Tibor's Musings

Rambam's Daily Schedule

Life's busy. We may feel being overwhelmed by our personal schedules, at times. We may feel being too tired to work it all out, at times. When this happens, why don't we look outside and ponder how a really busy person's schedule looks like? Shall we still feel too busy and too tired to do our own part?

Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, aka Rambam, was born in 1132 in Cordoba and died in 1204 in Cairo. Rambam worked as the court physician for the Sultan Saladin and the royal family in Cairo. Rambam authored many works in medicine, philosophy, and the Jewish law. He is best known for the monumental Mishneh Torah, the fourteen-volume codification of Jewish law and ethics, and the philosophical treatise Guide for the Perplexed on the Aristotelian philosophy from the Jewish perspective. The greatness of Rambam's stature is apparent from the epitaph "From Mosheh to Mosheh there has been none like Mosheh".

How was Rambam's day, then? Glimpses on Rambam's daily schedule were revealed in his letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon, the translator of the "Guide of the Perplexed". Rambam writes: (in 1199)

Now G-d knows that in order to write this to you I have escaped to a secluded spot, where people would not think to find me, sometimes leaning for support against the wall, sometimes lying down on account of my excessive weakness, for I have grown old and feeble.

With regard to your wish to come here to me, I cannot but say how greatly your visit would delight me, for I truly long to commune with you, and would anticipate our meeting with even greater joy than you. Yet I must advise you not to expose yourself to the perils of the voyage, for beyond seeing me, and my doing all I could to honor you, you would not derive any advantage from your visit. Do not expect to be able to confer with me on any scientific subject, for even one hour either by day or by night, for the following is my daily occupation. I dwell at Misr [Fostat] and the Sultan resides at Kahira [Cairo]; these two places are two Shabbath days' journey [about one mile and a half] distant from each other. My duties to the Sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children, or any of the inmates of his harem, are indisposed, I dare not quit Kahira, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two of the royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I repair to Kahira very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens I do not return to Misr until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and Gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes --- a mixed multitude, who await the time of my return.

I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients, and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty-four hours. Then I attend to my patients, write prescriptions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours and more in the night. I converse and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue, and when night falls, I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.

In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Shabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come unto me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day. I have here related to you only a part of what you would see if you were to visit me. Now, when you have completed for our brethren the translation you have commenced, I beg that you will come to me but not with the hope of deriving any advantage from your visit as regards your studies; for my time is, as I have shown you, excessively occupied.

(Quoted from "A Maimonides Reader", by Isadore Twersky, p.6-8.)