I t had been ages since I’d spoken with Mike, so it was a nice surprise to hear his voice one Friday afternoon. We were two frum guys who wound up studying together at Harvard over a decade ago and had stayed close. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done the best job keeping in touch since I’d moved to Israel.

“Hi, Yaakov! Just figured I’d call to wish you a gut Shabbos,” he said.

“Wow, Mike, great to hear from you! Private practice suiting you well?”

“You better believe it. I just bought an amazing place on the Upper West Side and it’s fantastic here. My practice is booming, which helped me to afford the new place, but thank G?d I’ve made enough money to even pay for Tali’s $25-thousand preschool. You can make a solid 500 bucks a patient up here in Manhattan! It’s awesome.”

“Baruch Hashem,” I responded with as much half-hearted enthusiasm as I could muster, realizing that as the years have passed, more than an ocean has separated us.

“So tell me what’s up with you, Yaakov. How’s aliyah, the wife, kids?”

I reviewed my family’s updates from top to bottom and told Mike a story or two about the community we were living in outside of Jerusalem.

“Aren’t those settlements, Yaakov? Sounds a bit crazy to me. Aren’t they dirty and unsafe?”

I chuckled and responded, “Dirty and unsafe like Washington Heights at night or dirty and unsafe like eating at a fast-food Chinese restaurant in Lakewood?”

Mike laughed and then said, “What about work? You making good money? After all, your credentials are tops.”

“Baruch Hashem, doing fine. You don’t have to pay 20 to 30 thousand per kid out here, which makes things easier.”

“Eretz Yisrael has lousy schools, huh?”

“Nope,” I responded. “Schools are unbelievable actually, just a bit different. Also, you make less money here so it’s great that they’re not so expensive.”

“Okay, got it. So, Yaakov, tell me about your practice. How much do you charge for each patient?”

“Depends, I guess,” I told Mike. “Sliding scale like always. There is the normal rate for folks who can afford it, which supports the folks that I make exceptions for. Of course, it’s dependent on the case.”

“Do you have an office downtown in one of the upper-crust Anglo neighborhoods like Rechavia?”

“Mike,” I said gently, “I think it’s a bit different here. I’ll tell you a quick story. About a month ago I got called to see a young yeshivah kid who was going through a tough time and was anxious. Apparently, he had too much anxiety to leave the house, so I volunteered to see him at his parents’ apartment on the way home from the clinic one day.”

“You did a home visit? That’s crazy,” Mike chortled. “Did you bill extra for it at least? Travel time is missed billable hours.”

“It was on the way home and in a neighborhood I wasn’t too familiar with, so I was happy to get the excuse to see a new place in Eretz Yisrael.”

“Sounds like you got suckered,” he commented smugly.

“Let me finish the story, and then you’ll tell me. Anyway, I get to the apartment and meet the family. Wonderful people — the mother brought me a cup of tea and some home-made bourekas. Turns out the poor kid was debilitated by anxiety because he had developed tics. With a history of recent strep throat, it was clear that he needed a neurological evaluation, so I wrote him the referral and sent him to see a great local doctor. The family was so grateful, and it turns out they were ninth-generation Yerushalmis. The mother was actually the granddaughter of a famous Persian mekubal and the father was a rosh kollel of a beis medrash with forty avreichim. So to answer your question about getting paid, the family had about a dozen kids squashed into three bedrooms, and I decided to take half my normal rate because I felt bad asking for any more.”

“You gave them a discount and you had to do a home visit and you...”

“Mike, let me finish,” I interrupted. “I remembered a story I’d heard from my friend Meir Elmekayes, that his brother had once painted the house of the Baba Sali. When he asked for payment, the Baba Sali gave him a brachah — in lieu of a few thousand shekels — that he should have a lot of kids. At first Meir’s brother was upset about receiving a brachah in place of a wad of cash for the work, but now, a few decades later, he has around 14 healthy kids and about 29 grandkids. So I asked the young bochur’s parents for a brachah. And I got a great one: that I should grow in my Torah learning and my kids should be talmidei chachamim.”

“Yaakov, you’ve lost your mind. Making aliyah, living in the middle of nowhere, and seeing patients for next to nothing in their own homes as long as you get a brachah?”

“Well, the brachah has been working out amazing so far. Baruch Hashem, I’ve been learning three days a week for a full morning seder and the kids are doing great in their schools, bli ayin hara.”

“I dunno, Yaakov. I guess I just don’t get it.”

I’d agree with that one, Mike, that you don’t seem to get it, I thought to myself as I considered making some sort of scathing remark about how he’d chosen gashmiyus over everything else and how he was clearly missing out on the beauty of helping Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. Maybe I’d tell him that he was a faker, a fraud, or even one of the guys who whined about returning to Mitzrayim in a previous gilgul. But then, just as I was realizing how Mike and I are really the products of the same culture, he broke into my thoughts with a beautiful gift.

“But I give you credit, Yaakov. Even if you’ve lost your mind, it sounds like you’re loving it and helping a lot of people. Let me know if you find some good tzedakah organizations too, and I’ll be happy to help and donate. Even if I can’t join you, I’ll help out in the way that I can, by giving a few thousand bucks to the clinic you work at and the yeshivos out there where you live.”

“Mike, you’re the best,” I said. “Don’t think that you can’t move to Rechavia, though, and open a private practice, too, if you want to one day soon.”

“We’ll see, Yaakov. Not today, but who knows? Maybe sooner than we all think. Anyway, gotta run, and gut Shabbos!”

I hung up, feeling grateful that I’d judged Mike favorably, that I’d chosen to move past the cut-throat competition and race for riches, and that, baruch Hashem, good ol’ Mike was a dedicated Yid with a big heart. It was definitely going to be a gut Shabbos. —

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 683. 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 websitewww.drjacoblfreedman.com.