R

av Erez was one patient who surely taught me more than what I taught him. Having grown up in a secular household in Ashkelon, he’d enlisted in the army without too many thoughts as to where he’d end up a decade later. He finished his tour of duty as a paratrooper — including stints in Lebanon and Gaza — which was immediately followed by the ritual detour in India and Nepal.

It was there, miles away from home in the foothills of the awesome Himalaya mountains that his teshuvah process began.

“I stared up at these giant peaks and looked up to the sky above and thought about how small I really was,” Rav Erez told me over the phone during our introductory conversation. “Then along comes a Chabad shaliach from out of nowhere who tells me, ‘Esa einay el heharim.’ Before I knew what hit me, I was wrapped up in tefillin and saying Shema Yisrael for the first time since my bar mitzvah. I guess the rest is history — olam katan, Hashem gadol.”

Decades later, Erez was now the menahel of a religious school back in Ashkelon for kids with development delays and special needs.

I was honored to meet with such a special Yid and was curious to hear how I could help him.

“Reb Yaakov, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said and we shook hands upon meeting in my office. “I’m happy to meet a doctor who isn’t afraid to grow a beard that would be worthy of a Chabad shaliach!”

We schmoozed for a few moments and then it was time to get down to business. “So, what can I do for you, Rav Erez?” I asked.

“I know exactly what I have, Reb Yaakov,” he said. “I have PTSD. One of the rockets that these animals in Gaza shot last month landed in a park near our school when I was with my students. As soon as the sirens began to wail, I ran to get the kids into the shelter, but I had two wheelchairs to move. Baruch Hashem we weren’t hurt — but we could have been if not for Hashem’s infinite kindness.”

“Sounds like a big neis!”

“Absolutely,” he continued. “But now I’ve got PTSD for sure.”

“How did you come to that diagnosis?”

“Simple,” he said. “I remember seeing guys back in my days as a paratrooper. They’d go for one too many missions and then come back, shell-shocked. I remember watching friends wake up in the middle of the night yelling and screaming. I remember watching them become jumpy and edgy. Well, today that’s me. Poor sleep, short fuse. And every time I hear a loud noise I get palpitations and then freeze up. It’s quite debilitating.”

I nodded. It sounded pretty classic.

“You know, Reb Yaakov, I remember the mefaked sending my friends to the military psychiatrist to help them out. Some people had to go home and couldn’t do the combat thing anymore, but there were also the guys who did the work they needed to do to get back to normal.”

“Did the treatment work for them?”

“Some of them. If they were dedicated. That’s why I’m here too. I’m dedicated. I have too many special kids in my school to be irritable and without a good night’s rest. I have my own army that needs a general!”

After this intriguing introduction to Rav Erez, we began treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to his difficulties with sleep and his heightened vigilance, we elected to utilize cognitive behavior therapy together with a medication that addressed both sleep and agitation. Rav Erez also took strongly to mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and would spend 30 minutes every morning breathing deeply and doing relaxation exercises in the beis medrash before davening.

Baruch Hashem, his recovery was as textbook as his symptoms were, and within a few months, Rav Erez was back on track.

“My teachers have started to tell me that I’m back to my old self, Reb Yaakov!” he exclaimed. He described feeling calmer, how he reverted to normal sleep habits, and how that new irritability mostly disappeared. We dialed down the frequency of our visits and soon Rav Erez stopped coming all together, as he was stable and no longer in need of regular treatment.

And then came the incendiary balloons the terrorists began to float out of Gaza into the surrounding area. With ongoing hostilities in his area, I dreaded the phone call I somehow felt would inevitably come from Rav Erez about his symptomatic relapse with the sirens that followed the ongoing attacks.

“Can I come in to meet with you, Reb Yaakov?” he asked. “I mean, I’m already on the way in, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to meet me.”

“Of course, Rav Erez,” I responded, readying a spot for him later that day in my calendar.

Rav Ezer came in with a thousand-watt smile on his face. In place of the frightened soul I imagined seeing after his trauma was reignited, here was a strong and resolute Yid standing before me.

“What’s pshat?” I questioned.

“Reb Yaakov, I’m fine now. I just needed to share a powerful chiddush with you. I didn’t know who else would appreciate it as much as you.”

“Okay, Rav Erez, but before we talk Torah, I just want to make sure that you’re doing alright. No sleep problems, no irritability, no panic, no palpitations?”

“Nope, baruch Hashem I’m still strong — and I think it’s due to my chiddush, Reb Yaakov. Do you want to hear it now?

“You have to understand that when the sirens go off, I’m still nervous and the first few times I did get a bit paralyzed with fear again,” Rabbi Erez continued. “But then I’m sitting here in Chodesh Elul and thinking that these sirens are kind of like the shofar: Just like the little kids at the beit knesset start crying when they hear the first tekiah, I’m listening to the siren and freaking out as I run over to the bomb shelter. But then when I get there, I know that Hashem is taking care of me and that the rockets and bomb balloons and everything else will pass and that I’ll be okay. I hear the sirens and I do my hishtadlus and run to the shelter, and then Hashem does His part and protects. We hear the tekiyot, run for cover of teshuvah, and then Hashem protects us and gives us another lease on life. It’s actually brought down in seforim that one of the rashei teivot of E-L-U-L is a pasuk referring to an ir miklat, a city of refuge. That means that when we hear the shofar, or the siren, Hashem gives us an opportunity to run for cover and stay safe.”

“Rav Erez,” I said, “You’ve inspired me! And if we have to deal with any more bombs, balloons, kites, rockets, mortars, or other terrible things this coming year, they should be nothing more than the shofar’s call to teshuvah.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 726. 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 www.drjacoblfreedman.com.