T he e-mail I received consisted of a mere six words:

I need to talk.

Etan Silver.

He didn’t leave a phone number, so I responded as best I could:

Dear Mr. Silver,

It might be best if you’d let me know what you’re looking for. Please send me a bit more information about what you’re hoping I can help you with and we can discuss the best plan of action from there.

Reb Etan’s follow-up message was also six words and equally enigmatic:

I need an evaluation. Thank you.

While I could have sent him directions to my office, instructions about payment, and when I had my next available 60-minute slot, I wanted to make sure I was the right address for Reb Etan. Sometimes people with mysterious stories are better helped by giving them the number for the local police or a good lawyer.

I wrote back:

I am happy to schedule an evaluation with you. That being said, if you’d like to send along an e-mail with a bit more information, I’d probably be in a better position to help you out and make sure I’m the best person to guide you. Looking forward to being in touch.

—Yaakov Freedman MD

But Reb Etan was clearly the master of the six-word e-mail.

I would rather talk in person.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I agreed to schedule an appointment.

The following Monday I awaited Etan somewhat anxiously. Most folks aren’t opposed to e-mailing me their history unless it’s something they’d rather not have a written record of. My imagination started to churn: Was he a drug abuser looking for a prescription for Percocet in exchange for some extra cash? Was he looking for a letter claiming he had “crippling post-traumatic stress disorder” after an argument with a former boss left him out of work?

But Reb Etan, in his yeshivish suit and hat, looked about as normal as can be when he walked through the door and introduced himself. And then things got even more interesting: Reb Etan answered in the negative to just about every question I asked him. No prior psychiatric treatment, no medications, no drugs or alcohol or legal issues. He grew up in a secular home in suburbia and had become religious in college through a program run by Ohr Somayach. After several more years learning in Jerusalem and becoming a bit more yeshivish, he recently got married and was now learning in a kollel in the Jerusalem suburb of Beitar. So what was this seemingly normal guy doing here?

“You see,” he began, “I have this problem that I can’t talk to anyone else about. My wife is from a super-frum background, my chavrusa was born in Lakewood, and my rebbi... well I definitely can’t tell him.”

I braced myself for the worst as I nodded silently and did my best to display an understanding, nonjudgmental look. Over the years, I’d heard all sorts of dirty secrets and horrible things that my patients had done. Reb Etan was surely about to divulge how he was stuck in some sort of atrocious quagmire beneath his yeshivish exterior, but I could handle it and was prepared to help him get out of whatever troubles he was in.

But nothing could have prepared me for his revelation: “I still love the Yankees.”

I tried not to laugh or say something insensitive. I waited a moment before clarifying: “The Yankees? As in the New York Yankees?”

“Yeah, it’s terrible, I know. So much bittul zeman each day, going to an Internet café to see the scores. I just didn’t know who I could speak with about it, but I figured this was a safe place.”

“Reb Etan,” I said, “no crimes, no drugs, no nothing, just the New York Yankees?”

“I know. I feel kind of stupid, because I thought I had left that life behind. I’m a different person now, and I didn’t think I’d be into this kind of stuff anymore. I did some serious self-reflection, and I need to own up that I still have this yetzer hara.”

“Reb Etan,” I said, “you are as normal as can be — you’d be abnormal if you stopped watching the Yankees just like that!” He looked at me quizzically so I continued, “If keeping track of your favorite baseball team is your worst aveirah, then you’re doing better than most of us.”

“Are you kidding, Dr. Freedman? Since when is wasting 30 minutes of valuable time three days a week in an Internet café a healthy thing for my neshamah?”

Maybe he’d be right, had he grown up in a Yerushalmi family, but this poor guy needed to be a bit realistic with himself.

“Reb Etan,” I said, “you’ve heard of Rav Scheinberg ztz”l, right? Well, he was once a Yankees fan, in addition to being one of the gedolei hador.”

“What?!” Now it was Etan’s turn to be surprised.

“Yep. They say that one year he made a kiddush when the Yankees won the World Series — because he was no longer excited about it.”

“What’s the nafka mina?” Etan asked, looking a bit confused.

“The nafka mina, Reb Etan, is that up until that point, Rav Scheinberg used to be excited when the Yankees won the World Series. The point is that only a gadol like him could give up baseball cold turkey. Anyone else who grew up in America is naturally going to be a baseball fan. It’s just in their blood.”

“You’re not just saying that?” asked Eitan, wide-eyed with relief.

I gave Etan a big pat on the back and told him, “Listen, I’ll admit I’m not on the level that I could have made a kiddush the last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.”

“Arggh! You’re a Red Sox fan? I hate the Red Sox!” Etan made a face any good Yankees fan would make after hearing someone was a fan of his team’s archrivals.

“Listen, Reb Etan,” I said honestly, “in the end, I don’t watch their games on TV, and I don’t spend too much time thinking about them, but I still get a bit excited if I hear they had a big win. And remember, even Rav Scheinberg didn’t make that kiddush until he was over 30, and you’re barely 25.”

“So I need to chill a bit over this, is what you’re saying, Dr. Freedman.”

“Etan, you’re one of the most normal guys to walk through that door, and you can feel comfortable speaking with your rebbi to help you navigate your own path… unless you happen to tell me some other big secret you’re hiding away.

“Well, there is the whole thing I’ve got working for the Mossad as a spy during night seder,” Etan said with a sly smile.

“You and me both,” I smirked back. “Now, let’s just agree that the Red Sox are better than the Yankees and call it a day?”

I sat down to think for a moment before my next patient, grateful that there were people out there like Etan, a baal teshuvah whose greatest yetzer hara was to watch a ball game. And then I davened that I’d merit to make a Rav Scheinberg kiddush myself one day.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 705. 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.