‘Normal Mystics’

The rabbinic scholar Max Kadushin came up with a marvelous title for the Rabbis of the Talmud: He called them “Normal Mystics.”

Mystics throughout history have seen visions denied to the rest of humanity. Many retreat from the world to mountaintops or forests in order to cultivate and concentrate on those visions. They practice deep, continuous spiritual exercises in the hope of sharpening and deepening the special sight that is granted to them by virtue of their gifts.

As Kadushin pointed out, that was not the Rabbinic path. Yes, the Rabbis prayed and meditated, and certainly had moments of solitude and contemplation. But the tradition forced them to engage in the world, in the everyday interactions of the market and the life of family. In this sense they were profoundly “normal.”

Yet in each moment, whether at the dinner table, the study hall or the marketplace, the Rabbis had a deep and profound sense of the presence of God. They were not cave dwelling Corybants practicing secret rituals. They plunged into the world to discover its foundations. In their steady but certain goodness and conviction of God’s presence, these normal mystics shaped the tradition that shaped us all.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.