That was their life’s credo and that’s how they raised their children.

They tolerated the racket when Shraga formed a punk-rock band in the basement of their suburban house and even defended him against the neighbors who had complained of the noise. They accepted his decision to be a vegan for a period during college, and tolerated his daily marijuana smoking. And when he started keeping Shabbos the following year, they accepted this as a welcome change.

“We don’t really know too much about Yiddishkeit or do too many kosher things,” said Shraga’s dad during our intake session. “But my zeide was a frum guy and we’re okay with Jeff — I mean Shraga — making his own decisions.”

“We are very accepting people and respect Shraga’s right to make his own path,” added Shraga’s mom. “We even stopped calling him Jeff.”

They were good, honest people and they meant what they said. The problem was that Shraga had a bad case of bipolar disorder and it didn’t look like things were going to improve. Shraga was forced into treatment by order of the court, and he was happy to find a frum psychiatrist who could relate to his religious convictions. But he wasn’t willing to engage in the suggested treatment.

He had an arsenal of excuses: The meds have serious side-effects (but when he did follow the protocol, he responded very well); the meds aren’t natural (neither is Coca-Cola, and that was his drink of choice); it’s probably against halachah (certainly not true, given Shraga’s history of dangerous behaviors while refusing his treatment).

Baruch Hashem, Shraga had never been violent or tried to hurt himself on purpose, but he’d made some bad decisions of epic proportions while in his manic state. He’d been arrested for trespassing while trying to “swim with the dolphins” at the local aquarium and had smashed the storefront windows and spray-painted the walls of a local nonkosher restaurant with the word “treif.”

The judge had been willing to drop the charges of malicious property damage if Shraga would agree to psychiatric treatment, but he was adamant that “medications were assur.” So at the risk of facing jail time, Shraga and his parents sought my opinion and scheduled a consultation.

Within a few moments of our meeting, it was clear to me that Shraga would benefit from treatment with psychopharmacology. Unfortunately, it was also clear to me that Shraga wasn’t willing to hear out my recommendations. No amount of rationality would change his perspective, and soon it became clear that one of the greatest impediments was the attitude of his parents.

“Even my parents agree with me that I don’t need any medications,” he told me.

“And if they thought you did? Then would you be willing to enter treatment?” I asked. “Kibbud av v’eim is a great mitzvah.”

“That’s true, Dr. Freedman, but they don’t want me to take medications, so there’s nothing to discuss. Goodbye, Dr. Freedman, I’ve got a whole world to save.” And with that, Shraga walked out the door.

I wasn’t done yet, though, and so I called his parents back into the room.

“He’s a bright kid,” Mom commented. “We respect his right to make these decisions.”

“We’re very supportive of our son and want him to be happy,” said Dad.

It was painful for me to sit there and watch them facilitate their son’s decline in the name of tolerance. “I’m not sure he’s really making logical decisions now,” I told them, trying my hand. “I mean, he jumped into the tank at the aquarium a month ago.”

“We raised our children to be free spirits,” countered Dad. “Our other son is a professional juggler and can juggle three chainsaws at a time.”

I conquered the desire to comment on Shraga’s brother. “That’s really fascinating, but I’m not really convinced that Shraga is a free spirit right now. In fact it seems to me like he’s essentially enslaved to his mental illness and will most likely end up incarcerated at some point soon because he’s manic and making poor decisions.”

“Yes, but they’re his decisions, Dr. Freedman,” Mom told me. “We have to respect his decisions.”

Now I was getting frustrated. “But don’t you realize that he doesn’t have the capacity to make rational decisions right now? Look, this isn’t an attack on his character, but it’s a fact. Last week he spent $20,000 purchasing four dozen vacuum cleaners!”

“Dr. Freedman, we need to be tolerant!” Mom nearly exploded. “This is his life and we need to respect it!”

Now we were really arguing. “Your son is going to jail because he’s not following through with the court orders. He’s going to lose his freedom to make any decisions whatsoever because he’ll be behind bars.”

Mom and Dad took a moment and looked at each other and then at me. It seemed as though they were having a change of heart, but Mom was still feeling attacked. “We raise our children to the best of our ability. You can’t criticize us for that.”

Then Dad piped up. “In our family, we respect the rights of all family members to make their own decisions.”

Maybe this was my chance, I thought. “But he is in my family. He’s a Jew and he’s my brother.” Dad was ready to interrupt, but I seized the initiative and continued: “Actually, scratch that. He’s more than a brother. He and I are one and the same, different parts of the same body.”

“Now who’s the one that’s crazy, Dr. Freedman?” accused Dad, before Mom shushed him.

But I continued, “Listen, in a few days we’ll be at the holiday of Shavuos, and our rabbis teach that the Jewish People accepted the Torah ‘like a single person with a single heart.’ That means that even though we look different, Shraga and I, both of you, and every other Jew are in this together — just like the kidneys, the eyes, the appendix, the right hand and left hand, and every other organ in between.”

Mom and Dad seemed to understand what I was getting at, and let me finish without interrupting me. “Shraga’s a beautiful soul and I want to help him. But if you don’t work with me to convince him to engage in treatment, he’ll end up in jail or in a locked psychiatric facility. I know it seems paradoxical, but complying with medications is actually going to give him the ability to make his own decisions, as opposed to taking that freedom away.”

I could tell that they’d heard me when Mom whispered, “I can tell you understand what my son would want.”

“Of course I do,” I responded. “He’s my right-hand man. Now let’s figure out our plan.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 710. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem.  Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website