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Counting the Blessings of 2020: Seeing God’s ‘Light’ on Chanukah and Beyond

The year 2020 has brought with it an unprecedented need for emotional support, whether it be from family or friends, or a mental health professional. Dealing with emotional difficulties and mental illnesses, ranging from coping with the challenges of daily life and relationships to the impact of trauma, medical illness or loss, to specific mental disorders, like depression or anxiety, can be a long and difficult journey.

If the last nine months have taught us anything at all, it is how precious life is and to be grateful for the countless blessings in our lives. It is hard to believe it is mid-December and we are only a few weeks away from closing out the year, a year that many of us have joked is a year to “write off.”

But is it truly a year to write off?

As humans, there lives within us the deep-rooted desire to live an extraordinary life—a life of meaning and joy. If there was ever a year that challenged this desire, 2020 was it. Will you look back at 2020 and remember the quality time with family and friends, and new experiences, or will you remember the fear, anxiety and isolation?

Ultimately, what makes the difference between experiencing life in a beautiful state versus experiencing life in a state of suffering comes down to two things: focus and meaning.

Where we place our focus, and the meaning that we assign to our experiences, dictate the quality of our lives. Although we cannot control the events in our lives, we can control the meaning we assign to how we experience those events—meanings that will either create a sense of sadness and loss, or meanings that will create emotions of joy and celebration of life.

The human brain is wired to operate in survival mode, to look for loss so that it can protect us. Regrettably, the very thing that sets out to protect us can ultimately imprison us. It requires a conscious effort to override the programming and to change the stories we (subconsciously) tell ourselves. When we assign the meaning, we change our story, and we thus change the quality of our lives. In an instant.

Consciously working to shift our perspective from loss, from feelings of disappointment, sadness and anger, to appreciation, joy and compassion, opens the door to creating that extraordinary life that we deeply desire. Simply trading expectations for appreciation can make all the difference. When we let go of focusing on what we lack and instead find the meaning in the challenges we face, we free ourselves from a life of pain and suffering.

Appreciation is extraordinarily powerful. It is the key to transforming our emotional states from states of suffering to states of joy. It is no coincidence that we start our day with the modeh ani prayer. Many daily morning meditations are based on gratitude for this very reason. Beginning the day with gratitude sets us up to experience the day as it unfolds in a beautiful state—it enables us to look for good and find it, and to realize we have everything we need.

Reconfiguring our mindset is a daunting task, leading many to wonder if our thoughts really can control our emotions—or if our emotions govern our thoughts. The truth is that it is up to us to decide. We can choose the emotional state in which we experience life. After all, the happiest people don’t have the best of everything—they make the best of everything. We may find ourselves getting stuck in sadness, pain, anxiety, fear, disappointment or loneliness, and wonder why that is. It is not intuitive, but we are subconsciously addicted to these negative emotions, and we use moments in our lives to return to them. All is not lost. Thankfully, we have the power within us to transform our emotional state. We can control how we feel, by thinking one better feeling thought at a time, followed by another better feeling thought… we can harness the power of thought to shift out of our suffering state into a beautiful one. Therapy is an immensely helpful tool in guiding us in this transformation.

There is no time more apt to transform our mindset than Chanukah, the holiday of miracles. Chanukah, and even more so the last night of Chanukah, Zos Chanukah, is a particularly auspicious time for nissim. The power of the ohr of the menorah in particular is brought down in many sources. The essence of the holiday is that it specifically takes place at night, and during the darkest time of the month, when the moon is small and shrinking, because the light of Chanukah is the antidote to the darkness we face both collectively as a nation in exile, and in our darkest times and as individuals. The Gemara states, “Mitzvat Chanukah Ner Ish U’Vaito” and the mehadrin level, “ner l’chol echad v’echad”—for each individual in the home to light their own menorah.

The Nesivos Shalom explains that although we experience yisurim, suffering, related to our homes, family relationships and within ourselves, we have the mitzvah of ner Chanukah, to light up the darkness in our homes, and within ourselves. With the light of the menorah, God reveals to us, “imo anochi b’tzarah,” that He is with each of us in our suffering and in our darkest circumstances. It is for this very reason that the Rambam states that lighting the menorah is a mitzvah “chaviva hi ad meod” (loved very much)—language not used to describe any other mitzvah.

May the light of the menorah remind us that God is always with us, and may it spark a path to joy and healing,

Wishing you a Frielichin Chanukah.

*A special credit goes to Tony Robbins’ conference, “Unleash the Power Within,” which provided many of the concepts in this article.


Alanna Apfel is the founder and a patient advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy, which helps therapy patients, individuals, couples and children, negotiate with their insurance plans to collect reimbursement, almost in full, for out-of-network therapy. Reimbursements range from $150 to $350 per session. In the months that AA Insurance Advocacy has been advocating on behalf of patients, our clients have received anywhere from $5,000 to $45,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. For further information, please contact [email protected].

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