How Yossi Hecht and Asher to the Yatzar — Praise to the Creator — are changing the world
Happy Chanukah! During these eight special days, we focus on lehodos u'lahellel, on thanking and praising Hashem, for the miracles He has shown us — bayamim hahem, in the time of the Greeks, and also, b'zeman hazeh, in our times. Today, we're going to meet Yossi Hecht, the incredible person who has made lehodos u'lahellel a daily practice and brought it into the hearts of Jews everywhere. Read on to find out how Yossi and Asher to the Yatzar — Praise to the Creator — are changing the world.
Have you ever heard the following expression?
You don’t appreciate it until it hurts.
It’s true that many of us often don’t value and appreciate every part of our body that is in top form, working behind-the-scenes, 24/7, to keep us healthy and comfortable.
When do we remember?
When it’s hurt or injured. When something goes wrong.
We think about our teeth when a tooth aches, and about our tongue when we burn it. When was the last time we gave any thought to the many hormones in our bloodstream, or our sugar and insulin levels? Our ears and hearing, our eyes and our vision, our ability to walk, and talk, and sit comfortably, without pain? Our ability to use the bathroom, to eat, to breathe, to grow, and to stop bleeding when we get a small cut?
But there are people who think about these things. There are people who do appreciate the blessings so many of us are unaware of.
Can we become one of them? Can we be the kind of people who remember and appreciate Hashem’s continuous wonders in our bodies… even when nothing hurts?
What’s the trick? How can we do that? It’s like our living room couch. We don’t give it much thought, but if it were to disappear or break, it would bother us. When our thumb moves without pain, we don’t think about it either… is there a way to change that?
Drumroll please, because yes, there is a way! Mishpacha Jr. has teamed up with Asher to the Yatzar and a group of amazing kids to show you how.
Our first step will be meeting Yossi Hecht, the extraordinary bochur who spearheaded the Asher to the Yatzar movement (read on for details). Yossi is the youngest of eight — he has seven older sisters as well as, ka”h, six nephews and two nieces. He is a really good juggler and juggles fire at weddings ! Here’s Yossi’s story, as he told it to me.
In the beginning…
It all started in the spring. I was having stinging pains in my left leg, and my orthopedist (bone doctor) advised me to use a leg brace. But the brace didn’t help the pains. They just got worse.
A few weeks later, I turned 21. The pain in my leg was getting worse. One Shabbos, the pain was really bad. I was supposed to go to yeshivah camp on Sunday, but I said to my mother, “I can’t go. I can’t move. This pain is so bad.” My parents took me to the pediatrician. I limped behind them into the office. He examined me, asked a few questions, and then told us to go to the emergency room. I couldn’t figure out why he looked so concerned. All I wanted was for him to fix my leg so I could go to camp.
Instead of heading off to camp, we headed to the ER. My parents came with me to the hospital. The doctors sent me for an MRI, which is an imaging scan with which doctors can see inside the body. My pediatrician told my parents: “He needs that MRI. Get that MRI.” So we did whatever we could to speed things up. B’chasdei Hashem, one of my friend’s cousins is a doctor, and she was able to push us to the top of the waiting list so we wouldn’t have an endless wait for the MRI. I’d almost never been sick my entire life, and I was a little nervous. A frum doctor came and asked me loads of questions. He was super serious. I couldn’t understand why. I wanted him to lighten up, to tell him, “You don’t need to be so serious, I’m fine, can I go to camp now?”
They told me I had to undergo a full brain-spine MRI, that would scan most of my body. I said, “It’s my leg that hurts!” At that point, my left lower leg was totally numb, but I didn’t know how serious that was. The day before, my leg had been hurting so badly that I tied the brace super tight, and I thought that I’d caused the numbness. Turned out that actually that had nothing to do with it at all… but at that point I was upset at myself because I thought that I’d caused the issue by making the brace so tight.
Testing, testing 1-2-3…
I went down for the MRI and had the scan. When we got back to the ER, the serious ER doctor said: “Go back down. You need another kind of MRI, with contrast.” I didn’t know what that meant. It turned out that they put an IV in my arm with a special kind of dye that made the pictures in the MRI show up differently. We went back down and had the second MRI. When we finally got back to the ER, they told me that I needed to stay in the hospital overnight. I was like, “I’m 21 years old and I’ve never stayed in the hospital! I don’t want to stay overnight!” But it seemed like no one cared that I wanted to sleep in my own bed, and I had to stay there. Eventually I fell asleep. My mother and one of my sisters, who is a Physicians Assistant, stayed with me.
My sister’s friend is a nurse in that hospital. She came by with bagels after we’d moved to the ward, at around 6:30 a.m., which was really nice. I had a bagel, which ended up being not such a good thing.
A little while later, a big, tall guy who happened to be the neurosurgeon came into my room. And then he told us that I had a tumor. In my spine. A tumor is a growth. That could mean cancer. And even if it wasn’t cancerous, any growth in the spine is bad news, because the spine contains the spinal cord, which basically controls the body… and all movement… and the ability to use the bathroom normally. The surgeon said: “We’re going to extract your tumor just like you take the lead out of a lead pencil.” I’d never had an operation before.
“Are you sure I need this surgery?” I asked.
“Yes,” the doctor replied. “110 percent sure.”
It becomes real…
Soon the whole world was calling. My sisters (I’m the youngest and the only boy) were all calling. Guys from yeshivah were calling, my relatives started finding out, my rebbeim were calling. I didn’t really know what was going on. I’d always been healthy. I was kind of like, “What do you mean? What is this all about?” I was worried about the surgery. They were upset that I’d eaten a bagel; in order to have surgery you need to be fasting, so the operation was pushed off till the next day. That was a relief for me, because I had some time to process what was going on instead of being immediately rushed into emergency surgery.
The next morning was Rosh Chodesh. I woke up early to daven and say Hallel. They came to get me for the surgery soon after I finished. I remember hopping on one leg…. I didn’t know that was the last time I’d be able to hop.
They took me into the operating room with my mother and sister calling out, “We’re davening for you! We love you!”
I felt nervous, but I realized that I truly was not in control. Within seconds of them giving me anesthesia, I was asleep, so I didn’t have much time to worry. Next thing I knew, I woke up after the surgery, ten hours later, in tremendous pain. They were giving me strong pain medication through an IV in my arm, and I had a little button to push to give me more medicine. I kept pushing and pushing.
Worse than the pain was the catheter. I didn’t know, then, what that was, but I learned quickly. During surgery, one cannot go to the bathroom, so a catheter, a tube that replaces the need to use the bathroom, is inserted into the body. It was making me terribly uncomfortable and I begged them to take it out. Then I heard the awful news. The doctor told me that after spinal surgery such as I had, it could take six months of waiting for the nerves to wake up to use the bathroom normally again and have the catheter taken out. I was devastated.
Asher… to the Yatzar
A few days after the surgery, the staff gave me eight hours without the catheter to try and go to the bathroom on my own, but I wasn’t able to do so. They put it in again and I cried from pain and misery. I called my rebbi, Rabbi Keilson. He told me that the whole yeshivah camp — about 250 boys and all the rebbeim — would take on a kabbalah in my zechus: to say Asher Yatzar with special kavanah while standing in one place. After all, Asher Yatzar is a powerful brachah; every time we use the bathroom, we thank Hashem for the ability to do so, and we thank Him that everything in our bodies is working just the way it should.
My Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Altusky, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Darchei Torah, spoke to the entire camp about the power of Asher Yatzar, of praising Hashem for our health, and asked everyone to have me in mind while making the brachah.
Just one day later, I was in so much pain from the catheter that the medical staff decided to give me one more chance. Lo and behold, there was a miracle — not six months after surgery, but mere days later, I was able to use the bathroom on my own. I’m not a very emotional person, but I was sobbing with joy. This was my introduction to how powerful the brachah of Asher Yatzar can be.
And thus began my rocky journey. It’s a journey that’s not over yet. I was transferred to rehab to learn how to use my legs again (most of the other people there needed catheters; after spinal cord injury it’s uncommon to be able to use the bathroom independently). I suffered from an infection in my spine that necessitated an additional two surgeries, and the catheter was replaced. I was back to square one, and I returned to rehab. Then I got an infection from the catheter, and I had to go back to the hospital. While I was there, Asher to the Yatzar was born — a campaign about the power of this special brachah.
So many people helped me and prodded me along the way, and we started producing professional videos about Asher Yatzar while I was still in the hospital. Even before the first video was released, I started regaining my ability to use the bathroom again, and once again, the connection was clear. The first video went viral, everyone was seeing it and was moved by it; it came directly from my heart and people felt it. Within a few days, I was able to have the catheter removed completely and was able to use the bathroom normally once again. When I left the hospital, we continued our campaign. Additionally, we’ve also produced a few more inspirational videos over the past two years, including a recent music video featuring singers Joey Newcomb and Moshe Avigdor, and myself.
It was good to be home again. We hoped that the tumor was gone, and that after rehab I’d go back to normal life. But a follow-up scan at the end of 2020 showed that the tumor was back. I had another surgery for the second removal of the tumor, and I was worried about needing the catheter again. We worked hard on our campaign, focused even harder on giving praise to the Yatzar, our Creator — and two days after the surgery I could use the bathroom once again. Another miracle, which once again I contributed to Asher to the Yatzar.
The journey continues…
There was more rehab. I worked hard for nine months straight, and went from barely able to move to being able to walk on a treadmill for over a mile!
But then after Pesach, I had another MRI. The tumor was back yet again. I had another surgery on May 25, 2021, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. For Tishah B’Av, we produced a special video about appreciating our bodies and the power of Asher Yaztar.
Since my fifth surgery, I cannot move my legs at all. But I’m still hopeful, and I still believe in the incredible power of Asher Yatzar.
Thank you, Yossi, for sharing your story. We’re definitely well on our way to becoming people who really appreciate all the wonders Hashem works in our bodies every moment of the day. I know that kids worldwide are going to be careful to say Asher Yatzar in the Asher to the Yatzar way: STOP, STAND, and FOCUS on giving Asher — praise — to the Yatzar, the Creator of the world, Who takes care of us every single day.
Watch this space, because over the next few weeks, we will be meeting some unbelievable kids. They will share their medical challenges with us and deepen our appreciation of just how lucky we are that everything is in perfect working order. And if you, yourself, have experienced firsthand how vulnerable our bodies are, I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from kids like you, who are handling their medical challenges day in and day out.
May Hashem send a refuah sheleimah b’karov to Yossi (please daven for Yosef Chaim ben Devorah Leah!) and to all cholei Yisrael. May He protect our health and our bodies, and bring Mashiach soon.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 888)
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