So you think you are multi-tasking? Too much to do, so much stress, never enough time… Well, here is an inspiring and highly entertaining letter from Maimonides to the man who asked for permission to translate one of his major works. Bear in mind that Maimonides worked as a physician to the Sultan, as the head of the Jewish congregation which also involved legal work, and that he wrote enough to make most of us assume he did it as a full time job. Try to remember also that he did not have a computer, a type writer, or even a fountain pen. He wrote with a quill…
Epistle to Rabbi Samuel Ibn Tibbon Regarding the Translation of The Guide of the Perplexed:
"The Lord knows how I have written so much. I run away from people, hiding where they would not notice me, sometimes I lean against a wall, sometimes I lie down to write because of my weakness, because this extreme weakness is conspiring with my age.
Regarding your visit – come, and welcome, and I am happy about it and want, long and yearn for it, and I will have more joy seeing you than you will have seeing me, though it is difficult for me to think about the danger of your coming by sea. I would suggest and advise you not to endanger yourself, because your coming will only allow you to see me, and allow me to honor you as much as I can; But discussing any wisdom or discipline, or even have an hour alone with me, day or night – don’t expect that, because my affairs go as I will tell you:
I live in Fustat, and the Sultan resides in Cairo, and between the two places there are two Sabbath zones. The Sultan has a difficult habit – it is impossible for me to avoid seeing him every morning. If he is weak, or if any of his sons or concubines is sick – I cannot leave Cairo, and I spend most of the day in the Sultan’s house. It is impossible to avoid seeing his ministers every day, or an official or two may be sick, and I have to take care of their healing. Therefore – every day I go to Cairo at dawn, if no trouble or anything new happened, I go back to Fustat after at least half a day. When I arrive, quite hungry, I find the parlor full of non Jews, important and unimportant, and judges, and officials, a mixed company, who know when I am expected. I dismount from my beast, wash my hands, and go out to apologize for keeping them waiting a few minutes while I eat a quick meal, often the only one during the day. Then I go to take care of them and write their prescriptions, and there is coming and going until late at night, and sometimes – may the Torah be my witness – I may be up until two o’clock in the morning. I talk to them lying down from exhaustion, and when the night is over I cannot talk. The result is no man of Israel can talk to me or spend some time with me except on Saturday. They all come after prayer, I guide the community as to what they should do during the weak; they would have a short reading until noon, and then leave. A number of them come back in the afternoon for another reading until the evening prayer.
This is the way my affairs go, and I only told a little of what you will see with the help of the Lord, blessed be his name. When you complete the translation you started – since you started the mitzva you should finish it – come for a visit, not for study, because my time is so limited."