Who’s Crazy Now?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths (mpaths.com)

When I was a bit younger, a year or two from bar mitzvah age, my uncle went crazy. Or, so I was told. You see, he became ‘religious’, and the whole family told me my beloved uncle had gone absolutely bonkers. If he was coming to visit, they’d put their arms around me and say, “Akiva (though they didn’t call me Akiva back then), be careful when your uncle comes over, he’s gone crazy.” And, on a couple of occasions when I went to visit him with my grandmother, a”h, she’d carefully prep me, “Akiva (though she didn’t call me that back then), he and your cousins may act funny on Saturday or have funny food demands, don’t mind them because they’re crazy.”

Now my uncle is a man I greatly respect. He has a certain powerful presence, has done big things and is even a little famous. I respect his opinion and his intellgence, but of course didn’t respect anything about religion becase he was crazy. My cousins are close to my age, we always had fun together. When visiting, when they went to synogogue on Saturday I followed them and went with the flow. But of course, I didn’t pay much attention to what they were actually doing or what it meant, because they were crazy.

10 years later, no longer very close to my crazy uncle and his family, I started my own search. While I did call my uncle and a cousin early on and ask a few questions, and visited them for a Passover seder and for a Rosh Hashanah, they really weren’t involved in or much of an influence on my search. After all, who would put too much stock in somebody who was crazy?

My uncle and his family are nice mainstream orthodox Jews, they keep kosher and Shabbos and all the mitzvot. But they’re also very worldly, and that works great for them, may Hashem bless them.

Ahh, but my search went through Chabad. And I was at a stage in my life where changing lifestyles and diving in full force was, well not easy, but much more possible. So, five years later I was wearing a black hat and suit, and a full beard. The strictest levels of kosher and modesty began to come between me and my family.

Suddenly, one day my mother asked, “why can’t you be more normal like your uncle???”.

My uncle was crazy when judged by our, unfortunately, assimilated extended family. Compared to a chassidic lifestyle, now he’s normal and I’m the crazy one.

I told this story to my uncle recently, he told me they also called him up some years after I became religious and asked him, “what did you do to Akiva???”

Today, we crazy ones don’t know what we did, but all my grandfather’s and grandmother’s, a”h, great-grandchildren (15 of them between my cousins and myself), are frum religious Jews, Baruch Hashem Yishtabach Sh’mo, thank G-d, blessed is His name.

14 comments on “Who’s Crazy Now?

  1. “Let us have some of last year’s wheat set aside for us so that we will not have to eat the tainted grain”

    The king replied, “If we do this, we alone will be sane in a mad world”.

    Bob Miller,

    Thanks for clearing that up. It’s quite an important inyan that was omitted. In other words only those who are makpid on yoshon are actually the sane ones.

  2. Actually, the king and his prime minister did have the option to not eat the bad grain, as seen from the story (see my link from May 17 above):

    The prime minister answered, “Let us have some of last year’s wheat set aside for us so that we will not have to eat the tainted grain.”

    The king replied, “If we do this, we alone will be sane in a mad world. Then it will be as though we are the ones who are mad and the others sane. But it isn’t possible to set wheat aside for everyone either. So we will also have to eat the tainted wheat. But we shall make a mark on our foreheads, so that when we look at each others’ foreheads, we will know that we are mad” (Avaneha Barzel, p. 27).

  3. Post # 2″May there be many more crazy ones like us in this world!!! Anyone know or remember the Rebbe Nachman story with the plague on the Wheat harvest?”

    Yes, heard it from Rav Ephraim Wachsman. A king was informed by his advisor that the latest wheat crop included a blight that caused anyone who ingested it to go meshuga.

    The king, not sure how to handle this, said to his advisor that it would be impossible for them to go without bread or to avoid the wheat.

    The advisor suggested that yes inevitably they would have to ingest the wheat but before doing so both the king and advisor would put a mark on their heads reminding each other that they were both meshuga.

  4. I relate to this post. When I was in public high school, there was one crazy orthodox boy who wouldn’t go to prom because it was on Friday night and stuff like that. We used to argue in history class, with me calling orthodoxy corrupt, and him sort of sighing. I was amazed to return to my hometown after doing teshuva and discover that he was just a normal modern orthodox guy, not the fanatic he seemed at the time…

  5. Just imagine a world full of unbalanced people all doing their best to lead decent, honest and mitzvah filled lives. What a wonderful place that would be.

  6. Mr. Davidov,

    “Many ba’alei teshuvah can be often be unbalanced people.”

    “Many” ? “Often” ?

    Is there any substantiation or credible documentation supporting the use of those two modifiers? What studies have been done? (I’m simply not aware of them…)

    I don’t deny the possibility for emotional or mental imbalance playing a role in someone becoming observant. Rabbi Dr. Daniel Stolper (clinical psychologist in Jerusalem) first told me about this 20 years ago. One of my teachers, Rabbi Dr. Wolicki (clinical psychologist at Shaarei Tzedek hospital) told us he looked for this with newly observant Jews and potential converts, just in case there was some ‘baggage’ that would complicate the course they chose.

    Yet I have not heard that this actually occurs in large numbers (your use of “many”), or frequently (your use of “often”); not even from my teachers and colleagues who were inclined to look out for such things.

    If there is documentation of this, it is an important ‘epidemiological’ piece of the puzzle. If not, it is merely misused hyperbole that distorts our understanding of the truth.

    What was the reason for you choice of words?

  7. I realize that you are making light of it. However, unfortunately, many ba’alei teshuvah can be often be unbalanced people. I’m not saying that everyone is, but it can often be the case.

  8. It’s interesting that Rabbi Tatz on this available for free audio file

    TZ-26 Newly Observant: Social Integration on this page

    recommends that you tell your relatives that you’ve basically gone crazy and request their cooperation in your “mishegas”.

  9. May there be many more crazy ones like us in this world!!! Anyone know or remember the Rebbe Nachman story with the plague on the Wheat harvest?

  10. As a teenager, I had visited Israel and spent some time with my distant, non-religious cousins. A year or two later, my younger brother visited with the same relatives. They offered him some non-kosher food and said “Only one meshugeneh per family”.

    Now, my brother (mostly because he dresses pretty much in black and white) often gets the question “Why can’t you be religious like your brother?”

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