T he consultation was an interesting one from the get-go.

“Someone thinks my husband has an anger problem,” said Rebbetzin Elbaz.

Every psychiatrist has his specialty; I find I’m personally drawn to yeshivah bochurim who are struggling with anxiety. My dear friend Dr. Pesach has made a career of assessing patients with Jerusalem Syndrome. My best buddy from back at Harvard is out in San Francisco working with business executives facing their midlife crises.

On the other hand, every psychiatrist also has the kind of patient they generally find challenging to work with. Some of my colleagues loathe to treat patients with addictions and alcoholism, others could never wrap their head around schizophrenia or issues of treatment nonadherence. I’ve personally never been shy about taking a tough case, but any time I hear the term “anger issues,” I need to ask a few more questions. I want to make sure that my personal safety won’t be compromised by taking on a violent patient. Therefore, I found it necessary to ask Rebbetzin Elbaz, in as respectful a way as possible, to clarify a few things.

“Does he have a history of assault or jail time?”

“Oh, no, Dr. Freedman. My husband is a kind man. I wouldn’t even say he’s got anger issues. It’s just that something complicated happened and we need a psychiatrist to say that he’s mentally stable.”

“So, is he?” I asked somewhat warily. A “complicated story” and “anger” sound like an explosive combination.

“He hasn’t ever hurt anyone, if that’s what you mean,” she said. “He’s a rabbi in a seminary outside of Yerushalayim and is tremendously beloved by all of our community. He gives the daf yomi shiur every evening at the local beit knesset too. But he needs a letter for the courts verifying that he’s not dangerous — otherwise we’re in a bit of trouble.”

Rabbi Elbaz sounded like a good guy, but I had to be logical. Clearly something had happened to bring Rebbetzin Elbaz to the point where she was searching out a psychiatrist for her husband. Perhaps against my better judgment, I offered to meet with them.

“Why don’t you both come in to my office for a consultation next week?” I suggested. Rebbetzin Elbaz agreed.

I didn’t know whether I should expect a hulking brute of a man, but Rabbi Elbaz was a tiny fellow in his sixties who walked with a cane to help the limp in his left leg.

As he saw me observing the way he walked, Rabbi Elbaz patted his leg and said, “It was a present from my neighbors during a riot when I was a kid back in Morocco. Todah l’Hashem I can still walk, and I always remember to be grateful for it.”

This smiling, small man appeared as calm as could be as he told me his life’s story over a cup of sweet Turkish coffee. He was a fifth-generation rabbi from Marrakech and had moved to Israel after the pogrom that had nearly cost him his life. In Israel, he had served in the army as a rabbi, “because I wanted to make sure that my hundreds of cousins would have kosher food.” Afterward, he and the Rebbetzin married and raised a large family of learned, successful children. He’d been a teacher at the local girls’ seminary in their community for well over three decades and has made sure to attend every single wedding of his former talmidot.

“So why are we here then?” I asked frankly, trying to figure out why this kind man had sought me out.

“There is a court hearing for my husband this week,” answered Rebbetzin Elbaz. “He’s being accused of threatening some teenagers, and I was told by our lawyer that if we had a letter from a psychiatrist stating that he’s a fine, gentle man, it might be helpful in avoiding any legal difficulties.”

I had to hold back a smile. How was it possible that this rabbi had come to the point where he’d need a letter from a psychiatrist stating he was sane? Did one of the neighbors steal too many esrogim from the tree in his yard? Did he yell at a local boy for smoking too many cigarettes outside of the beit knesset? This wasn’t making any sense — until Rabbi Elbaz provided the answer himself.

“They weren’t local teenagers!” he yelled with a fire that seemed to consume his small frame. “They were foreign workers harassing my talmidot!”

Glancing nervously at me and then back at the rabbi, Rebbetzin Elbaz tried to calm her husband. “Shhh,” she said. “Don’t be upset.”

“How can I not be upset?!” he shouted, lifting his hands upward, as if beseeching the Heavens. “Hashem, these are your daughters too, and I am not going to let some Sudanim, who are probably here illegally, call my girls names while they walk past to school!”

Rabbi Elbaz composed himself and looked at me. “Dr. Freedman, I am a peaceful man, but each of my students is a bat melech, and I cannot stand by and tolerate them being shamed and disparaged. There is a construction project across the road from our school, and when I heard the workers speaking inappropriately and gesturing to my girls, I went out with my cane and told them to leave us alone or I’d beat some sense into them. A policeman nearby laughed at first, but I told him I was serious, and he warned me to calm down. Then I told him I was going to clobber these guys if they didn’t stop their harassment — and next thing I knew, I was given a court hearing. I did what was right and I’ll do it again.”

“Of course you did what was right, Kevod Harav,” I said as I digested the story.

“I didn’t come from Marrakech to Israel to watch these lowlifes taunt my talmidot here. I may be 64 and they might be 20, but that won’t stop me from beating some respect into them if they talk to my daughters that way.”

I had a giant desire to jump up and give him a high-five, but I wasn’t sure that would get Rabbi Elbaz anywhere. Instead I told him, “Shomer mitzvah lo yeida davar ra — whoever keeps the mitzvos will not come to harm.”

“Why don’t you have your lawyer call me and I’ll find out the best way to be helpful,” I suggested.

“That’s it?” asked Rebbetzin Elbaz, somewhat surprised herself.

“Well, I’m not sure exactly how I can best help, but if there is a letter that needs to say that you’re not a dangerous man, and rather, just a dedicated mechanech, I’d be happy to write one.”

“How do we pay you?” she asked.

“You make a donation to the seminary in the Rav’s honor,” I said. “We need to make sure that everyone knows how special a man he is.”

Two weeks later, I was thrilled to get a call from the Rebbetzin, telling me that Rabbi Elbaz had gone to the municipality to demand that Jewish labor be used in the future. As he explained his case, one of the local politicians agreed to go with him to court and he had the case thrown out.

“Chasdei Hashem,” exclaimed the Rebbetzin. “The Beit Din shel Maalah always wins over the Beit Din shel Matah.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 684. 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.