Meshuga: Borrowed from Hebrew, meshuga (mi-SHOO-gah) means “crazy” in Yiddish. It can also be pronounced meshigeh, meshugeh or even meshugie.

Other related words:

  • A person who is meshuga is called a meshuganer (mi-SHOO-gi-ner).
  • Many such people are meshugoyim, a corruption of the Hebrew meshuga’im, and a word that is completely unrelated to the word goyim (Hebrew-Yiddish for “gentiles”).
  • A craze is called a meshugaas (mi-shoo-GAHS).

Meshuga in a Sentence

So if you wanted to say, “Hey wackos, that lunatic is making me nuts with his craziness,” it would be accurate to say, “Hey mishugoyim, that meshuganer is making me meshuga with his meshugaas.”

Going Meshuga in the Bible

In the list of curses that will befall Israel if they stray from the Torah, we read, “You will be meshuga from the vision before your eyes that you will behold.”1

But being meshuga is not all negative. Indeed, prophets are referred to as meshuga in Scripture. For example, “Jehu went out to his master’s servants, and one said to him, ‘Is all well? Why did this meshuga come to you?’”2

Why is a prophet referred to as meshuga? Here is how Maimonides describes the experience of prophets receiving prophecy: “Their limbs tremble, their physical powers become weak, they lose control of their senses, and thus, their minds are free to comprehend what they see.”3

Rabbi David Kimchi (also known by the acronym, RaDaK) explains that “they would call a prophet meshuga because at times, during the prophecy, he would act like a meshuga who had left his senses.”4

The chassidic masters explain that as the prophets leave their senses behind, they ascend to the same level as Adam before he sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus, their mishugaas does not place them below their “rational” peers, but above the conventions of common knowledge.5

The Village Meshuganer

Let’s conclude with a chassidic story.

Like all other towns and cities, the town of Lubavitch was blessed with the presence of a meshuganer. He was well-loved by the townspeople, who appreciated the fine qualities of the village fool. But he was just one meshuganer in a small town, and he sometimes felt lonely. One day, he was invited to move to the larger city of Vitebsk, where there would be more meshugoyim for him to hang out with.

On one hand, he was tempted by the offer. On the other hand, how could he leave his shtetl (town) with no resident meshuganer?

Like all denizens of Lubavitch, the meshuganer knew that the big questions in life must be discussed with the rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, also known as the Rebbe Maharash.

But the rebbe’s secretary refused to give him an appointment. After all, he was a bona fide meshuganer. Undeterred, the wily meshuganer waited until the rebbe was going out of town, as he often did for his health.

As the rebbe’s wagon passed by, the meshuganer leapt aboard and laid out his dilemma for the rebbe. The rebbe advised him to remain in Lubavitch, since the town needed him to be their meshuganer, and in Vitebsk he would be one of many mishugoyim.

After he jumped off the wagon with a satisfied grin, the meshuganer was almost immediately surrounded by chassidim who wanted to know what he had discussed with the rebbe. He gladly shared with them his dilemma and the rebbe’s advice.

“But you are a meshuganer!” marvelled one of the chassidim. “How do you know to ask and follow the rebbe’s advice?”

Meshuga, meshuga,” he replied sagely, “but seichel (common sense) you must have.”

Editor’s Note: After this article was published, many of you raised the important issue of mental illness and how it relates to what we have written. Thank you for bringing this up. Mental illness is a serious condition, and in no way did we intend to trivialize it or make light of those who live with it. Regarding the artwork, the image is indeed disturbing, but perhaps that is a good thing—leading our readers to honest introspection, as it has for us.