Your Crazy Time?

There was a story Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi told me that I wasn’t able to include in The December Project. It’s about Maimonides, the venerated rabbi, physician, astronomer and philosopher of the 13th century who’s considered one of the key Torah scholars in Jewish history.



Reb Zalman first learned about Maimonides at 14, when he’d just escaped from the Nazis with his family, stealing over the border to Belgium.  After the horrors he’d witnessed, he thought that the God he’d been taught to believe in at his yeshiva had “finked out.” Zalman could no longer accept that there was a “world to come,” when the Messiah would resurrect the dead, the rivers would flow with wine, and bagels would grow on trees.

He was angry and wanted to fight, and since he couldn’t fight God, he was looking for a stand-in. He visited a Torah class and called out, “Do you really believe that when the Messiah comes, the dead will crawl out from their graves to be resurrected? This is stupid! Opiate of the masses. Rob the people in this world but promise they’ll get something in the next.”

The students started yelling at him, but the teacher asked if Zalman wanted to hear from “someone who agrees with you.”  The teacher brought out a text by Maimonides which, according to Zalman, presents a sense of God as universal spirit and “debunks all the magical thinking about the afterlife.” Paraphrasing Maimonides, Zalman said, “Just as a blind man doesn’t know what color is, a deaf man doesn’t know what music is, and a eunuch doesn’t know what sex is, human beings can’t comprehend the afterlife because it’s with the soul, the spirit, it’s not merely an idea.”

Zalman felt vindicated. “To hear someone as great as Maimonides renounce foolish notions and affirm that there is more than this physical world… it made me feel I wasn’t a heretic but someone who belongs.”

Reb Zalman then told me a story he’d heard some years later.  “When Maimonides was teaching, he would disappear from his students every day for half an hour. He’d go into a private room, lock the door, and after thirty minutes, return to the study hall and take up where he’d left off.”

His students couldn’t help wondering what the revered rabbi might be doing for those 30 minutes. Praying? Being intimate with his wife? Rising to heaven? Receiving special teaching from the angels?

One of the brashest students hid in the private room one day, in a spot where he could observe the rabbi without being seen. At the customary time, Maimonides walked inside, locked the door, then took off his turban, his coat and slippers. “He started jumping around, making noises, moving his arms in wild motions, and screaming,” Reb Zalman said. After a half hour of this, he put back on his turban, his coat, and slippers and was preparing to leave when the student came out from his hiding place.

“Master, what is it you were doing in here?” the student said.

Maimonides admonished him. “You have no business being here.  But since you are, let me tell you. Every person, within a 24 hour period, has at least a half hour of madness in him.  I don’t want mine to mix in with the rest of the day.”

When Reb Zalman finished the story, I asked, “What is your half hour of madness?”

He laughed.  “I mix it in with the rest of the day.  I don’t separate it out.”  He said what impressed him about the story is that Maimonides respected his own madness. “Nu?  I like my craziness also.”

REMINDER!  Please join Reb Zalman and me for the Book Launch of The December Project, Wednesday, March 26, 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St, Boulder.
Sponsored by Boulder Book Store. $8 voucher can be applied to purchase. Buy voucher at book store, by phone, or at the door of the church.

To find more appearances in Colorado, N.Y. and California, click here.



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12 thoughts on “Your Crazy Time?

  1. anne

    Hey Sara – this is going to be a terribly ‘judgy’ comment but I’m reluctant to pick up a book by a wise scholar who has been married four times. I think it might be a good idea to remove that particular tidbit of info from the write-up for the book. I can’t imagine I’m the only narrow minded (yes, I told you that I realize it’s judgy) middle-aged woman to feel this way. Particularly given the divorce rate and the painful issues surrounding divorce. To think that I would receive wise counsel from a man who has been married four times is just hard for me believe. Sorry, but it’s my true feeling. Thanks – Anne

  2. Gail Storey

    I love this! What a relief to be free to let out our craziness in crazy time, whether mixed throughout the day or in it’s own time and space. I’m going to go take mine right now!

  3. Janat Dundas

    Charles Horowitz and I cannot wait to be there with you both next Wednesday. Thank you
    both for making this book. As I keep moving up in years it’s a relief to know there’s a
    guidebook, so to speak.

  4. Bob

    I love crazy wisdom stories because I think we all have a hint of craziness buried within. If life was perfectly controlled where people did not express their creativity and their emotions, it would be a very boring world. We live in a world of perfection where many people have lost their joy and their sense of craziness to do something different. I say Bravo!!!

  5. Reb Victor Gross

    Ah, Sara, the wonderful aspect of Reb Zalman’s story telling is that the story is used for different purposes or lessons. He told me that story years ago and his point was for me not to teach the Rambam as a rationalist (which I had until then). He said it was the influence of Sufism on the Rambam. Of course, his son greatly admired the Sufism. So, it changed my understanding of the Rambam and the influence of the neo-Platonists on the Rambam.

  6. Karen Marx

    Hi Sara – great story. Looking forward to seeing the two of you in Denver at the Tattered Cover. Karen

  7. Annie Drake

    Hi Sara! Everytime I see a message from you, I cannot wait to read it and have never been dissappointed. This one was so true. I am still in Costa Rica working in Sales and Real Estate for the Hotel Whales and Dolhins Resort. My office is by the kitchen. So, I translated the story to the staff. They loved it. While stress is low here, the madness still exists just on a lesser level. We agreed that this is a much better idea than yoga and burns more calories. I won´t be surprised if one day soon, I walk in my office to find one of my co-workers jumping up and down. Maybe I will join in.

  8. Peter engelhardt

    Hi Sara, it is peter from aspen, met at ‘magic of skiing’. Look forward to reading more stories from reb zalman and you. His spiritual enlightenment and experiences have me very interested. Especially as a Jewish rabbi. I believe that the Hebrews have a very important role to play on earth. It is true that they are the ‘chosen ones’, but that role is not really understood by most. This I see as it relates to the keepers of the crystalline grid, the Akashic records and most importantly, thier role in bringing peace to the planet. I wonder if reb zalman has given you any insights related to this.

    Be well, peter engelhardt

  9. Alicia Bay Laurel

    First of all, I loved reading about a contemporary holy man commenting about a holy man from long ago – both with philosophies that resonates for me. Secondly, I am pleased to hear about your new book, so Congratulations! I wish you great success with this wonderful book!

  10. William Ray

    If you are the same Sara Davidson, I read your description of the Mormons in the New York Review of Books, perhaps forty years ago. I’m glad that you are associated with the Rebe. If in California, stop and see us.

    with best wishes,

    William Ray

  11. niki berg

    It was wonderful to meet you last night at JCC. I loved being there and getting to know both of
    you. I too have been a long time seeker, its surely a wonderful place to live our lives.
    I told you the story of seeing my friends soul leave her body directly after her last breath.
    It hit the ceiling and smiled. This removed any doubt I had about our soul/spirit. After last
    nights meeting I am asking myself many questions. It is a very exciting place to be.
    I’m a photographer and have been working on the subjects aging and death for many years, using
    mostly myself and my family. When you have a moment (ha) you might be interested in seeing this work.
    Here is the link: – of particular interest Generations, When Death Comes
    again it is wonderful to know you and look forward to receiving your blog.
    Thank you and blessings – Niki

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