October 22, 2019

Psychics in the ’Hood

The author in the midst of meditation. Photo by Shlomo Bookstein

“Marcus, you are an idiot. I told you three times to stop doing that.”

My teacher had repeatedly told me not to pronounce the four-letter name of God out loud while we studied Kabbalah. I forgot. And on the third occasion, my nose started bleeding.

For years, I have been drawn toward psychic experiences. Through that pursuit, I have found a hidden network of Jewish energy healers in Pico-Robertson. Mainstream Judaism can seem at odds with their work, and because “psychic” tends to evoke images of carnival hustlers, most healers use the word “intuitive.” 

I regularly meet people who are starting to have intuitive experiences. As their ability awakens, they question how it fits with their Judaism, and few answers are readily available. One man told me he started seeing people’s auras. A woman described herself as an “empath” who could feel other people’s illnesses in her body when she walked into a room. (If someone had a pain in their right arm, her right arm would ache.) A more extreme case was a former girlfriend who was frequently woken up at night by her friends’ dead grandparents, who were asking her to send messages to their grandchildren.

Although there are many Jews involved in alternative healing and energy medicine, traditional Judaism recommends traditional medicine rather than holistic approaches. 

“The typical approach of halachic, normative Judaism is that you follow medical science,” Rabbi Elazar Muskin, of Young Israel of Century City and president of the Rabbinical Council of America, told me. “We follow a rational approach. This is the approach that most halachic authorities endorse and that I have always followed.”

Nevertheless, many Jewish seekers and healers are looking for answers.  

A frequent question I hear when teaching Jewish concepts is, “How can I become more psychic?” This is the wrong question. There are warnings around studying Jewish mysticism, and these warnings have merit. 

I once had a coaching client in Texas who previously hired a psychic teacher to help open his “third eye” through kabbalistic studies. He started hearing voices and ended up in a catatonic state, standing in the corner of the room. On two occasions, I took him to be admitted to a residential psychiatric unit. 

The danger of prying open psychic channels without God’s permission — that is, when it occurs naturally — is that it can be like turning on a television in your living room at full volume that you are unable to switch off. Whatever you are channeling can cause tremendous suffering.

There is a Jewish idea that HaShem gives us permission to see certain things at certain times. This is why we must not go looking for additional abilities. 

I have found this true from personal experiences that have ranged from very healing to very disturbing. I learned not to grasp for psychic abilities after I saw problems caused by this mindset. 

On one occasion, I was studying the sefirot (Divine energies) while writing my book “The Kabbalah Sutras,” and discovered that the sefirah of Gevurah (strength, discipline or restriction) can be used to channel wealth. For the next month, I meditated on this kabbalistic quality every day in a bid to increase my income. When I mentioned it to my teacher, he said, “Marcus, you are an idiot. Tell me, did you find that you got the opposite result? That your money dried up and you can’t pay the rent?” “Yes,” I replied. “How did you know?”

“Because the internal aspect of Gevurah is Din — judgment — and your lack of knowledge meant that you channeled down Divine Judgment for all of your deeds, thoughts and intentions … and you were judged unfavorably.”

“I regularly meet people who are starting to have intuitive experiences. As their ability awakens, they question how it fits with their Judaism, and few answers are readily available. One man told me he started seeing people’s auras.”

“Marcus, you are an idiot” became a regular refrain until I got the principles.

Things were out of control when, stupidly, I started playing with intuition and tried to psychically read people while walking down the street. My channels were open one night when I was walking home from a Shabbat dinner. I felt a sudden chill and two passing dogs started to bark at me. My tears welled up and a voice spoke through me, telling of a family who drowned in a shipwreck. Later, I looked into the bathroom mirror and saw a face I didn’t recognize staring back at me.

The next day, my teacher explained that these souls were just asking for help, so I should say Kaddish for them, read some psalms and light a yahrzeit memorial candle. This did the trick, but without a teacher I, too, may have been lost at sea. 

There is a massive difference between playing psychic games and using intuition for healing others. The majority of Jewish healers say it is God doing the healing, and they are merely the channel. 

Jill Moray Reichman belongs to The Happy Minyan on Pico Boulevard and is a medical intuitive. “I love working with Jewish clients,” she explained, “because I can incorporate Torah. It is comforting for religious people to work with a healer who is also an observant Jew, since I would not recommend doing something that is forbidden.”  

She told of working with a male client who liked gardening, and how she was “shown” through an intuition that he needed to create a specifically small space in which to create a private garden. “These specific dimensions sounded odd to me,” she recounted. “My client said that he had just finished learning a Mishnah that listed those exact dimensions for creating a garden. Feedback like that is thrilling.”

Different healers have different abilities. Dr. Shiri Rosenfeld, an Israeli naturopath living in Studio City, often helps clients using remote healing techniques. Her clairvoyance means that she frequently can see what may be in a client’s future, but often she holds back from sharing that information to respect that person’s free will. “HaShem is doing the healing work,” she stressed. “I am just the conduit, and I am lucky enough to be a part of it.”

The Torah prohibits seeking psychic powers, and the Bible tells how King Saul visited a psychic woman, requesting she resurrect his late mentor, the prophet Samuel. Things ended badly for the king, and we learn that consulting with the dead is prohibited, along with many types of clairvoyance (Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:9-12). 

The rabbis disagree on the permissibility of astrology, as the Talmud talks explicitly about rabbis who visited astrologers. Abraham was considered the world’s greatest astrologer, although after the Talmud explains how someone’s personality corresponds to the most influential planet on their birthday, it also stresses “there is no constellation for the Jews.” The Sefer Yetzirah, a cornerstone of kabbalah, discusses how astrological formations correspond with Hebrew letters.

That said, the Hebrew word for a constellation is “mazal” and “tov” means good, so “mazel tov” effectively blesses someone that the stars are aligned in their favor.

A higher level of intuition is “ruach hakodesh” (Divine wisdom), associated with many stories of supernatural phenomena over the centuries. 

The Baal Shem Tov (born in Ukraine in 1698) was a revolutionary who introduced kabbalah to the mainstream. He saved Jewish communities from destruction with the power of his prayers, exorcised demons and traversed great distances in impossibly short periods of time. 

The Baba Sali was a famous Moroccan kabbalist who died in 1984, and was renowned for bringing miraculous healings.

Possibly the most influential Jewish leader of the last century, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was renowned for Divine intuition and how he helped people through prophetic abilities.

In 1987, the Rebbe told the stock trader Rabbi Joseph Gutnick to dig for gold and diamonds in Australia. Gutnick became a billionaire.

In his book “Rebbe,” Joseph Telushkin tells of a man who needed advice and telephoned Schneerson. The caller didn’t give his name, and a message was passed via the Rebbe’s secretary. “Tell him that there is a Jew who lives in Maryland that he can speak to — his name is Weinreb,” the Rebbe said. The caller responded, “But my name is Weinreb!” “If that’s the case,” the Rebbe replied, “then he should know that. Sometimes one needs to speak to himself.”

Rabbi Moshe Levin of Bais Bezalel, the Chabad synagogue, quoting the 16th-century kabbalist Shelah, said that every person has divine intuition according to their deeds, but we have to be highly suspicious of someone who says they are gifted with Divine guidance. Jews are to “look for healing within nature rather than rely on miraculous intervention,” and use medicine that is 100 percent proven, based on natural laws rather than healing techniques based on superstition or other religions. This is the guidance of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a great halachic authority of our generation. 

The most important thing, Levin said, is to have a personal spiritual mentor, a mashpia rabbi, who can advise you with these circumstances. 

“The Torah prohibits seeking psychic powers, and the Bible tells how King Saul visited a psychic woman, requesting she resurrect his late mentor, the prophet Samuel.” 

Meanwhile, there have been Jewish energy-healing seminars at The Happy Minyan. Rabbi Ben-Zion Bar Ami is a popular teacher who trains people in healing arts, and he received a personal endorsement from Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri (1902-2006), a kabbalist who offered blessings and amulets that reportedly healed people and helped them find personal success.

Rabbi Bar Ami’s classes teach people how to use the four-letter Hebrew name of God to channel light and healing. Benson Simmonds is an energy healer and spiritual life coach who attended the trainings, and explained that “this is a kosher source of healing. [Bar Ami] teaches us kabbalistic protection methods to help ourselves and others, utilizing knowledge that we had centuries ago.”

Aaron Kemp also attended the training sessions and said Bar Ami “insisted that people never use these healing techniques in lieu of medical treatment.” Kemp enjoyed learning the rabbi’s techniques for astral travel and hands-on healing, but he found the greatest benefit was in strengthening his prayers when requesting healing for others.

Every classical martial arts system incorporates forms of energy medicine, and Rabbi Brandon Gaines combines these worlds. A practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine with a masterful knowledge of kabbalistic wisdom, he leads Da’ati, a Los Angeles-based outreach organization. He is also an expert martial artist who won over 160 medals as a teenager and starred in the 1995 movie “Superfights” at the age of 21. When asked about Jewish energy healing, Gaines was quick to respond that “nobody is questioning whether these phenomena exist or not. That has already been answered.” Instead, he pointed to the legendary Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (1534-1572), who was possibly the most famous kabbalist of the last millennia, known as the Ari — the lion.

“The Ari had unbelievable abilities,” Gaines said, “but his primary student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, explained that the Ari did not get his abilities through practical kabbalah or magical sources, but by rectifying his character, ‘tikkun ha-middot.’” 

How can someone distinguish between a genuine intuitive healer and a fake? One way is whether the person seems driven by ego and money rather than humility and a trust in God. (Although it is essential for a “karmic exchange”; that is, to pay someone for their time so as not to create an imbalance, unless it has been agreed that the healer is helping on a pro bono basis.) Another is whether the healer is willing to turn away prospective clients if the healer feels unable to help, rather than taking them on just for the financial rewards.

It also is essential that the healer has clear “protocols” — specific procedures to protect and cleanse themselves. If the healer is not able to recognize when a client’s energy is stuck to them, they may face problems of their own. I have heard many stories of healers who get burned out and fall ill because they have absorbed a client’s energy. This can be avoided.

Last week, I was approached by a woman in the community who had started doing energy healing, and she wondered if I could “spread the word” to help her get clients. I asked who her teacher was. She told me she didn’t have one but had been learning from a book. When I inquired what protocols she had for grounding before a client session and clearing any “stuck” energy after a session, she had no answer. I asked her how long she had been cultivating her art. “Six months,” was her reply.

“How are you feeling?” was my last question, and she replied that she had been very sick for the last four days and nights. This is a very common phenomenon when people set up shop without rigorous training or supervision.

One of my former teachers emphasized that when you help people heal, there is the danger of being like a coffee filter for them. Their negative feelings are transferred onto you. They walk away feeling great and you will feel sick, as happened to this person. This is similar to what Sigmund Freud described as “countertransference,” when a therapist becomes entangled in their patients’ feelings. This danger can be present when people start working in a therapeutic format without any supervision or training.

What can someone do if they have a bad intuitive experience and have concerns? An official Jewish response would be to seek professional medical advice and ask your local rabbi. Energy healing approaches might include basic clearing procedures like washing your hands or bathing using Epsom salt, going to a mikvah or burning a “clearing” natural substance like sage or palo santo wood. Dealing with more serious cases where there are psychological disturbances could include speaking with a parapsychologist who specializes in exorcisms. Although this has a great precedent within Jewish kabbalistic literature, there is nobody within the Jewish community I am aware of currently offering this service. 

As Jews, we can use mezuzot and tefillin for spiritual equilibrium, as defects can correspond to sicknesses. While I was in the intensive care unit, my tefillin were checked and found to be nonkosher. The top front left of the head-box was worn down. Meanwhile, the top front left of my head was exactly where I had two brain surgeries. The tefillin were repaired, as was my head.

Right now, I am finding the balance between formal medicine and alternative healing. Fourteen months after undergoing two brain surgeries, I am very aware that I would not be alive except for the benefit of traditional medicine. When I was hit by a car while walking across Olympic Boulevard, my first impulse was to go to my friend, Metuka Daisy Lawrence, who incorporates intuitive abilities as part of her teaching and consulting work. 

Over the years, I experienced powerful healing through Metuka’s guidance, and she helped heal physical issues that were previously undiagnosed by doctors. On that night, however, she quickly called Hatzolah of Los Angeles, the Jewish emergency medical service. They rushed me to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the rest is history.

Marcus J Freed is a Los Angeles-based actor. His website is marcusjfreed.com.