“Make sure they understand how important forgiveness is. We all need to do it — Hashem is waiting!”
It was just heart-breaking to watch Zalman struggle against the three paramedics who strapped him into the gurney.
“They’re going to kill me! Help me, they’re going to kill me!”
His frantic attempts to free himself as they wheeled him out of the clinic and toward the ambulance were painful to watch for everyone who witnessed the scene.
“Lo sa’amod al dam re’echa, Dr. Freedman! They’re going to kill me! Help, Dr. Freedman, you need to save me! Please! You can tell them to let me go, and they’ll let me go!”
A beloved and experienced Chabad educator in the community, Reb Dov Ber, Zalman’s older brother, knew better than anyone else that hospitalization was the only choice. “I thought that by bringing him here from our parents’ basement in Morristown, he’d be willing to cooperate with a frum doctor. I feel so bad about this,” Dov Ber told me when I explained to him how Zalman had climbed up to the roof of the clinic and was screaming about how powerful The Eibeshter is. “Dr. Freedman, I know you couldn’t stand by and wait for him to jump to prove he’s a malach. He may think you’re killing him by locking him up, but I know you just saved his life.”
I appreciated the confirmation, but I still felt horrible about the way it went down, so I made up to visit Zalman in the hospital the following day.
“You’re a moser, Dr. Freedman. I have nothing to say to you.” Zalman scowled at me and looked away. “You’ve done a lot of aveiros, and I don’t forgive you.”
I respected his wishes to avoid contact with me and spoke with the covering psychiatrist on the unit to ensure that Zalman was getting the right medications that had helped him so well before he stopped them on the advice of a “mentor.”
Within a few days of restarting treatment, Zalman was back on track, and I received a call from Dov Ber to schedule a post-hospitalization appointment.
Baruch Hashem, Zalman had bounced back to his (pretty much) normal self and was ready to work with me again. A month later, he got a job making dough for a local pizzeria and took a post as an assistant gabbai in his uncle’s shtibel. His life progressed slowly, and while he didn’t ever want to talk about that hospitalization, he opened up about other issues, and treatment yielded consistent, new successes over the course of the following year.
Close to two years after I sent Zalman to the hospital, I was faced with a personal family crisis. My wife was in dire straits following a complicated delivery, and my newborn son hovered between life and death in the NICU.
Reb Dov Ber had heard the news and called me to let me know that his students were davening for us. He also told me that he’d tell Zalman I’d be cancelling our appointment for the following day.
I appreciated his tefillos and was glad that Zalman was stable enough in recovery to be able to miss the appointment without the acute risk of a massive decompensation.
As I poured through Tehillim while racing between the two units of the hospital and fielding calls from friends and family, I was surprised to get a call from Zalman.
“I know you’re busy, Dr. Freedman, so I’ll talk fast… not because I have bipolar, but because I don’t want to waste your time… I just need to help you.”
His voice was earnest as opposed to frantic, and I could hear he wanted to tell me something that was sitting on his heart.
“There’s a story about a grown man who had heard that his former fourth-grade rebbi was in the hospital with a terminal illness…” Zalman gasped for breath as he sped through the tale.
“It’s fine, Zalman. Take your time.”
“Okay, Dr. Freedman, okay, thanks… I just want to help you, and I know your time is short right now.”
“It’s fine, Zalman. I appreciate that you want to help me.”
I could hear him take a huge breath as he continued, a bit more relaxed and calmer. “Anyway, this man had a lot of mixed feelings because he never liked his fourth-grade rebbi after one time the rebbi had embarrassed him in class. On the other hand, it was a Yid who was sick and dying. So what happened was… I know your busy so I’ll make it quick… he gets a call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe who tells him to go visit his old teacher and to forgive him, because it’s a big mitzvah to forgive someone and maybe will take off the din…”
I had a good idea of where this was going and was grateful for the blessing that I imagined would come.
“…So the man goes in and takes his fourth-grade rebbi’s hand and tells him, ‘It’s me, your talmid whom you embarrassed 26 years ago.’ He tells him that he forgives him…and then guess what — the rebbi has a refuah sheleimah just like the Lubavitcher Rebbe said! So anyway Dr. Freedman…I heard what happened, and I want to forgive you so that there won’t be any more din on you for what you did to me. I know you were trying to help, and you certainly did help save my life… but it hurt my feelings and caused me pain. So what I want to say is that I forgive you. I hope your wife and baby will be okay, b’ezras Hashem.”
Zalman gasped for air on the other end of the line as I wiped away the tears I felt running down my face. “I’m tremendously appreciative, Reb Zalman. I know this didn’t come easy for you, and I’m truly inspired by your ahavas Yisrael.”
“I know you have to go, Dr. Freedman… so refuah sheleimah!”
The coming days were filled with miracles, and I was grateful to see Zalman standing next to Dov Ber at my son’s bris ten days later. Everyone did have a refuah sheleimah, and I had no doubt that Zalman’s brachah played a part.
At our last appointment before Rosh Hashanah, Zalman, who usually doesn’t get personal, asked me how everyone in my family was doing, and I was happy to tell him we were all well.
“You know, Dr. Freedman, people listen to you. You should tell them that forgiving a fellow Yid can save a life.”
“Reb Zalman, you want me to share our story with other people?”
“Well, I mean, change around a few details so they won’t davka known that it’s me, but make sure they understand how important forgiveness is. We all need to do it — Hashem is waiting! Hey, you want me to go up on the roof and scream it?”
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 779)