T hey’d met at Yale back when they were both undergraduates. Levi — who was previously known as Larry —couldn’t get Zehava — previously known as Zoe — to go out with him because, although she wasn’t exactly religious herself, she was disgusted by the treifer-than-treif bacon-and-cheese sandwiches he’d eat for breakfast in the cafeteria.

Larry was willing to give up pork for the sake of a date with Zoe, and she was overjoyed when he began to show an interest in Yiddishkeit. As their relationship progressed, Larry became more excited about Judaism and even began learning Tanya with the local Chabad shaliach at their university. It wasn’t long before Larry’s enthusiasm influenced Zoe, and by the time they were married the following year, they became known as Levi and Zehava.

Levi pursued an MBA and became successful in corporate finance, and Zehava became a nurse, while they built a home on the foundations of kiruv and kiddush Hashem in their community. Their legendary Shabbos seudos featured delicious multicourse meals and inspiring zemiros, and regularly attracted several dozen college kids from local campuses. Levi became a kiruv tornado, having put tefillin on every last one of his Jewish colleagues in grad school and beyond, while Zehava was known for passing out Shabbos candles to Jewish patients she met while doing rounds in the hospital.

I first encountered Zehava when she was struggling with sleep difficulties following the tragic death of a patient. Her nightmares were clearly a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she had been referred to me by a mutual friend named Rabbi Gross, a kiruv rabbi on the East Coast who still remains good friends with both our families. Rabbi Gross was a bit of a mentor to Levi, and Levi’s Shabbos table was patterned after the Grosses’ own weekly overflowing dining room.

Zehava, herself a medical professional, was dedicated to her psychotherapy treatment, and after three months, was back in her dynamic form, whipping up massive pots of cholent for her army of Shabbos guests once again.

Things were stable for several years until Zehava’s mother passed away suddenly following an automobile accident. This time the nightmares persisted, and she required medication treatment in addition to the therapy. Four months later, although Zehava was functioning fully, she was still fragile, and there was no sign of the shabbatons resuming anytime soon.

By this time, my family and I had already made aliyah, so I was a bit surprised to receive a phone call from Levi. He was planning a short trip to Israel and wanted to know if we could meet the following week. When we met, Levi was his usual high-powered energetic self, but I noticed a shadow over his characteristic exuberance.

“Dr. Freedman, I don’t understand why Zehava is not back to 100 percent functionality yet,” Levi told me. “It’s almost time for our annual winter shabbaton and we haven’t even begun preparing — and we already have 50 students registered to come to us this year! Sure, I’m concerned for her mental health, but it’s time for her to pick herself up by her bootstraps. We’ve gotta get ready for our big shabbaton already.”

I searched deep inside for some wisdom on this one, and then remembered a conversation I had with my chavrusa Reb Zeev, a very wise doctor, talmid chacham, and baal chesed who has served as a consultant for many of the gedolim of Eretz Yisrael. Reb Zeev often reminds me, “Yaakov, keep your priority ladder in mind.”

This, he told me recently, should be the order of my ladder: “Number One, Yaakov, you’ve got to feed your family and take care of making your rebbetzin happy. A wife who isn’t supported emotionally doesn’t have a very good husband. Number Two is to make sure that your kids are the best kids possible, and that’s how you should view them too. It’s so important when you look at your kids that you don’t say, ‘They could’ve been better.’ Number Three is that coming to Eretz Yisrael is about learning as much Torah as possible. There isn’t any other way about it — that’s what we’re here for. And Number Four is kiruv. What good is it if we have the answers and don’t share them with our fellow Jews?”

After he told me that, I made a quick cheshbon hanefesh. Baruch Hashem I’d had a decent month and my wife was pretty proud of how Shevet Freedman had been doing. My daily learning seder with Reb Zeev has been truly elevating and frames my day in a totally different way, and bli ayin hara, the kids are doing well this year in their respective schools. I was three-for-three according to Reb Zeev’s priority ladder, but I had yet to make something big happen in terms of kiruv. Still, I knew I had to share with Levi a story Reb Zeev told me:

“Levi,” I said, “a famous doctor I know was once davening in his daily Shacharis minyan at the Kosel when he was stopped by a man who told him, ‘Shame on you, Doc.’ Reb Zeev was stunned. Not only was he not the type to offend folks, but he didn’t even recognize the 40-year-old man wearing a black yarmulke standing in front of him. Reb Zeev asked what he had done wrong and was told, ‘I used to be your med student back before I was religious 15 years ago, and you never had me for Shabbat! You never tried to mekarev me at all, and I had to wait until I was nearly dead with pneumonia a few years later until I finally did teshuvah. So shame on you that you never gave me an introduction to Yiddishkeit!’ Reb Zeev felt terrible, and afterward promised the Eibeshter that he’d be better about extending a Shabbos invitation to every Yid in need, as long as his wife was up to it.”

“Nice story, Dr. Freedman, but why are you telling me this? We already invite a million kids to our table every Shabbos and you know that.”

I smiled at Levi and told him, “I’m telling you this story because as hospitable and generous as Reb Zeev is, he’s makpid that kiruv comes after one’s own wife and kids. Levi, I’m telling you this because your wife is still in recovery and she isn’t up to having guests yet. I’m telling you this because you need to give her some time to get back to herself or there aren’t going to be any more shabbatons, because she won’t have the koach to make it happen.”

Levi started to disagree for a moment, but then paused as understanding dawned on him. “I get it, Dr. Freedman,” he said. “But what do I do with the students? We have 50 college kids who are supposed to come hear Kiddush for the first time next week!”

“Levi,” I said, “I have an idea. Let’s call Rabbi Gross and see if he can help us out.” I dialed my old friend, and wouldn’t you know it, he agreed to open his house to the students for the shabbaton. “We got it covered, Levi, this year it’ll be at Rabbi Gross’s house, and G-d willing it’ll be back at your place next year when Zehava is up for it.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 689. 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.