The Liver Function: Insight from Judaism & Oriental Medicine
Updated: Jan 5
While studying Chinese Medicine, I ascertained that every organ has not only physical functions, but spiritual and emotional functions as well. Each organ has the potential to represent a positive or a negative trait for every individual. The liver can symbolize ideas and visions that drive us to achieve our dreams, or it can signify frustration, stagnation and anger resulting from disappointment.
Liver & Sleep: striking familiarity between Judaism and Chinese Medicine.
The Jewish sages teach that when a person sleeps, his or her Neshama, the soul, rises from the body and goes to shamayim, the heavens to give an account of that day’s actions. This concept is so enforced in daily Jewish life that we liken sleep to one sixtieth of death. When we awake, we have risen from a slight form of death and wash our hands with water, negel vasser, to remove the small amount of tum’ah, impurity, caused by the brief absence of the Neshama. According to traditional Chinese medicine, many factors contribute to peaceful sleep. One of the actions which the body performs while falling asleep is gathering all the blood of the body to the liver. Afterwards, the emotional (spiritual) aspect of the liver, called the hun, leaves the body and goes up to the heavens until the person wakens. ........Aren't these beliefs so similar .....
Emotional / Spiritual everlasting aspect of the Liver called The Hun & The Neshama
The Neshama is what differentiates the human from the animal. The Neshama is the part of us that lives forever. Raised as an Orthodox Jew, I’ve known about the Neshama all my life, and I was surprised to learn that the ancient Chinese physicians also had an understanding of the Neshama. They knew of an aspect of humans that could be everlasting 'The Hun'.
The translation the Chinese give to the hun is 'Ethereal' celestial soul. The Chinese believe that this aspect is the part of the person that never dies. The hun is defined by those who remember the actions of the deceased through the things that he or she accomplished while alive. They say that since the memory lives, the person continues to live.
The secular community would say that William Shakespeare has a large hun,
while we would say that Rashi has a great big hun.
Even our Chachamim and Torah teachers who have been dead for hundreds of years are still referred to as presently living...Rashi says this, The Rambam states that...
Jews also believe that the Neshama, once departed from this world, is nourished by the mitzvos that the person had performed while alive ( or continue to be done by others in that person's name ie kadish, charity...). In our community, the holier the person, the more intensely he or she is remembered.
Liver and Anger Management
There are more parallels between the traditional Chinese understanding of the liver and Jewish teachings. The liver is an organ that becomes consumed by emotion. In Megilas Eicha 2:11 it is written: "My eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, at the shattering of my people..." The Me’am Loez explains that emotional suffering damages the organs. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine it is taught that if one is depressed or angry, the practitioner should seek to soothe the liver as the main treatment.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the liver’s function is to control the free flow of the blood and energy to the various parts of the body. The liver is compared to the general of an army. The liver takes stock of the ‘troops” of available energy and blood and directs their actions.
Like all plans, something can go wrong. When we encounter obstacles to proposal, we get frustrated, upset and angry. The emotion of anger is the negative aspect of the liver. When the free flow of the liver is blocked, there is the potential for rage.
The Gemara states: "The liver causes anger; the gall (bladder) throws a drop into it and quiets it" (Ber. 61).
To quote Rabbi Eliezer Irons : “The Zohar equates one who gets angry to one who serves avodah zarah".
The Baal HaTanya explains that anger is aroused by dissatisfaction with circumstances or events. Since all events are under the control of Hashem, anger is tantamount to denial that Hashem is in control of all.
Therefore what right one has to get angry?”
Conversely, the positive aspect of the liver is flexibility in vision. The liver belongs to the wood category. Just as a tree can incorporate structures into its growth and its branches grow toward the sky, someone who is driven by their ideas can always find ways to circumvent obstacles and move onward.
Imagine being faced with an important task and something prevents you from accomplishing it. You are faced with a decision. You can either get angry and as a result, say or do something counterproductive to the goal, or you can see an opportunity to approach the problem from a different perspective and continue to reach your ultimate objective. This is the test of the liver.
Building our “Hun”& Refining our Middos
The Yetzer Harah, the desire to do evil, is constantly testing us. Do we allow our liver energy to become stagnant, or do we commit an act of self control and push towards the target? Building our “hun” is how the ancient Chinese referred to our refining our middos and being inspired by our Neshamos.
Esther Hornstein LAc. Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Therapist
Esther Hornstein L.Ac. licensed by New York State to practice acupuncture and nationally board certified by the NCCAOM. Her private practice is in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.
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