M y medical student Dov was finally getting a little softer around the edges, taking his studies — and life — more seriously, and instead of dreading the days he’d be tailing me at the clinic, I was actually starting to appreciate him.

With each passing week, he was becoming more proficient: better at diagnosing and more knowledgeable regarding treatment. I’d worked with plenty of students in my years of practice, and what I really enjoyed about Dov was his blunt and direct curiosity. While it sometimes got him into hot water with my patients whose fragile psyches couldn’t always tolerate his frank and honest approach — some cases need a bit more gentleness than others — it was something we were working on. I didn’t want Dov to bury his personality, just to focus and channel it.

Dov was always directing unexpected comments my way, so it didn’t really surprise me when, during a lull in between patients over a cup of Turkish coffee, he threw me the following question: “Dr. Freedman, what would you do if you weren’t a psychiatrist seeing patients?”

“Why, do you have a winning lottery ticket for me?” I responded. “Because if I had a few billion, I’d probably learn and teach Torah most of the time while working in a free clinic, just to keep my skills up.”

“That’s not what I meant, Dr. Freedman. I mean, did you ever consider doing something else? Do you ever feel like you’re locked into this and it isn’t really what you wanted to do with your life? I’m asking because it just feels a little scary investing all this time and money in a profession I might not even like or that might not even suit me.”

It was a good question, and frankly one that I hadn’t thought about for a while. Sure, there were times back in college when I wanted to write full-time, and other points when I thought about being a teacher. I even went through a phase where I dreamed of being a country-and-western singer. And once I got to medical school, I thought for sure I’d be a pediatrician. But over the past few years I’d been pretty set on being a psychiatrist and hadn’t really thought too much about doing anything else.

“Actually, I’m pretty sure psychiatry is my calling,” I told Dov, who I hoped wasn’t too disappointed that I hadn’t shared some hidden wish or fantasy. “I guess I’m pretty happy with it, to be honest with you.”

Dov sighed. He realized he wasn’t going to get too much out of me. That being said, his question got me thinking: Maybe I’m being too complacent in my life, not charging forth with some campaign or project that would bring betterment to mankind — or at least to our little corner of the world.

“You know what I would really like to do, Dov?” Now I got his attention again. “I’d like to create a campaign addressing the smoking plague that exists here in Israel.”

There’s something about the culture here that has resisted aggressively labeling cigarette smoking as a health hazard. Recently I’d read some alarming statistics: Over a quarter of new army recruits are smoking cigarettes and close to half are addicted by the time they finish their service in the IDF. For people who’d like to blame this on secular Israeli culture, I’d ask them to visit a frum neighborhood in Jerusalem to see how many bochurim are addicted to cigarettes.

So the idea came to me and I told Dov, “I think I’d be out there taking a stand against cigarettes.”

“What do you mean, like a war on tobacco?” asked Dov.

“I mean that cigarettes are awful for the mind and body and that this is a major public health concern. Do you know what the brachah is before smoking a cigarette? ‘Baruch soref kaspi b’yadi [Blessed is Hashem Who burns my money in my hands].’ ” Dov laughed a bit and then I asked him how much a pack of cigarettes costs these days.

Dov shook his head and told me he didn’t smoke. I don’t think he expected the conversation to take this direction.

“Smoking costs a fortune! It’s about eight bucks a pack, which is $50 a week and more than $2,500 a year if you smoke a pack a day. How can a bochur even afford to smoke? And to spend that kind of money on something that’s addictive and deadly?”

Dov nodded in agreement. I think he’d have preferred to talk about being a country-and-western singer.

“Do you know what the brachah is after smoking a cigarette?” I plowed on. “Let’s hope it’s mechayeh hameisim.” He didn’t really laugh, so I just continued. “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to smoke cigarettes? They cause cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. They’re awful. We need to get kids off of this stuff. And then there is secondhand smoke. What about all of the young women who will be married to these young bochurim? They’ll be expecting and exposing their unborn babies to secondhand smoke!”

“Well,” said Dov, deciding to test the waters, “don’t you know that a lot of people smoke and live until they’re old? What about Rav Kadouri ztz”l? He smoked all day long and lived to 106!”

“Rav Kadouri used to say that he was fixing neshamot that were chayav sereifah when he smoked cigarettes. I don’t think that’s applicable to most of the kids who are out there smoking between shiur. Don’t get me wrong. They’re good kids from good families and they learn all day long. But smoking is dangerous for them, dangerous for their families, and it costs a fortune.”

Dov thought for a moment and then piped up, “Why don’t we get a giant poster of Rav Moshe Feinstein with the quote from Igros Moshe that says ‘Smoking is assur’? We could drape it across the walls of the Old City for everyone to see!”

I had no idea if he was really serious, but hey, not a bad idea! Then Dov changed his tone and thought out loud, “But maybe it’s also good to just start small and make sure we speak with our patients today about how dangerous smoking is. That way we can also work on making a difference one patient at a time.”

“Yes, maybe that’s wiser,” I said, almost to myself, and then decided I’d flip the original question around on him. “And what would you do if you decide not to be a great psychiatrist one day?”

“Maybe I’ll become the PR manager for your next campaign.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 688. 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.