S ometimes when I need inspiration, I remind myself of the amazing Jews who are out there on the front lines.

Reb Shmuel happens to be one of these wonderful people, and just thinking about him always motivates me to do my best.

While he had a day job as a teacher and a writer, it seems Hashem had really planted Reb Shmuel on this earth to rescue lost souls. And without a doubt, Reb Shmuel had his work cut out for him.

Back in Chicago, Reb Shmuel and his wife were known for driving around on Friday afternoons and handing out food to homeless folks with chronic mental illness. They had a minivan filled with fresh, home-cooked meals and made sure to include an extra challah roll for each person they found who happened to be Jewish. Over time, Reb Shmuel found ways to secure housing and even employment for some of his new friends. His secret? An infectious smile and a truly palpable warmth that could reach even the most distant and hardened hearts.

So after five of their kids had decided to start their own families in Israel, Reb Shmuel and his wife made aliyah. The language and scenery might have been new, but he couldn’t kick his old habits. It wasn’t long before Reb Shmuel became a fixture in downtown Jerusalem near the Machaneh Yehudah market, where he could be found nearly every day searching for homeless and chronically ill people. He was doing what needed to be done, and loved being able to help them try to find a way back onto their feet.

Reb Shmuel first tracked me down after his wife had read an article I’d once written. She liked a line I’d used about emunah being more important for doctors than for patients, and sent me a thoughtful e-mail. A few years later, after I moved to Eretz Yisrael, Reb Shmuel sent me an email asking for my help when Tzvi, one of Reb Shmuel’s new friends, told him the reason he had to sleep outside was because of “the voices.”

I was more than happy to help, but was nonetheless curious as to why Reb Shmuel had picked me. I was one of a handful of American-trained psychiatrists but had only been in the country for a few months and didn’t know too much about the system or the local resources.

“We picked you because Tzvi lives on a park bench and I need someone who’s flexible enough to come meet him there with me, as he’d never go to an office,” said Reb Shmuel. “Everyone else has a nice office in Rechavia or the German Colony, but you just got here so I figured we’d catch you before you got too big and famous.”

It made sense. That said, I’d had a long day of bureaucratic torture at the Ministry of the Interior, so I was a bit less b’simchah than normal when Reb Shmuel and I met at the entrance to the park to discuss his friend Tzvi.

It sounded like Tzvi had a serious history with decades of paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations. I therefore wasn’t surprised when he outright refused to speak with me and declined again and again no matter how many different angles I offered. I had enough experience under my belt to know that it can be hard to convince someone with chronic mental illness to see a psychiatrist. Still, it didn’t help my ego too much to fail again.

Somewhat dismayed, I left the two of them to say goodbye to each other and gave them their space. I watched as Reb Shmuel offered Tzvi a granola bar and told him he’d come visit again soon, before walking over to join me back at the park entrance.

“I’m sorry we wasted your time today, Yaakov,” said Reb Shmuel.

“No worries; the park is actually on my way back home and it’s really not a problem.”

“I’m happy to pay you for your time,” he offered.

I shook my head and joked, “Just buy me a coffee and we’ll call it even.” It was one of those days.

We walked down the street toward a local coffee shop and ordered a pair of cappuccinos. I was surprised when he offered to pay for them and asked him openly, “Where does a fellow like you find the money to fund a private psychiatric consultation for a homeless man with schizophrenia?”

Reb Shmuel smiled. “How could you not just find a way to make it happen? Doesn’t your heart break when you see these guys? Don’t you want to do everything in the world to help them? Sometimes I remember my cousin who had similar problems, and how the world let him just disappear into thin air. I guess I just figured I’d have to do my best to try and make sure that this kind of stuff wouldn’t happen anymore. If it means finding shrinks to see people in parks then that’s what it takes.”

I felt myself getting energized and feeling infinitely more positive, despite the day’s disappointments. “That’s why I became a psychiatrist instead of a thoracic surgeon,” I told him. “That and because I don’t care for the blood and guts and my hands aren’t too steady.” I thought for a few moments and then said, “And because my buddy Nathaniel from back in college developed pretty bad schizophrenia and lives in a state hospital these days.”

“Sometimes people call it ‘G-d’s work,’ ” said Reb Shmuel.

“I’d agree with that. You know, sometimes I think of the pasuk we say every morning in the hallelukahs in Pesukei D’zimra: ‘Hashem will build Jerusalem and the exiles of Israel will come home.’ The next pasuk is: ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ Sometimes I’d like to think that this is about how being a psychiatrist helps to bring the Geulah. My work as Hashem’s shaliach in healing the brokenhearted is about bringing us all home. Not that I’m a tzaddik or anything, it just keeps me inspired.”

I was surprised I’d actually said this out loud, and blushed because I was a bit embarrassed. But Reb Shmuel only smiled even wider and yelled, “That’s awesome! I think about that too every single morning before I start my own work. And the next pasuk is: ‘He counts the stars and calls them all by their names.’ These are our guys! These are the guys we’re out there saving! Each crazy homeless person isn’t just a lump of flesh or a statistic. They’re holy neshamos, each one mamash a star — and we know that because we actually care about them. Tzvi has a name! He’s not just the guy out there living on the park bench.”

I couldn’t fight the raw emotion, and gave Reb Shmuel a big bear hug. At least a few of the folks at the coffee shop turned their heads, not quite knowing what to think of these two ridiculous Americans, before quickly returning to their iPhones.

“I’m glad we’re on the same team, Reb Shmuel,” I said.

“Me too!”

I suddenly realized that I had to catch my bus and apologized for leaving so quickly. “Next time, coffee is on me, okay?”

“Sure, let’s just make sure there is a next time,” said Reb Shmuel with his 1,000-watt smile and effervescent warmth. “Sometimes I need people like you, Yaakov, to inspire me when the going gets tough.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 660. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Jerusalem. He serves as the medical director of services for English-speakers at Bayit Cham, a national leader providing mental health treatment and outreach within the religious community. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website, www.drjacoblfreedman.com.