The Ancient Rabbi’s Secret Diary


Some people fill their diaries with secrets and desires, others with the details of nighttime angel rendezvous.

In 1646, such a diary appeared. Titled the Maggid Mesharim, or “Preacher of Righteousness,” the odd and mystical book belonged to Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim Caro, an esteemed Toledo-born scholar best known for the last essential codification of the Shulhan Arukh, a major code of Jewish law.

For 50 years, Caro, reverently known to many as “The Author,” filled his diary with the particulars of an angelic being’s routine nocturnal visits. This being, identified as a kind of personified Mishnah, lectures Reb Caro on the merits of modesty and asceticism. He commands Caro to be passionate in prayer, to be gentle and patient. He rebukes the rabbi for enjoying a second glass of wine or noshing on meat. And most surreally, he even lets the rabbi in on how his reputation is perceived in heaven.

Even more intriguingly, the diary, which was found long after Caro’s death in 1575, seems never to have been intended for publication—it more closely resembled a collection of private notes.

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