The mental-health field is generally not considered to be a very high-risk profession. One family therapy session I conducted about 40 years ago, however, would make skyscraper window washing look safe by comparison.

Let me set the scene. A yeshivah ketanah menahel, Rabbi S. (I would love to write his full name, but he is such an anav, it would offend him), referred a 13-year-old talmid and his family to me for counseling. This eighth grader — let’s call him Ari — was disruptive, disrespectful, and deteriorating rapidly. This was not surprising, as he came from a very dysfunctional family, with his father totally out to lunch and his mother so severely disturbed that she would commit suicide a couple of years later.

After getting nowhere with Ari in a few individual sessions, I scheduled an appointment to meet with his whole family for family therapy. We had barely sat down when Ari, seated to my left, picked up a glass ashtray on the coffee table in the middle of my office and hurled it across the room at his older sister, missing her ear by millimeters. Neither parent responded appropriately to that outburst. A few minutes later, as I was turned to my right, I sensed something menacing over my left shoulder. I spun around and saw Ari open a switchblade, with which he proceeded to threaten me.

My eyes opened wide and I tried to conceal my panic as I stared at the gleaming blade being waved inches from my face. Ari was sitting between me and the door. Escape was not an option. Neither parent reacted. My entire life did not flash before my eyes, but I do recall thinking that graduate school had not prepared me for anything like this. With little experience to guide me, I responded on instinct and adrenaline alone.

Reaching my hand out, I said, firmly, “Give me that knife right now!”

To my utter surprise and great relief, Ari complied. I recall nothing of the remainder of the session, other than that I deliberately did not schedule any further appointments with this family. At that point, I was convinced that Ari would end up in jail before his 16th birthday. My supervisor was even more pessimistic.

Shortly after that session, Rabbi S. made it clear to me that he had not given up on Ari. He told me that he was going to recommend to Ari’s parents that they send him upstate the following year to a new mesivta geared to boys like him.

Fast-forward about 15 years. I had just finished davening Minchah in Meah Shearim in Yerushalayim one summer, when a bearded kollel yungerman with a broad smile approached, asking, “Are you Dr. Wikler?”

When I answered affirmatively, he introduced himself. “I’m Ari. Do you remember me?” After I composed myself, Ari filled me in. He was married with one child and learning full-time in a local kollel. And after all those years, he was happy to see (and shock) me.

“I guess I just needed to get away from all that craziness at home,” Ari explained, answering my unspoken questions. “And I also felt those rebbeim upstate really understood and cared about me.”

Many parents and mechanchim make the mistake of adopting the attitude: What you see is what you get. The way children and talmidim are today, however, is not necessarily how they will turn out when they mature. We should never judge the effectiveness of our parenting or teaching by the immediate results because it may take some time for our efforts to achieve the desired outcome. Unlike me, for example, Rabbi S. not only saw who Ari was but also who he could become.

As Yishai declared upon learning that his outcast son Dovid, a simple shepherd, was selected by Shmuel Hanavi to be the next king of Klal Yisrael: “Even ma’asu habonim haysah l’rosh pinah — The rock cast away by the builders has become a cornerstone” (Tehillim 118:22, as elucidated in Pesachim 119a).

The importance of not underestimating the long-term effectiveness of our current actions could not be better illustrated than with the following account I recently heard from someone who heard it a couple of years ago from the protagonist himself.

In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, waves of Jewish immigrants came to Eretz Yisrael from the surrounding Middle Eastern countries. The Jewish Agency often separated Sephardic children from their parents and placed them in brainwashing centers disguised as resettlement camps.

When the Chazon Ish ztz”l learned that one of these camps was being established at a remote location, too far from Bnei Brak for him to visit personally, he summoned two teenaged chareidi bochurim; we’ll call them Yossi and Bentzy. “I need you to go and speak to those children and give them chizuk to hold on to their Yiddishkeit,” he instructed them.

The guards at the gate of the compound took one look at these two 17-year-olds with yarmulkes and long peyos and barred them from entering. Undaunted, the pair circled the camp several times, searching for another way in. Unfortunately, they could not find one. Half an hour later, they were back to where they started.

They decided to leave and come back to try again, assuming that the gate would not be under continuous surveillance. An hour later, however, the entrance was as carefully guarded as before. After devoting the better part of a day to their unsuccessful attempt to gain access to the Sephardic children being held in the compound, Yossi and Bentzy reluctantly returned home, bitterly disappointed.

When they arrived back in Bnei Brak, they went straight to the home of the Chazon Ish, recounting, with long faces, their failure to carry out their mission.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” the Chazon Ish said softly, trying to comfort them. “You did all you could. Obviously, Hashem did not want or need for you to do more than that. Bitachon means believing that Hashem has a plan and a purpose for everything.”

Sixty years later, the nearly octogenarian Yossi was still living in Bnei Brak. One night, a Sephardic neighbor was marrying off his son. Although Yossi did not know this neighbor very well, he nevertheless decided to pop in to the chasunah just to say mazel tov. After greeting his neighbor, Yossi was introduced to the neighbor’s father.

“It is such a wonderful simchah for me to see my grandson, an outstanding ben Torah, getting married,” the grandfather of the chassan gushed to Yossi. “You know when I first came to this country, they tried to tear us away from Torah altogether. I arrived with about a hundred other children, and only a handful of us succeeded in remaining religious.”

“How did they try to turn you against Torah?” Yossi asked, curious to learn more details about this sad chapter of Jewish history from a near victim.

“We were separated from our parents and taken to an isolated resettlement camp,” the man recounted. “Our counselors tried to indoctrinate us with their secular ideology. They told us that our kippot and peyot, simanim [symbols] of our Judaism, were only necessary while living in non-Jewish lands. They claimed that in the holy land of Israel, where everyone is Jewish, people don’t keep these simanim, and we, too, should discard these old-fashioned trappings of galut.”

Yossi shook his head in disgust, utterly unprepared for what he was about to hear.

“One day, however,” the grandfather continued, “I was looking out the window, and I saw two boys, about 17 or 18 years old, walking around and around the camp. I jumped up and called my friends. ‘Look,’ I pointed, as my friends crowded around the window. ‘Those are Israeli boys! And they look just like us, with kippot and long peyot!’ We realized that the counselors had been lying to us, and that helped some of us resist their efforts to get us to abandon Torah and mitzvot.”

It took 60 years for Yossi to learn that his mission had, in fact, succeeded; he had come face-to-face with one of the Sephardic boys he had helped to remain frum. He then realized that the Chazon Ish’s words were practically prophetic: “You did all you could. Obviously, Hashem did not want or need you to do more than that.”

If we could only remember and apply the words of the Chazon Ish to our own lives whenever we fail to achieve our parenting or chinuch objectives — however well-intentioned and however hard we try. We would not give up hope when our tefillos are not answered or our hopes not realized. Rather, we would be mechazek ourselves that it might just take a bit longer for our efforts to bear fruit.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 698. Dr. Meir Wikler, a frequent contributor to this space, is an author, psychotherapist, and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, NY, and Lakewood, NJ.