By Dr. Meir Wikler
Every morning, in birchos hashachar, we thank Hashem for “preparing the footsteps of man” – hameichin mitzadei gaver. Every encounter we have throughout the day is preordained, and has a specific purpose and lesson. Often, we are oblivious to the Divine Plan and chalk these meetings up to simple happenstance.
Recently, however, I met someone who even I could see was dispatched from Above. In order to fully comprehend the import of our conversation, a bit of background information is necessary.
Approximately ten years ago, a well-respected mechanech who I had heard of but barely knew approached me in shul one day after davening.
“Dr. Wikler, may I speak with you in confidence?” he asked in an undertone.
“Of course,” I replied, feeling a bit flattered that someone of his stature would trust me with a personal matter.
He informed me that his wife had been suffering from chronic, debilitating depression for many years. They had tried psychotherapy, psychotropic medications, and even shock therapy – all to no avail. His wife was literally unable to function as a wife and mother, and he was at his wits’ end, searching for the tiniest ray of hope. Perhaps, he wondered, I might know of some alternative therapy that they had not yet tried.
Unfortunately, I was unable to suggest anything. All I could do was empathize with the man’s plight and wish his wife a refuah sheleimah. My feeling of helplessness lingered long after the conclusion of our brief exchange.
Recently, I learned about the impressive results of a new treatment for chronic depression called “TMS.” The next time I happened to see that mechanech, I was eager to approach him and inquire about his wife’s health, because now I did have a suggestion to offer.
“Shalom aleichem,” I began. “How is your wife feeling these days?”
“Oh, thank you for asking,” he replied, sincerely appreciative that I had remembered his predicament. “Baruch Hashem, she is doing much better now. In fact, for the past two years she has been more of a mother and a wife than ever before.”
I was delighted to hear the good news. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “Please tell me what miraculous treatment you found.”
“You want to know the truth?” he whispered, leaning in closer to me to ensure that the conversation would not be overheard. “I was the therapy.”
Now my curiosity was really piqued. “What do you mean?”
He then went on to explain that since his marriage, he had not been a very good husband. He had been overbearing, short-tempered, and critical, and had routinely demeaned his wife. As he put it, “It was my way or the highway. I was the boss, and she had to do everything my way.”
Approximately two years ago, this mechanech did some serious soul searching, which, combined with a few heart-to-heart consultations with his personal rebbi, produced a dramatic turnaround. “A paradigm shift,” as he put it to me.
His behavioral changes had a gradual but profoundly positive impact on his wife’s chronic depression. She began to steadily improve in her functioning as both a wife and a mother. For instance, before the turnaround two years ago, she was resentful and even disparaging of her husband’s public shiurim. “Again you’re speaking?” she would ask disdainfully.
Last week, the husband was invited to deliver a shiur on Shabbos afternoon. His wife volunteered to accompany him on his walk to the shiur. And when he came home, she proudly and enthusiastically inquired how it went, how many men showed up, etc.
My clients would be legitimately horrified at the thought that I might publicize any private matter they shared with me in confidence, even if I didn’t use their name. To assuage their concerns, therefore, I will close with the final words this man shared with me before we parted.
“As you can imagine, it was not easy for me to acknowledge that I was the cause of my wife’s depression all of these years. And, quite honestly, I was uncomfortable sharing this with you. I did so, however, because I hope that someday you’ll write up my story and publish it. You see, I may not be the only husband who is mistreating his wife and causing her to be depressed. And if even one other person will learn from my example, it will go a long way toward mitigating some of the damage I caused.”
I left that brief encounter with deep admiration and respect for this courageous mechanech. It takes tremendous honesty and incredible strength of character to take charge of one’s middos the way he did. I was also left with a heightened awareness of the Hashgachah pratis involved in such “chance” encounters, and with a firm resolve to fulfill the man’s wish that I publicize his story.
Which I just did.