How a 12-Word Prayer Helped Restore My Vision

The lunar month of Tammuz is considered the month of the eyes. According to Sefer Yetzira, the foundational book of Jewish mysticism, we are told of the opportunity to rectify our sight. We are called to see the good in others and in ourselves. Every year on Tammuz I reflect on my story and continue to do the work to strengthen my goodly eye and my vision of the world.

Have you ever gotten up so quickly that you felt a bit wobbly and maybe even lost your vision for a second? In 2009, I visited an emergency walk-in clinic because I had lost vision in my left eye for over an hour.

At that point, I was in the 12th grade and had been losing vision in my left eye, up to 15 minutes at a time, for the previous three years. Looking back, I can safely say I was actively angry with Hashem (G-d) and in protest. For two years I had been fiddling around with the concept of being agnostic. Nonetheless, within minutes of arriving at that clinic, I started talking to Hashem and said, “If you help me now with my eye, I won’t ever stop talking to you again.”

I did receive an ocular migraine diagnosis from one doctor a year before, but that never really checked out. No one really ever dared to ask what was happening to me before I would lose vision. If someone had asked me, I would have said that I was having a panic attack and being swallowed whole by anxiety, anger, and worry. I was 17 years old and lacked the help, resources, and tools needed to calm my nervous system; therefore, I was dealing with hormones, teenage drama, and intergenerational trauma on my own. 

As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I now understand that I was dealing with a psychosomatic disorder — a psychological condition that leads to physical symptoms, often without any medical explanation. In my case, the chronic anxiety I was suffering from was leading to temporary vision loss. After I left the emergency walk-in clinic with my vision restored, I knew I had to keep my word to Hashem. It was on that day that I decided to go to Israel for my gap year. It was at that moment that I turned my life around. I stopped running away from my pain; I started to crave tending and healing my pain.

Nonetheless, I continued to experience small bouts of vision loss in my left eye. In 2012, I was referred to a very special acupuncturist who was living in Jerusalem at the time. I was treated in the wood element to treat my liver. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver meridian is most affected by stress or emotion, resulting in irritation and imbalances in vision. The Liver meridian supports the free flow of energy and circulation through the eyes, as well as throughout the body. We then focused my treatment on perspective by strengthening my awareness of my vision and connecting it to how I see the world around me. 

Maturing my perspective pushed me to slow down and reflect on the positive aspects of life; this was a major catalyst in shifting my perspective towards a more constant flow of gratitude. It enabled me to step back and “see” the bigger picture. This helped me reset from two common thinking traps:

  • Externalization: blaming everyone and everything for my problems.
  • Tunnel Vision: being unable to detach from one viewpoint; thus, taking things for granted and forgetting the blessings that I have. 

As the Baal Shem Tov said, “The world is full of wonders and miracles, but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing.” 

Thanks to skillful acupuncture treatment, I went eight months without losing vision in my eye. I ended up moving to New York and still had scattered incidents with minor vision loss. However, I learned how to calm my body to make the vision come back within seconds. 

For the record, turning my life around took a lot of work, dedication, and commitment to repeatedly starting over. These fresh starts can be really uncomfortable, but it’s often necessary for growth and progress. By starting every day anew, we can reassess our priorities, and make changes that can lead to a better outcome. 

As part of my gratitude practice, each morning I recite the Modeh Ani, a Jewish gratitude prayer to be said upon waking.

This prayer has 12 words: 

 מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקיים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה רבה אמונתך

Modeh ani lefanekha melekh chai vekayam shehechezarta bi nishmati b'chemlah, rabah emunatekha.

 I thank You, living and enduring King, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is your faithfulness.

In Hebrew, the Modeh Ani literally begins: “Thank you, I.” The point is that the very first word out of your mouth should be one of gratitude. The word mode also means to surrender. Only once we surrender to the bigger picture of the oneness of the world can we focus on who we really are, what we are capable of, and who we want to be.

I am pleased to report that after consciously taking on the Modeh Ani Prayer with kavanah (intention) of opening my eyes with gratitude, I have not experienced any vision loss in several years — bli ayin harah. So, if you find yourself in a mode of starting over again, embrace the opportunity for growth and keep moving forward. May the lunar month of Tammuz activate your ability to see the blessings even in challenging times.

At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.


Modeh Ani: Beginning the Day with Gratitude, My Jewish Learning

How a 12-Word Prayer Helped Restore My Vision
Shely Esses-Strom
Shely Esses-Strom

Shely Esses is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in sex therapy. Shely is passionate about helping people feel comfortable in their body. Shely uses an Experiential-Holistic approach in all of her professional endeavors. Find her on Instagram at @shelyrachel.lmft or online at shelyrachel.wixsite.com/shelyrachel.

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