to shiurim offered by a man named Dovid Hertzberg Z''l. The Z''l part wasn't part of his name yet, he adopted it later. His book of jokes is available in perpetuity on, and his light will shine until the very last day.

Long white beard, short stature and suh-ch a smile, Dovid is generally acknowledged by the Israeli Shlomo Chevre as being Shlomo Carlebach's greatest disciple. Yehoshua Witt was his closest, Moish Geller, maybe his earliest... Dovid was the smartest, most learned, and most bestest, in some profound way. Real chassidis generally downplays book learnin', so to become a learned scholar means you just really wanted to, for some other reason.

Dovid once told me, when I asked him about his religiousness back when he was young, y'know what Shlomo gave over to us? Hashem loves you no matter what, whether you do any mitzvos or not. And if you love him so much too, you might wind up doing some, just because.

I hired him as a private teacher for like a year, until I got arrested in the old city with a big bag of grass and was forbidden from going back there for a while.
When I called him to tell him he laughed.
I tried to tell him further, because I felt so terrible--
"Dovid, to keep from staying in jail, I gave them someone's name-- not your's, chas v shalom---"
Huh. well, i hope it was someone you didn't like.

And that's how I wound up going to the newly formed Yeshiva Eish Kodesh on Moshav Modiin. A settlement stared by Shlomo Carlebach for the community that had started to grow around him in Israel in the late seventies, the Moshav had been longing to start a Yeshiva since it's inception, almost doing so twice before, to no avail. They now were trying again, having recieved a large donation from someone to make a lace named after Eish Kodesh Gilmore, who had grown up on the moshav, and been killed by an Arab terrorist a year earlier.

Some of my closest friends and most inspiring teachers were studying there. It was a good deal-- free food, whole grain and dee-licious, beautiful location, surrounded by cool people, with our own magical forest next door. Great community, if you know anyone who'd be good here, invite 'em along...

Tragic flaw-- The desire to be recognized as a "real" Yeshiva and thus, have potential access to government funding and acknowledgement. This is one of the great weaknesses of many radical moovements within any culture, especially judaism, the need to be acknowledged as valid by the mainstream authorities. In some ways it's beautiful, the longing to be understood and respected for who you are, and the compromises that come from it are so debilitating and neutering.

The yeshiva, in an attempt to be "authentic" hired these Litvish certified Ravs to come and teach. Understand-- This is like hiring buisness executives to teach economics... at a communist school. The kids were all geniuses, learned in both the reveal and hidden parts of the torah, with insight and text skills that would put them on a par with any master of a previous generation, being schooled on, like, the laws of petty bullshit, in the driest way possible, by people who were pretty ideologically opposed to most of what Shlomo Carlebach's torah was about.

And, humble fools that we were, we tried to indulge the teachers. We tried to come to their classes on time, to participate and engage them... and it felt like such a waste of time.

So we focused on chavrusa learning, just taking the opportunity to finally spend time with the books we'd been hearing about for so long, but never had a chance to hang out with. Me and Sharya Witt did a siyum on the apocraphal teachings of Elijah the prophet, as revealed in the 3rd century c.e. to I think R Yishmael? Me and Yehuda Witt learned much of the mei hashiloach inside and slow, Shalom Aaron Dym did a siyum on Nedarim (my favorite line from him, an alumnus of the finest yeshivas in minnesota and the Mir in Israel, "When do they call you a Rabbi? When you can finally read the Shulchan Aruch by yourself?") we'd hit up the Noam Elimelech now and then, the Kedushas Levi, the sepher ba'al Shem Tov, Steady doses of the Zohar most mornings (Elyon Shemesh likened it to the first bong hit as soon as you wake up)
and, of course, Rav Nachman, when in doubt.

Some great Torah came out of there. Yehuda Witt made a grea argument for the mystical value of drug use, based on R Nachman, to one of the straight Rabbis one morning, that basically sure, you might be able to get through life with out herbs and medicine, just living off prayer alone... but then the herbs and medicines you'd use wouldn't get lifted up into the service of god like they would if you'd just bring them into your healing! So really, it's higher to incorporate them.

Any how. Came the day. I had a pain in my side, a light one, i figured was just, you know, stiffness from not yoga-ing enough. right under my ribcage on my right side, it just would not stop. I kept kind of stretching there to try to deal with it, and one of the locals at the Moshav noticed me doing this.

Hey... (he asked) You haven't been drinking the tap water unfiltered, have you?
"uh... yeah... we ran out of filters for the brita"
"Uh oh... we used to have trouble with that alot... there's alot of sdiment in that water... it looks like you've got a gall stone."

And so, i started filling bottles with filtered water from different people's houses around the Moshav... and drinking, as per my orders.

Now, understand, I was very deeply conflicted at this time. When there's one clear order of what the classes being taught are, and all your focus is invested in these things, a clarity and peace follows, I don't have to worry about what i'm doing and is it worthwhile. No existential conflict.

I had been experiencing life under a very kabbalistic lens, and felt very compelled to justify to myself anything I was doing, all the time. Is this really what G-d wants from me right now? Is there something more important I could be doing?

The Litvish Ravs were pushing us to come to their classes and learn their torah more, of course. I occasionally would, wondering, maybe this is what G-d wants me to learn. maybe that's why i'm here today.

On the other hand, it felt very much like a waste of time, re-learning things I already knew, but on a shallower level. Is it just my arrogance that makes me feel that way? How do I know if i'm learning the right Torah?

So I'd learn something else, and wonder, is this what i should be learning now? It's not so inspiring, is that just because i'm not really looking at it right?

And maybe I should be davening now instead... or working somehwere... Lord! what should I do?

And suddenly, the gall stone hit. And then, it was so clear what I had to do. So clear, that I laughed through the pain, and cried like a baby. I was free.

Suddenly, i didn't have to be holy any more. I wasn't allowed to be. I wasn't allowed to look at any holy books, or pray, or think about any Torah ideas at all. I was in the bathroom, pissing all the time, and Torah is forbidden there. How liberating!

Suddenly, I was less a mystical slave, and just a pissing robot, and all I could do was go through this stone. And with that freedom, lots of other things became clear.
Why I was born in williamsburg. The truth of health some how being totaly dominant over the truth of religion... why? If all this service is so divinely important, why should we give in to infirmiry, and ever let ourselves be prophane?

Because health is realer. Religion is just allegorical. Profound if you're doing it right, but health is actually What Is Happening, universally.

There's a talmudic maxim, there is no Torah from the Goyim, but there is wisdom. What's the difference? Torah is local tribal ritual and ethics, a personal language. Wisdom is universal. Torah can be learned from wisdom, and visa versa.
And what does it mean by wisdom? What is the wisdom that we are open to learning from the whole world?

Jewish culture traditionally is very closed to outside ideas and influence, or at least, it likes to try to be. Ideas from the outside culture are resisted, unless they can be given a good source for in the tradition. The assumption is that true morality, all of it, can be found and learned out from the corpus of Torah, while worldly ideas can be fleetingly popular and can be spread by corporate entities through ignorant people independant of reliable truth. Ideas have to be approved by your rabbi in order to be digested, is how it seems to work.

But medicine? Whatever they find out new, we'll take it, if it works. Maybe beecause medicine, unlike religion, can be proven and tested.

More to come on the jewish herbal medical tradition, and why there isn't any. And why marijuna brings the whole world together. (hint: because it's good.)


Anonymous moshe said...

you lifted me up through your journy in yeshivot but the drugs in the end smashed my spirits

2:24 PM

Blogger Tamara said...

I once encountered a man in Hawai'i who referred to reefer as Holy Sacrament. That's got to be about the best description I've ever heard.

3:07 PM

Anonymous The Bonger Rebbe said...

Yosef, well written. I really enjoy reading your blog. When do you get home to the Holy Land?

12:20 PM

Blogger Yoseph Leib said...

august 11th, im yirtza Allah. see you there, in time.

12:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the whole speech you give about not falling into Idolatry, and then proceed to praise getting whacked. As if getting high is not a form of it. The very fact that your rationalizing it and trying to find a way to make it "kosher" indicates you feel somethings not right. Listen you like to get stoned hey whatever but don't start creating wonderful BullS##t excuses for why your doing it. Also you might want to realize that insofar as medicine is concerned kashrut does not apply. There is a verse V'chai Bahem- "we live by them"- we don't die by them. Thus if one needs to take something that is not kosher in order to save their life it is permissable. While you may believe you've found G-d you have in fact found Maui wowie.

5:57 AM

Blogger Yoseph Leib said...

I'm not convinced that what I found was really the true Maui Wowie. I do, however, still pine and hope to find it one day.

5:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ignored everything I said din't you and only focused on the Maui Wowie thing huh?G-d Bless you dude.

3:03 AM

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

sclomo, moish & dovid! I knew these brothers. Hello, from William! Dovid: I miss your webpage.

1:50 AM

Blogger Yoseph Leib said...

hey william. where'd you know these fine people from?

4:25 AM


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