The Miracle of Breathing
Hanukkah reminds us how grateful we must be that everything works.
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 my 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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. If the oil was enough to light for one day, then only seven days were in fact miraculous as the first day's fuel was guaranteed.
The answer: Everything is really a miracle, including the fact that oil burns the way we are accustomed to.
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 that our tiny newborn was alive even though he required a respirator. On the second day we were grateful that he was breathing on his own. On the third day we were grateful that he was seizure-free. On the fourth day we were grateful he was infection-free. On the fifth day we were grateful for a perfect MRI. On the sixth day we were grateful he was 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 God 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: “Every day is the best day of my life.” This is especially true after spending some time in the NICU.
Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah, take it from me what a big miracle it is that everyone is breathing. Remember to be grateful.
This is dedicated in the merit of my son Chanan Yehudah Yosef Chaim ben Yaakov Lev and my wife Tovah bat Sarah and written with deep appreciation for Rabbi Naftoly Beir of The Kollel of Greater Boston.