It is amazing how, in one heartbeat, a good day can turn tragic, or a bad day can turn miraculous. August 9, 2010, was such a day for me.

My sister was fascinated that the date could be written as a sequence of integers, “8-9-10.” But other than that, the day seemed unremarkable. I woke up early; the fishing boat would leave the dock promptly at 7 AM. Once we were out at sea, time dragged. A fish would bite here and there. We reeled in a few short fish, but no keepers. Then, as the boat breezed back to Belmar, that day, August 9, 2010, suddenly became consequential.

It all happened so fast, in retrospect. First my father decided to lie down. Then he spoke with a fisherman who happened to be a physician. We felt the captain speed up to meet paramedics at the Coast Guard station. At the station, an oxygen mask shrouded my father’s face, and the boat and the ambulance departed from the Coast Guard station in opposite directions. That was it. In an instant, “8-9-10” became “the day of Daddy’s heart attack.”

It’s said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I was no theological scholar, but for me, Daddy’s heart attack circulated a pulse of spirituality through my veins. With the situation out of my hands, I felt unnervingly vulnerable. I turned to prayer.

Once the ambulance arrived at the hospital, my father’s stretcher was wheeled into the emergency room. Immediately, everything from his rank fishing clothes to his beloved wedding ring was stripped off. He was dressed in a plain, white hospital gown, and set on a hospital bed.

In the morning, I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the living room. I found my tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl for adult males, and donned it while mumbling the blessing. The tallit itself is plain, white with a few thick stripes. The point is not the tallit, but what it facilitates: the act of prayer.

A nurse named Venus pinpointed the cephalic vein, on the inside of my father’s bicep, facing the heart. Here she affixed the first of 23 intravenous treatments, keeping her handiwork in place with gauze, bandages and surgical tape.

After putting on my tallit, I opened the pouch holding my very own pair of tefillin. My grandmother, who had passed away four years earlier, embroidered this bag for me; it has deep sentimental meaning. I removed my tefillin from the bag, beginning with the box for the hand, labeled in Hebrew shel yad.

According to Jewish teachings, the humble, black tefillin enwraps the non-dominant arm, giving strength to the weaker hand, vitality to the feeble. This is the partnership with G‑d. We do as much as we can; where our strength fails us, when we show that we are but human, G‑d does the rest.

As I wrapped the tefillin, my strength and His intertwined. After sliding the black box to sit on my bicep facing my heart, I wound the sleek leather straps, stiff from disuse, around my biceps once and around my forearm seven times. Kabbalah teaches that there are seven primary emotions. But in that instant, far more than seven emotions raced through my mind. The leather straps wrapped around my arm sent a current of energy through my body. I thought, This will sustain me for now.

Magnesium, trace minerals, pyridoxine, inotropes, and other ‑ines and ‑opes flushed through every vein of my father’s body, disseminating from the cephalic vein. As if this weren’t enough, Venus began to introduce further medications through the internal jugular vein. This vessel in the neck connects the brain to the circulatory system—inseparably linking mind and body. It was through this vein that the general anesthetic spread, targeting the brain, which in turn commissioned the shutdown of neuron receptors throughout the body. Such internal cooperation between brain and body is awe-inspiring.

I took the second box, labeled shel rosh, from the embroidered tefillin bag. It looks almost identical to the first: a simple black box, which like the other contains small-scale scrolls inscribed with passages from the Torah. I placed the box on my hairline, facing downward, hovering above my brain. Straps on each side of the box surrounded my head, meeting in an intricate knot at the nape of my neck.

Our relationship with G‑d incorporates this additional element, human reasoning. Theism is not blind faith. We integrate our own judgment, our considerations and experiences.

My father’s anesthetic had kicked in by now. Before she left the room, Venus wrapped a plethysmogram, monitoring the volume of blood through the veins, around my father’s wrist. Carefully, she wove a wire from an auxiliary input jack on the plethysmogram in and out of my father’s drugged fingers, eventually connecting to a pulse oximeter clipped to the index finger.

I drew the two leather straps dangling from the tefillin shel rosh in front of my shoulders; they draped past my knees. Head to toe, I was enveloped in G‑d’s blessing, care, dominion and holiness. Then I returned to the tefillin shel yad, unraveling the slack that I had wound around my hand.

The seven loops on my arm were still intact. In place of an eighth loop around my forearm, I wrapped the strap around my hand, placing the end of it between my thumb and index fingers. From there it looped away from me, around my third and fourth fingers, and then back toward me. Twice more it wrapped around the middle finger, before returning to the palm between the thumb and index finger. To finish, I looped any remaining slack around my palm, parallel to my knuckles and in between the two straps I had already created.Such intricacy! This is no haphazard assemblage of twists and turns and knots and curves. Deliberately, the straps are wrapped to spell out Shaddai in Hebrew, one of the names of G‑d; this one means “G‑d Almighty.” The return to the tefillin shel yad confirms our commitment to the partnership with G‑d. By wrapping our arms, G‑d strengthens us. By wrapping our hands, G‑d compels us to action.

In the operating room, doctors located my father’s sternum and pried open his ribcage. My father had taken himself as far as he could; now the doctors would work tirelessly to open his blocked arteries and get his heart working again. As the effects of the sedative were wearing off, the morning light streamed through the windowshades. My father opened his eyes in the face of the blinding sun.

The same sun was pouring through the living room windows. I opened my siddur, my prayerbook, and turned to the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing.