Have you ever considered the connections between Judaism and Chinese medicine? Probably not! It may surprise you to learn that the Jewish holidays coincide closely with basic tenets of Chinese medicine-both of which guide us toward more healthy and balanced lifestyles.
The yin and yang symbol, which represents balance, is probably the most well-known symbol in all of Chinese medicine. The black is yin, which signifies calm, darkness, night, and winter. The white is yang, which represents excitement, light, day, and summer. Within each half there is a dot of the other to emphasize the importance of being both yin and yang.
The seasons follow a yin and yang pattern. The winter is yin, when we should sleep more because it gets dark earlier. The summer is hot, and it stays light outside much later, so we have the opportunity to be more yang. How do we do that? Fortunately, the Jewish holidays help us achieve the perfect balance between the yin and yang of the seasons.
Last winter, we experienced one of the worst winters in Chicago history. It kept us inside for months, and forced us to be yin by taking advantage of the early sunsets and sleeping more. It was good for us, and it helped our bodies recuperate from the year. It is not bad to be yin. However, after the first month of the polar vortexes, we were all ready to let out our yang energy. Thankfully, during the winter we have our three most exciting, or yang, holidays: Chanukah, Tu b'shvat, and Purim.
During Chanukah, most families have parties, eat latkes, and dance around tables. Tu b'shvat involves eating tasty treats and celebrating our plants. On Purim, we dress up and go to carnivals. We get out of the house and enjoy a fun break from our shut-in, freezing winter.
Spring starts out yin and becomes more yang, so we should start to blossom just like the flowers by stretching to make our bodies more flexible and ready for the summer. Passover is during the spring, and helps us kick start our yang tendencies by staying up later during the Seders. On the second night of Passover, we also start counting the omer. We count 49 days until Shavuot, and build up our excitement for this day that the Jewish people blossomed into a nation by receiving the Torah.
The summer is (usually) hot and exciting-everything that yang represents. However, the summer has only somber holidays. There are two fast days-on the 17th day of Tammuz and on Tishah B'Av. Between these two days we observe the three weeks and the nine days which are days of mourning.
Mourning is very yin in nature, as it is reflective and quiet. These holidays help ensure that our summers are not too crazy, or too yang.
The fall has the most observant holidays and the temperature can be either hot or cold. It fluctuates between yin and yang, just like the holidays. We start the fall by saying selichot (repentance) before Rosh Hashanah. It's a time for us to start winding down from being yang and start to become yin.
When we start slowing down we have Yom Kippur, which is extremely yin. A week after Yom Kippur, we have Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which allow us to be yang again before the weather becomes cold and yin. The High Holidays help complete our balanced year.
It isn't easy to relax more in the winter and then transition to full speed in the summer, but the holidays help us achieve this balance. They ease us into a quiet winter and a loud summer. We should embrace the health benefits of the Jewish holidays and celebrate them with yin relaxation and yang excitement.
Dana Fine, a Oy!Chicago contributor, is owner of Dana Fine Acupuncture, LLC in Northbrook, and a board certified acupuncturist and herbal medicine practitioner. She loves Judaism and Chinese medicine, and is currently writing a book connecting the two. For more on Dana, visit www.danafineacu.com.