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Do Yourself a Favor

"Make sure you don’t do anything that ends you back in my office”


tche Friedburg’s father was convinced it was ADHD after his oldest son was kicked out of yeshivah gedolah for smoking cigarettes in the dorm. After all, what other reason could there be?

“He must be suffering from ADHD, because he’s such a brilliant kid, and yet he keeps getting into trouble,” Rav Friedburg told me the first time Itche came to my office two years back.

But the clinical checklist came up largely empty when I sat together with the young bochur from the very chashuve family within his chassidus. Itche had incredible zitzfleish and could sit for a three-hour seder, memorizing Tosafos and flying through Rishonim like a talented avreich many years his senior. He wasn’t the kind of kid who interrupted, cut in line, or had to pace around the beis medrash to keep from going crazy.

Nope, this wasn’t ADHD.

“Baruch Hashem, he’s fine,” I told Rav Friedburg. “Itche is a great kid and I have no doubt he’ll be successful.”

“Then why did he get kicked out for smoking cigarettes? I can’t imagine my son would do such a thing unless there was some kind of psychiatric or clinical issue.”

It was a fair question. But according to his maggid shiur’s report, which Itche brought along to the appointment, he was doing well, and this was his first infraction.

“Maybe it’s because his uncle is the mashgiach and he needed to send a stern message?” I suggested. “Maybe he’s holding Itche to a higher standard?”

My conclusion resonated with Rav Friedburg, himself a rosh kollel in one of the chassidus’s flagship Torah institutions.

He spent a long, silent minute formulating his response. “Maybe you’re right, Dr. Freedman. It does make sense that my brother should come down hard on Itche to send a strong message through such a special bochur. Yes, this makes sense. You know, we have high expectations of Itche. We never expected him to be a discipline problem.”

“Kevod Harav, while I’m definitely a big anti-smoking advocate, Itche told me there were 20 kids kicked out for smoking this year, and most of them only got suspended after their fifth infraction. He also told me he doesn’t smoke more than a cigarette a week and just happened to get caught.”

“And you believe him?”

“The Friedburgs are known as an emesdig family, no?”

I’d seen many of these cases over the years — a kid from a famous family gets in a bit of trouble, and questions are raised regarding whether or not there is a mental illness or behavioral issue at play. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. Bochurim who feel entitled because of their yichus can sometimes take advantage, push the limits, and get into all sorts of trouble.

But sometimes yichus is a different kind of challenge, when a kid gets a different kind of “special treatment” due to his lineage. Being under a microscope, not being given any slack, can crush a person. And yet Itche was a great kid and seemed emotionally healthy. It seemed like he just happened to get caught and took a stiffer punishment than your average bochur.

Two years later it happened again, and Rabbi Friedburg again sent Itche for an evaluation. This time he had been kicked out after drinking too much and vomiting at a Shabbos tish.

Again we met, and again it was pretty clear to me that Itche wasn’t suffering from any major issues. His maggid shiur sent along another beautiful letter describing a lovely bochur who had made the mistake of drinking on an empty stomach. The letter continued, “This is a boy who rarely drinks, but had a few l’chayims because his chavrusa got engaged earlier in the week. I think he got a tough punishment and was kicked out again because his uncle needed to give him a potch. Otherwise he’s doing great and is ready to get engaged himself. Great boy, kein ayin hara.”

Itche had a fuller beard than some others at age 19, but the story was otherwise the same: great kid who would have otherwise been given a pass but had been singled out for his family name.

“Tough being a Friedburg, huh?” I probed.

“Are you kidding? It’s amazing being a Friedburg!”

He surprised me. I’d been sure he’d say something like, “Why don’t they just let me breathe a little like everyone else instead of always having to be the shining example of perfection?” Instead, he had no animosity whatsoever.

“We get to sit right up close at the Rebbe’s tish, and I’m sure I’ll land a choshuve shidduch,” he told me. “But the truth is that I don’t expect any special treatment. I’m fine to just have good middos like my father and work on my learning and be who I need to be.”

Now that was a kid with no chips! “No downsides at all to being a Friedburg?”

“What? Like getting kicked out again because I have a short leash? Nah, it’s fine. I mean, my uncle probably just needs to make it clear that I don’t get any favoritism. I understand that. Also they want me to be good for who I am, and not take advantage of my family status. I get that,” he said with an honest maturity far beyond his years.

No, there wasn’t any ADHD this time either, and as I delved beyond into issues of jealously, fear, and insecurity, I was further impressed that this was an emotionally healthy boy. Sure, he’d been busted for smoking and drinking, but it wasn’t beyond the norm and it had been limited compared to his peers. If his name were Bruchstein, Gruenbaum, or Rosenzweig, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here for this conversation in the first place.

Rabbi Friedburg was initially dubious after hearing my assessment but was willing to accept it in the end — it was hard for him to believe that his son would “misbehave” in such a way if there were no illness driving him. It was almost as if he preferred a diagnosis over having to deal with the mischief of a “regular” bochur.

“I know you have a good name in our chassidus, Dr. Freedman. If there’s nothing wrong with him, I guess we’re headed to shidduchim then soon?”

Was that hesitation in his voice? Did this sweet man think that a few cigarettes and a one-time drinking indiscretion meant his wise, mature son wasn’t ready for a shidduch?

“Well, he has his maggid shiur’s blessing. If he has the brachah of his uncle and his father, I imagine that would be the most important thing.”

Rav Friedburg thought for a moment and then told me his own assessment. “Itche is a good kid, but I need to know that he’s good as ‘Itche’ and not just as a Friedburg.”

“Rav Friedburg, I think he feels the same way.”

I made up to meet with Itche one more time, just so that we could talk about making the right choices and staying out of trouble as it seemed his engagement was inevitable within the coming few months. He was a smart kid, and I wanted to leave him with a thought: “Just do yourself a favor, Itche — it might not be fair, but one way or another you’re under a lot of pressure as a Friedburg, so make sure you don’t do anything that ends you back in my office.”

Itche smiled his charming, infectious smile and answered, “Do yourself a favor and keep up the good work in our chassidus, and you might not even need my protektzia as a Friedburg to get a brachah from the Rebbe.”

We both agreed to do our best.

Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.

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

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 778)

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