Scripture gives us two wonderful descriptions of purifying bitter water, from which we can learn about the healing process in general. The first instance narrates the arrival of the Children of Israel at Mara after three days in the Shur Desert without water:

...but they could not drink any water there because the water was bitter...and the people complained to Moses. "What shall we drink?" they demanded. When [Moses] cried out to G‑d, He showed him a certain tree. [Moses] threw [a small branch of] it into the water, and the water became drinkable.

It was there that [G‑d] taught them a decree and a law, and there He tested them. He said, "If you obey G‑d your L-rd and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His Commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am the G‑d Who heals you. (Ex. 15:23-25)

In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbeinu Bachya quotes the Talmud Sages who say that originally the water had been fresh. It turned bitter (as an additional test in the series of trials in the desert) and then was made sweet again by a bitter branch.

Another example that Rabbeinu Bechayeh gives of water desalination is found when Elisha comes to Jericho after the miracles of Elijah ascending to Heaven and the Jordan River splitting open:

And the men of the city said to Elisha, "Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord may see; but the water is bad, and the ground causes untimely births."

And [Elisha] said, "Bring me a new flask and put salt in it."

And they brought it to him. And they went out to the spring of waters, and cast salt in there, and said, "Thus says the L-rd, I have healed this water; there shall not be from there any more death or miscarriages." So the water was healed to this day, according to the saying of Elisha... (II Kings 2:19-22)

Human beings heal bitterness by sweetening it, but G‑d heals bitterness with bitterness.

Rabban Gamliel exclaims in the Mechilta:

How more wondrous are His deeds and ways than the ways of mortals... He put the polluting agent into the polluted material to perform a miracle within a miracle.

Human beings heal bitterness by sweetening it, but G‑d heals bitterness with bitterness.

From the above two citations a number of important points can be raised:

1)The water was healed by the law of similarity, which means that "like cures like."

2) A small amount (one small branch or a small flask of salt) is enough to purify a large quantity of water.

3) One dosage of the healing agent is sufficient. Repetitive or complex processes are not necessary.

4) The Torah discusses healing immediately after this incident at Mara. In a continuous text the Torah describes the process of healing the water, then it proclaims this process a law, and then it connects this law to the cure of human diseases. The fact that water composes two-thirds of the human body makes this textual connection very interesting. The water in the human body is divided into cells separated by thin membranes so that there is no physiological or biochemical process in the body, either in health or disease, which does not occur through the medium of water. Despite the fact that Moses learned a new technique of healing (some claim that he was given the secrets of herbal healing), in this passage the Torah emphasizes the importance of preventive medicine. Preventive medicine in this context means following G‑d's ways and Commandments so that "I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am the G‑d Who heals you."

Conventional Western medicine is antipathic — it prescribes medicines that oppose and suppress the symptoms of the patient.

Spiritual Disease and Cure

Kabbala matches the 248 positive mitzvot (Commandments) with the 248 organs of the human body and the 365 negative mitzvot with the 365 tendons. As explained in Sefer Charedim, violation of a mitzva (Commandment) can cut off the flow of Divine energy (or the eternal holy light clothed in the human vessels). This cutting off is called nittuk in Hebrew. Following nittuk, disease or symptoms needing repair can set in. Repair in Hebrew is tikun. (Note that nittuk and tikun contain the same three consonants but in different order. Also of note here is that the word mitzva comes from the same root as tsevut [reconnect]. In our context, tsevut means the reconnection between above and below, or the upper waters and the lower waters, as will be explained later.)

The Three Western Approaches to Healing

What can we learn about healing from the preceding principles?

The first principle is curing through giving a substance that causes symptoms similar to that of the malady which we want to heal. This type of treatment is called homeopathic. Throughout history three major approaches have been developed for the application of medicinal materials: homeopathy, isopathy, and antipathy. The prefix "homeo" means similar, "iso" means equal, and "anti" means opposite, while the suffix "pathy" means suffering. Thus, homeopathy means healing through similar suffering; isopathy means healing through identical suffering; and antipathy means healing through opposite suffering.


Conventional Western medicine is based on the antipathic approach. It prescribes medicines that oppose and suppress the symptoms of the patient. For example, aspirin is given to suppress pain and lower fever; diuretics, to reduce edema; anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medicines, to fight inflammation, digitoxin to slow the pace of a fast heart and to strengthen the contractions of a weak heart; antidepressants to relieve depression; antipsychotic drugs to relieve psychotic symptoms, and so on. This type of cure is also called suppressive therapy.

The philosophy behind antipathic medicine is a materialistic conception of the human being as a configuration of atoms that has evolved from plants to animals to man. The human being is conceived of as an extremely complex physico-chemical machine with a great variety of chemical reactions and neuro-hormonal feedback mechanisms which are said to explain everything that happens to a person in health and sickness, from "simple" phenomena such as digestion, breathing, and excretion to more complex phenomena such as sensory perception, reproduction, and even feelings like shame, fear, love, faith, patriotism, and so on.

According to antipathic medicine, health is the proper functioning of the machine, while disease is a dysfunction caused by a surplus or deficiency of a certain substance requiring chemical intervention by medicine or physical intervention by surgery, radiation, and so forth. In this model (which must be emphasized is a model) there is no room for a non-material essence because the entire universe is perceived of in terms of the eighteenth-century classical physics perception of nature as a gigantic machine. This type of conceptualization uses molecular models to explain all human phenomena.

A good example of isopathy is immunization — the patient is usually given the pathogen of the disease, weakened or dead virus.


The second approach, which conventional Western medicine makes limited use of, is isopathy. A good example of isopathy is immunization. Here the patient is usually given the pathogen of the disease, which in most cases is a weakened or dead virus. This is said to arouse the immune system of the patient against that particular virus. Thus, this form of healing can be defined as stimulation therapy.

In administering an immunization, the second principle listed above is applied — the use of small dosage. The Arnold Shultz Law in pharmacology states that every pharmacological drug has three dosage ranges: lethal, suppressive, and stimulating. Lethal range, the highest dosage, produces side effects and can be toxic or even fatal. Suppressive or therapeutic range, the medium dosage, suppresses the problem which it is meant to cure and is thought to be the therapeutic range of the medicine. The degree of safety of a medicine corresponds to the broadness of its therapeutic range. Stimulating range, the small dosage, is considered by conventional medicine not to have any effect or to arouse a reaction similar to that of immunization. We shall discuss now the use that homeopathy makes of the principle of the small dosage.

Spiritual in essence, the vital force maintains and vitalizes the physical human body at all times.


Homeopathy is a holistic method and philosophy of treatment initiated by Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor, two hundred years ago (1745-1843). Hahnemann was an exceptional personality, considered to be a genius. Among the seven languages he spoke were Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. A physician and a chemist, he had a deeply religious, spiritual outlook.

In order to reduce side effects, he started to dilute the medicinal substances in water by vigorously shaking the mixture between one dilution and the next. (This procedure is called 'dilution and succussion', or 'potentization.' We know today that dilution without vigorous shaking does not produce the necessary effect.)

Amazingly, Hahnemann noticed that proportionately the more he diluted and shook vigorously, the fewer side effects appeared in the patients (as was expected), while the stronger and deeper was the therapeutic effect of the cure (a surprising result not expected). After many years of precise experimentation and observation, testing hundreds of substances and meticulously recording all the details, he reached the conclusion that there is a vital force in every human being. Spiritual in essence, the vital force maintains and vitalizes the physical human body at all times. (Compare this idea to the passage in the Jewish morning prayers, "[G‑d] renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation.") The vital force has a precise hierarchy of physiological and psychological expressions. When harmed by an external stimulus, the vital force creates a repairing and balancing response. A healthy strong person does not feel his vital force reacting until its response is no longer effective. Then a physical or emotional symptom will appear, indicating the struggle that is going on. The symptom should direct our attention to correcting the problem. Since the vital force is spiritual in nature, it can be influenced only on the level of energy and spirit, which cannot be detected by the human senses or by laboratory equipment (microscopic or otherwise). Hahnemann laughed at the doctors of his generation who tried to find the cause of disease in the dark recesses of the body. He claimed that only results, not causes can be found within the body. Using his understanding of the human being, health, disease, and cure, he formulated his principles of healing in a six-volume work entitled The Organon of Medicine. Most of these principles closely resemble those of the Torah outlined at the beginning of this article.

These shared principles are:

1) The law of similarity. Similia similibus curentur. (Let like cure like.) In the words of Rabban Gamliel, "He put the polluting agent into the polluted material to perform a miracle within a miracle."

Or, in the words of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, in his Sefer Ha'Likutim under the subject refua, referring to the verse "For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the L-rd" (Jeremiah 30:17): G‑d does not work as mortals work. Man wounds with a knife and heals with a bandage, but G‑d wounds and heals with the same thing.

2) A single dose of high potentization is sufficient in most cases to bring about long term physical and emotional healing processes.

3) One dosage of the healing agent is sufficient. Repetitive or complex processes are not necessary.

4) There is only one homeopathic medicine appropriate for the condition and personality of each patient. This principle is called "single remedy" or "constitutional prescribing."

5) The experimentation used to develop homeopathic medicines is conducted on healthy people. This type of experimentation is called "proving." Homeopathy places prime importance on the subjective composition of a disease, i.e., on the feelings of the patient and on the specific form in which his disease is expressed, in contrast to other patients with a similar disease or complaint.

6) Every homeopathic remedy undergoes a process of dynamization, which liberates the vital spiritual substance from the original material substance. This spiritual essence is what causes symptoms to appear in the procedure of "proving" described in principle 5 above. The spiritual essence is also the agent which arouses the healing processes during illness.

The main criticism leveled against homeopathy by the conventional medical establishment is that the extended series of dilutions of homeopathic medicine go far beyond the Avogadro number, which is, roughly speaking, the number of molecules there were of the substance before we started diluting it.

Water has a unique but unclear property of carrying within it the memory or internal form of any solute substance introduced into it.

Classical homeopathic remedies are usually diluted 30 times or more at a ratio of 1/100, thus - so far as contemporary science understands dilution - there cannot be any of the active principle left to do the work. Consequently, from the point of view of conventional medicine, homeopathic remedies have a placebo effect only.

The Unique Properties of Water

A number of experiments have been conducted in the past and in recent years both on veterinary and laboratory animals and on human beings that prove that homeopathic medicine works beyond the placebo effect. (See the bibliography in the original article.)

From all the studies [about water - cited in the original article], it is apparent that water has a unique but unclear property of carrying within it the memory or internal form of any solute substance introduced into it. Like a fingerprint, this form is characteristic of the solute substance. In homeopathy we see that every element in Creation has an idea or internal essence that can physically and spiritually influence human beings in a characteristic manner and likewise arouse healing processes in corresponding personality types. This internal essence is liberated from the material substances by a series of dilutions and shaking in water. In the end the remedy contains only water with a "trace" or "memory" of the solute. This water becomes "living water" because it carries within it the vitality of the original solute substance in a more purified, more distilled and more energetic form.

The Torah is compared to water; water is compared to loving-kindness and to wisdom

Reuniting the Lower and the Upper Waters and Liberating the "Light"

It is not by coincidence that water has a central place in Kabbala and Chasidism, where a certain similarity to the phenomena described above can be found. The Torah is compared to water; water is compared to loving-kindness; and in other places, to wisdom. The Tzemach Tzedek discourses in depth on water and its function in the creation of the worlds in his exegesis on the following midrash:

When G‑d created His universe, it was entirely waters in waters. The upper waters were higher wisdom; the lower waters were lower wisdom. Before the Creation of the universe they were mixed one in the other, and at the Creation of the world they were separated. "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate waters from waters." And lower wisdom descended below while higher wisdom did not descend...

The Tzemach Tzedek comments that our world was made from the lower wisdom ("You made everything out of wisdom") through involving lower wisdom in the act of Creation. Lower wisdom receives vitality from higher wisdom, only in contraction and in the right amount in order to exist. Thus every material element in our world has a higher root in the wisdom of the Creator, and this root is the source of constant vitality (As we say in our morning prayer, "His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation."). Everything in the Creation is wisdom or "light" of the Creator clothed in a "vessel." It is possible to suggest that submerging any material substance into water and further vigorously shaking it up and down, followed by continued dilutions in water and again shaking and diluting gradually liberates the "light" and preserves it in a more subtle, refined form in water, thus enabling it to be used in ever greater potency for healing.

Adapted from the original article and reprinted with kind permission from B’Or HaTorah vol. X (1997), pp. 41-47.