Arts & Culture


At my son’s eighth grade graduation ceremony, his class sang a song in which “hallelujah” was repeated so many times that I almost shouted “Hallelujah!” when it was, mercifully, finally over.  What made it somewhat bearable was remembering something my … Read More

By / June 24, 2009

At my son’s eighth grade graduation ceremony, his class sang a song in which “hallelujah” was repeated so many times that I almost shouted “Hallelujah!” when it was, mercifully, finally over.  What made it somewhat bearable was remembering something my friend, Sharon (of blessed memory), once told me during one of our lunch outings at our diner on Broadway.  “When you sing hallelujah, there are certain syllables, like ‘la’ ‘la,’ that lift your palate which sends an enjoyable message to your brain, sort of like the one you get when you have an orgasm.”   She was absolutely serious and, though I’ve never been able to corroborate this, I believe her. 

Every other day new, scientific research reveals that another ordinary, everyday thing is, if not orgasmic, pretty darn close.  There’s chocolate, with its “neuroactive alkaloids” which affect the pleasure center in the brain.  And red wine, which protects you from diabetes, lung cancer, aging and telephone solicitors from yeshivas in Brooklyn.  (Okay, it doesn’t protect you from the telephone solicitors, but wine makes you less cranky when they call.)   One of my favorites is a relatively new study that discovered that Botox increases one’s happiness.  Apparently, even if you aren’t happy, if you look happy, it makes you actually feel happy.  I guess that proves that internal happiness is overrated and there’s something to be said for faking it, after all.  Likewise, I’ve read:  smiling even if you don’t mean it, even if it’s not a genuine smile, releases endorphins and relieves tension; laughing increases T-cell antibodies and decreases stress and pain; sunshine chases away depression; having friends who live close by boosts happiness immeasurably; and people who pray live longer, have lower blood pressure, less depression and less heart disease.

My friend, Felicia, recently gave me a “head massager,” a weird contraption with copper wires that looks sort of like a small rake with the prongs in a circle.  Her son, Tristan, told her that he learned in science class that a head massage is 1/60th of an orgasm.  (This is far more useful scientific information than dissecting frogs has turned out to be.)  Indeed, simply scratching one’s head touches all sorts of nerve endings and acupressure points on the scalp.  This brings me to an article written by a non-Jewish author in the Chinese Journal of Medicine.  He did research and claims that the Jewish prayer phylacteries – two small leather boxes attached to a wide, leather strap, one of which is placed on the biceps of the weaker arm and the second on the head, with the leather straps wrapped in a proscribed way –  are in contact with exactly the points at which the acupuncture needles are inserted in order "to increase spirituality and to purify thoughts."   Apparently, thousands of years before the Jewish love affair with mushu chicken, there was a Chinese-Jewish connection.

Prayer has been a part of a number of studies, some of which have concluded that sick people who, without their knowledge were prayed for, fared better than those who were not prayed for.  The studies are inconclusive, but if true, prayer falls in the Botox category – something external can trigger a real internal response.  And that, in turn, brings me back to the eighth grade “hallelujahs.”  It’s a Hebrew word that means, “Praise (halel) God (yah),” and it appears often in the book of Psalms.  The word “psalms” in Hebrew is mizmorim, “something sung”, and indeed, the psalms were meant to be sung.  But the name of the book in Hebrew isn’t Mizmorim but Tehilim, Praises.  When someone is sick, it’s considered beneficial to recite certain tehilim on his or her behalf.   There’s a fine line between words being used as an incantation (like abracadabra, a word that might be derived from Aramaic, avda kedavra, “What was said has been done.”) to affect change, or words used as a supplication to God to hear and to intervene. 

Why psalms?  Well, again and again they pointedly remind God that “death holds no mention of You” (Psalms 6).  In other words, the dead can’t worship You, so keep me alive so I can sing Your praises.   I like this ever so subtle way of appealing to God’s vanity.

Admittedly, I collect arcane information that supports my current views and practices, and I ignore anything that might challenge it.  This works for me.   But whether this all holds up scientifically or not, I strongly recommend having chocolate for breakfast, drinking red wine for dinner, and in between smile, laugh, sit in the sunshine, have a little Botox, a nice head massage, pray for one another, and sing hallelujah.  Can’t hurt.