D ov, my medical school observer whom I’ve already told you about, was clearly flustered when he showed up to clinic. It was the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, so I asked him if he was 75 minutes late because he kept forgetting to say “HaMelech HaMishpat.”

Dov didn’t think it was very funny — in fact, my normally happy-go-lucky med student just wasn’t his usual ebullient self. He appeared slightly disheveled and had certainly forgotten his trademark smile. So rather than rush him in to the next patient, I told him that breakfast was on me and gave him some cash to run out and buy us some bourekas.

By the time Dov returned, the timely blessing of a cancellation meant we could schmooze for a few minutes without pressure.

“Nu?” I asked Dov. “You forgot your positive attitude today...everything okay?”

“Sure, Dr. Freedman,” he responded, in a precisely noncommittal fashion.

“Family? Friends? School?”

Dov thought for a moment and then nodded in agreement.

“Something with the last shidduch?”

“No, that’s still going. She’s just in France visiting her grandmother, so it’s on hold.”

“Nu, then? What’s the story? You’re alive and healthy — and hopefully you survived Rosh Hashanah with a kesivah tovah.”

“It’s something dumb,” he said, and blushed. “Not worth getting upset about, to be honest.”

“One way or another you’re clearly upset, though. What happened? Did you get a speeding ticket or something?”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Because you were late and upset, and nothing makes people late and upset like a speeding ticket.”

“Not a speeding ticket, a flat tire,” Dov blushed. “I told you it was dumb.”

“That’s it? You’re still upset over a flat tire? Baruch Hashem, you’re healthy, you have a roof over your head, and you have the best mentor in the entire world, who just got you free bourekas for breakfast, even though you showed up late. The world is your oyster, habibi. Don’t stress.”

“You’re right, Dr. Freedman. I know it’s dumb, but I had to pay the tow truck 500 shekels, waste an hour, and now I’m stuck taking the bus back to the shop this afternoon — that’s if my car is even ready. This stuff is so annoying.”

“Agreed, Dov. Cars can be awful. Price of gas, random maintenance and licensing fees, and the yearly excise tax, whatever that is. But that’s how cars go — you just gotta accept and stop being bummed about things you have no control over anyway.”

“Fine, if you’ll give me a ride to the shop after clinic.”

“Dov, it’s a deal, but only if you’ll listen to a bit of pre–Yom Kippur mussar.”

He nodded in agreement, so I began. “Around decade ago, when I was in the midst of a grueling intern year, I got an amazing windfall — a full two weeks of being on backup call only. I couldn’t go on any vacations or do anything too fun, but unless anyone paged me, I had the permission to be wherever I wanted within a 20-minute drive of the hospital. So I figured I’d do the responsible thing and go to kollel every day and try to get in some learning.

“So there I was, shteiging away and proud of myself for this little arrangement I’d made with the Eibeshter. The rosh kollel, Rabbi Naftoly Bier, was proud of me too. Every day he’d come up to me and give me a pat on the back and tell me he was happy to have me learning in the beis medrash. One afternoon, when I was really making good progress in my Gemara, Rabbi Bier decided he’d tell me over an extra-long midrash about Shlomo Hamelech:

“There was once a farmer who lived outside the city. Every day, when he’d go to tend to his chickens, he’d hear the birds chirping. The man got a bit irked by this over time and decided that the birds were talking about him. But of course, he couldn’t understand what they were saying, so he decided to seek out Shlomo Hamelech, who spoke every tongue, to teach him their language. The farmer went to the palace and asked to learn the language of the birds, but Shlomo Hamelech refused, telling the man that it wouldn’t lead to any good, but after much stubbornness and begging, Shlomo acquiesced.

“The farmer returned to his home and heard the birds talking. ‘This poor guy,’ the birds said. ‘Foxes are about to eat his chickens.’ The man was overjoyed, as he had suspected they were talking about him all along. He promptly went into town and sold his chickens for a nice profit. The next morning, he awoke to hear the birds talking again. ‘This poor guy, his house is about to burn down,’ they said. The man was again overjoyed, and sold his home and took his family to stay elsewhere, grateful to have escaped this calamity. The following day he returned to see the property scorched and the birds talking to each other once again. ‘This poor guy,’ they said. ‘He’s about to die because there is a din upon him.’ This time the man cried out and ran straight to the palace to find Shlomo Hamelech, and pleaded for a way to escape his judgement. Shlomo shook his head and told the man that there was nothing to be done.

“Rabbi Bier smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulders. ‘You get it? There is a certain amount of din than has to come out. Better it had been his chickens or even his house than his life, right?’

“I responded enthusiastically, even though I didn’t really get the connection. ‘But what’s the nafka mina here and today with me?’ I asked my rosh kollel.

“ ‘You have a silver station wagon, right? Some drunk driver just plowed into it and totaled the entire car. I already took care of it and got the information from the police and the tow company,’ he said, handing me an officer’s card and another one from an auto shop. ‘I didn’t want to disturb your learning, as it’s likely what’s protecting you from getting paged to the hospital. Plus, it’s always better that the din comes out on your car.’

“I was strangely calm, and all I could do was laugh and give Rabbi Bier a hug. I was able to finish a beautiful afternoon seder at the kollel and then took care of the car business the following morning.”

Dov looked at me incredulously. “You’re telling me you weren’t upset or frustrated at all?”

“Not that day. I had Rabbi Bier to help me keep things in perspective. What was I going to do, anyway — go to the local jail and scream at the drunk driver? Kapparas avonos... Baruch Hashem, I got my din out for a while.”

Dov’s smile had returned. “So I guess the flat and the tow truck are just a way of taking a few makkos now before Yom Kippur?”

“Well, I’m not a mekubal, and I don’t understand the language of the birds... but sure, why not? If we gracefully accept the challenges Hashem throws us and rely on Him to walk us through them, we’ll surely have a good year.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 679. 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.