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The greatest psychotherapist in Boston doesn’t hold a faculty appointment at Harvard Medical School or charge four-hundred dollars per session.  That doesn’t stop Rabbi Naftoly Bier from teaching everyone how to smile.  One of his unorthodox—but time-tested—methods for helping people to overcome adversity is tasking a “patient” with delivering a gift to a person in need.  Often times this consists of bringing a warm meal to another member of the community who has a loved one being treated at local hospital.  By encouraging them to do chessed—acts of loving kindness—for other Jews in dire circumstances, Rabbi Bier helps his “patients” who are struggling with anxiety, anger, or depression to keep things in perspective.  This in turn facilitates the development of a sense of gratitude which is profoundly therapeutic.

I hadn’t been to an intensive care unit since my residency training and I didn’t miss it one bit.  But following an unexpected series of events, I just spent nearly a week in and out of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  The only thing louder than the beeping of hundreds of monitors and infusion pumps were the cries of parents who would rather be anywhere else on earth.  With the support of my family, friends, and rabbis, each day I experienced profound miracles and watched as our son recovered from a traumatic birth.


During this challenging time, a dear friend of mine went to get a blessing for my family from a great Rabbi in Israel called “The Rentgen.”  This very holy Rabbi told my friend, “The Jewish month is Kislev, the month of Hanukah and the month of miracles for the Jewish People.  This family will experience great miracles this month.”  I am tremendously grateful to have experienced open miracles and this has subsequently led me to revisit a fundamental question about The Festival of Lights.

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 21B) teaches that Hanukah marks the miracle that occurred when the Jewish army reconquered Jerusalem.  A single vial of oil was discovered uncontaminated and ready for use to light the Menorah in the Holy Temple and this tiny bit oil lasted for a full eight days until new replacement oil could be pressed for the Menorah.  Here I found myself asking a thousand-year-old question: if the oil that was discovered was enough to light the Menorah for one day, then only seven days were in fact miraculous as the first day’s fuel was guaranteed.  To this, Rabbi Bier told me, “everything is a miracle,“ including the fact that oil burns the way we are accustomed to.  This is one reason we celebrate for a full eight nights.

Due to the monotony of our daily routines, most of us come to take the most basic things for granted.  But one must never forget that while many of us breathe without difficulty, it certainly isn’t always the case for everyone.

In our family’s case, on the first day we were grateful to be alive even though it required a respirator.  On the second day we were grateful to be breathing on our own.  On the third day we were grateful to be seizure-free.  On the fourth day we were grateful to be infection-free.  On the fifth day we were grateful for a perfect MRI.  On the sixth day we were grateful to be drinking from a bottle.  And on the seventh day we were grateful to leave the unit without any respiratory issues in complete health.

With the unshakeable faith that G-d would bring us out together and healthy from this challenge, I have grown increasingly grateful for everything we’ve been given.  When people ask me how I’ve been feeling, I’ve been telling them the same thing: “Every day is the best day of my life.”  Certainly this was the case before spending time in the NICU, but just as Rabbi Bier always teaches, when one keeps things in perspective, they’ll always be grateful because they’ll know how much they have to be thankful for.

Hanukah is the perfect time to think about how miraculous it is that everything works the way we hope it will.  The oil in the Menorah burns, the furnace keeps our houses warm in the winter, and the refrigerator keeps our food fresh.  The sun rises every morning, gravity keeps us from floating away, and electromagnetic forces prevent us from disintegrating.  So when you light the candles with your family, friends, and loved ones this Hanukah, take it from me what a big miracle it is that everyone is breathing.  It shouldn’t be hard to remember to be grateful.

{This column is dedicated in the merit of our son Chanan Yehudah Yosef Chaim ben Yaakov Lev and written with deep appreciation for Rabbi Naftoly Bier of The Kollel of Greater Boston}

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Jacob L. Freedman MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in Jerusalem, Israel. He can be most easily reached via his website: