Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov on why there is more to Kabbalah than mysticism
As he offers me water, Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov chuckles softly behind his beard: “You don’t get coffee here.” He must have detected my cappuccino withdrawal symptoms. “Coffee,” he continues in a voice of friendly advice, “is a stimulant. It weakens the heart and the kidneys. Why should a person do this, if not an addiction? You must learn to stop it.”
My host is a member of an unusual collective, a kind of kabbalistic commune founded in Northern Israel 18 years ago, where he heads a centre of alternative medicine. We are sitting in the room of his London hotel during a recent visit when he ran sessions for British supporters who have just set up a charity here to promote his work.
The name of the collective is Or Haganuz (“Hidden Light”) and it is close to Meron, site of the tomb of the great second century mystic rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. With disarming simplicity, rabbi Asherov explains the principles which guide its 70 families. “The system of Kabbalah that we learn says that in order to practise the knowledge in a real way you have to create a society where everyone works for everyone. We join our income and nobody lacks anything.
“Love your fellow as yourself, this is the main idea. Rabbi Akiva says this is the greatest mitzvah. Rav Ashlag [the 20th-century Israeli Kabbalist] said love means giving. Only in society, a community, can you practise this.”
Despite his impeccable Orthodox dress, Rabbi Asherov grew up in a non-religious Israeli family. He pursued conventional medicine for four years at Tel Aviv University, studying physical therapy, before heading off for Boston, where he learned acupuncture for three years. He became interested in Judaism after looking “in many places”: discovering a book on reincarnation by the 16th-century sage rabbi Isaac Luria, he found “answers to a lot of questions that no one could answer before”.
Kabbalah, he says, is important today because it explains the “why” of the commandments, not just the “what to do” or “when”. Why you cannot eat a cheeseburger, for example, or wear clothes that mix wool and linen. Without this rationale, the Torah may seem “dry” or irrelevant to many growing up in a scientifically sophisticated age. The primary value “is to be connected to the Light of the Almighty. One must be the same as Him, like Hakodesh Baruch Hu [the Holy One, Blessed be He], like Hashem. He is only imparting, he is only giving. One must be a giver, not do for himself, but to do for others.”
And this involves giving and taking not simply in a material sense. When you gossip about another person, for example, you steal their reputation.
But more boldly, he believes Kabbalah to be “a set of laws that relate to every science, physics, chemistry, medicine, everything. If you want to understand the why of every science, you must learn Kabbalah. One cannot understand the laws of medicine if you don’t learn Kabbalah. It’s an extreme thing to say but I believe it’s the truth.”
The principle of Kabbalah “is wherever the Light illuminates, goes into the vessel, there you have happiness, a good life. Once you block the light, health cannot be there.”
A physical ailment reflects a lack or a blockage, which comes through “negative behaviour”, he says. “It can be on a physical level, eating or drinking the wrong things, or smoking. It can be on the emotional level when you have anger or frustration. It can be on spiritual level, by lying and gossiping. “If you can identify the blockage and make the necessary self-correction, “the body can repair itself from any disease”, he says. “If you do the right things, the body heals itself. It’s very easy.”
The way to deal with “bad things”, he argues, is “not to treat the bad things, but to put light into our system, to connect to the Light. For example, if you have darkness in the room, you don’t fight the darkness. You put on the light, there is no darkness. Every negative behaviour creates a hole, a lack in ourselves: in a place of lack, there is darkness.”
But he is critical of modern medicine dishing out pills to “shut the mouth” of the symptoms, as he puts it, rather than address the cause. Science may help diagnosis but “the sad thing”, he claims, “is that modern medicine doesn’t use science. They know what causes stomach ulcer, too much acids in the stomach. What is the solution for them? To give a material that neutralises the acid. This is a very foolish thing to do. They don’t ask themselves why this person has acids in the stomach. It’s because he eats a lot of protein from animals. If you give him something to neutralise the acid, this meat in the stomach will not digest, it will go into the intestine, rot and create problems there.
“What should you do? Stop eating meat. This is difficult for people. But this is the truth. They want a shortcut, to go on eating the same and not having pain in their stomach. So they eat the meat and drink the thing that neutralises the acid in the stomach. This worsens the problem.”
Having long taught in America, he is now visiting more in Europe. He spoke here at last year’s Lubavitch “Inspire” conference. The plan in London is to set up weekly classes which he can lead via website video.
“Physically you have everything here,” he says, “but spiritually...”
For further details, visit Haganuz UK