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The Dubner Maggid

 

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The Sage and His Town

by Eliezer Steinman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz was born in Zhetl, Wilna region and died in Zamość, Poland. He functioned as a teller of fables and preacher in Międzyrzec (Mezritch de Lita) and Żółkiew (Zolkva), in Galicia and for only eighteen of the 64 years of his life did he actually live in Dubno and even then much of his time was spent on the road travelling from town to town, country to country, delivering his sermons – but his name is forever linked to the town of Dubno.

Apparently, the town was especially privileged in that his revered name should be so closely connected to it and it was an added privilege that the reputation of Ya'acov Krantz throughout the world should be transmitted not by his personal name nor by his famed book “Ya'acov's Tent” but simply as “The Maggid of Dubno”.

We find many instances of our sages being recognized by their writings like: Rambam, Rashi, the Maharsha [an acronym for Rabbi Shmuel Eidels – Moreinu Ha–Rabbi Shmuel Eidels]. Ha–Taz [Rabbi David Ha–Levi Segal after his renowned book “Turei Zahav” – “Pillars of Gold”]. Ha–Shaḥ [Rabbi Shabbtai ben Meir Ha–Cohen “Siftei Cohen” – “Lips of the Priest”] – nicknamed “Known in Yehuda” – among many other élite who were named for their towns such as: Ha–Maharal of Prague, The Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Yisrael of Medzhybizh (Medzhibozh, Mezbizh), The Preacher of Mezhyrichi (Mezerich), Rabbi Levi–Yitzhak of Berdichev. The Maggid of Dubno dwells among an élite society indeed.

So what is the difference between them? The amazing thing is that all these sages mentioned here, except the Gaon of Vilna, spent very little of their lives in the towns they are named for. Ha–Maharal, although he spent some time there during his lifetime, actually moved there shortly before his death as the town's Rabbi. The Ba'al Shem Tov of Medzhybizh; Rabbi Naḥman was neither born nor died in Breslev; Rabbi Levi–Yitzhak became Rabbi of Berdichev and later the Rabbi of several other towns; thus it was with the Maggid of Dubno. So what's the point of it all?

I think there is.

These sages of the towns are mostly men drawing the core of their wisdom from the wellspring of the people, not only Hoi Polloi but from the élite, worthy, riffraff and peacemakers as well. They were more than teachers, they were informers, and beyond making demands they bestowed and shed a new light on the lives of the people in general and the individual in particular. It was as if they lifted a heavy burden from the souls of the populace and increased the vitality of their being.

All these special qualities we find in Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz. He is a man of the Torah but especially a man of wisdom: he preached ethics but more than that, he preached sympathy and concern. He seemingly stood on the high dais of the homiletic interpreter but was humiliated to see the woes of the Jewish people and the sufferings of all of Israel. From within his people he sits and his soul speaks. He wears no clothes of honor; he is not installed as a rabbi nor was he considered as the local rabbi, nor was he a community's leading figure or a guide. He was a simple Jew wandering from place to place without claiming to inform “Ya'acov and Israel” of their sins but only to confirm with his pleasant words. For indeed “Ya'acov” will arise, although he is small and his haters many and large in number. But his faith is stronger and shields him with the upper hand on his fate and will not allow “Ya'acov” to fail; it is his strengthening girdle. But in parallel with the division within the faith, flowing within his sermons, there is found that tiny rivulet of common sense demanding recompense for the good and revenge upon the evil. Support (tana demasseya), for common sense is at the heart of the merciful claimant for justice.

The Maggid of Dubno is wise–hearted. Mercy is the basis of a wise heart. Because Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz is not an ordained rabbi or Dayan[1], he refrains from embellishments and passing judgments. His heart overflows with compassion. The power of a merciful one is his complete modesty and unpretentiousness. With what shall he boast of with his fellow–man? What advantage has he – greater wealth, power or wisdom or any other pleasant attribute. But the possessor of a great heart doesn't keep its goodness to himself because the advantage he has is to be shared and not kept to himself. If he is a distinguished scholar, he shows graciousness to those who are not so endowed with Torah as is he, and if he is wise and just, he feels sorry for all those who are untouched by the light of wisdom and righteousness. More than that: the merciful one is forever engulfed within the emotions of the heart and has no time to recognize his attributes; the Maggid of Dubno had no idea that he was the Maggid of Dubno, that his name was carried far and wide by many diverse routes; he knew not of his noble spirit. It is quite likely that it never occurred to him that he was unique to his generation if not to many generations. He had no time to be self appraising; his soul was flooded with the wonder of the Holy One blessed be He, of the people of Israel, of the legends and the countless homiletic interpretations that were retained in his memory as if in a safe. He was the safe of Israel's homiletic interpretations and by his countless proverbs and pleasant stories from life…

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… itself. He laid the corner–stone of Modern Hebrew literature, illustrating reality but he didn't know that. There are geniuses that are aware of their strengths and there are geniuses blithely unaware of the fact; he was entirely unaware. Wisely innocent or innocently wise – herein lay the pith of his course. His excessive modesty was fed and nurtured by his naïveté. In his conversations with the Gaon of Vilna, who takes upon himself the persona of the poor whom in the congregation of the respected – will not be honored, will not be greeted with cries of “welcome” and not be granted a place at the table; but he stands at the entrance or somewhere in the corner; he is not offered a portion of food, nor a spoon or fork and on his own volition he stretches forth his hand and selects items from what is on offer, in no order of preference, a piece of roast or a slice of salted fish, eating the last scraps. Therefore, he is unable to compose an organized book of Torah interpretations but snatches every morsel presented to him from the heavens, whether an exposition on Balak or Isaiah. He lives on what fortune provides. He sees himself as a passer–by, boarding any wagon that chances by and simply goes wherever it takes him.

All the fables of the Maggid of Dubno unite seamlessly with moral lessons but the lesson of his own poverty is unsuccessful. His is rich in spirit and has exceptional…

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…organizing ability. He never speaks spontaneously but ponders carefully before–hand. The poverty is found in his lessons because his heart is with the poor and all his spiritual life is with the pauper. He is close to the simple people. He is one of Hoi Polloi. I feel sure that the Maggid of Dubno never rebuked or censured or thundered from the pulpit, only ever spoke in tranquility. The meek dare not be seen as rowdy. No, he was no “loud–speaker” but the “people–speaker” – the people spoke through his voice. His spirit was recognized on the pulpit, not in the disguise of a Gaon but from the awe of glory and fear from the people. He not only speaks to the people he is also within the body of the public. Every public delegate is, in truth, in fear of the people because the people delegated him and his fear is that he does not fulfill their wishes.

The Maggid's heart was full of fear, but the congregation was warm–hearted toward him when listening to his sermons. The congregation heard the voice of their fathers, and forefathers dispersed throughout the Diaspora, the voice of future generations hoping for salvation and redemption. The voice of Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz spoke for the people: “The voice of the bride and the voice of the prayers and the voice of the dances of Simchat Torah[2] and the voice of joy and the voice of happiness and the voice of gladness.”

The Maggid of Dubno is significant as the Maggid of the people. Dubno won the right that the Maggid of the people dwelt within their midst, therefore Greater Dubno was a town AND the people of Israel.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. A recognized rabbinical judge Return
  2. The Festival of the Giving of the Torah Return


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The Fables and Parables of the Maggid of Dubno

by Eliezer Steinman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz, known to the entire, dispersed House of Israel by the nickname The Maggid of Dubno, acquired an excellent reputation and the love of the people through his many pleasing parables that were understood by everyone and were acceptable in everyone's opinion and were integrated into his sermons on portions of the Torah and the five scrolls: The Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther and Ecclesiastes.

The Maggid of Dubno had not intended at the outset to record his fables, as did many of the sages in Israel and the other peoples of the world had done. He was a preacher and interpreter of homiletic texts in the “Musar[1] tradition. What was important to him was the moral lesson. The proverb he introduced as if by chance, to penetrate the ears of his listeners. Nevertheless, every fable of his has a life of its own and speaks for itself; it even speaks to our heart as if it is the main reader in every event and chapter. And he is not a lesson only for himself for he comes to teach us something – the laws of the Torah, or the legends of the Midrash[2] or simple good manners and courtesy and life's experiences. He has tripled charms – his natural inborn charm, that of the benefit of retrospect and that of innocence, that comes by chance.

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But more than that: every fable of the Maggid of Dubno is much more than just a fable. It is a short story, a description of a human being, a living picture of the way of life in those days. We call that “Chapters from Life”. Even though the way of life seems to be relevant and exclusive only to its period and in the following era it changes its shape, the changes are minor and maybe major but the core detail always remains intact. In the same way, Man's face does not change from generation to generation except in small ways. Thus, the face of life in its basic form remains the same; the Earth is unchanging. The nature of humanity can be compared to the sea whose waves are constantly changing but it still remains the sea.

As a result take a look around and see how many it seems are the changes that are being generated in our way of life, the way of negotiations among people, the appearance of the towns, and their size, the style of houses and especially the family table. In the days of the Maggid of Dubno, for example, we would travel by horse and wagon and not by railroad or car. There were no coffee houses but wine shops, bars and public–houses were found everywhere. Therefore…

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…the “scene of momentous events” of most of the Maggid's stories and activities is a wine shop, a public house, the front or rear seat of the wagon jouncing and bouncing along the road. It is there that most of the souls in his fables are found, inn– or hostel–keepers, wagon–masters, the trader travelling to or from a market town fair, the rich, the beggar or the philanthropist. But what about the way that the implements serving a person were lost to him and others came in their place to be used? Implements come and go but the main hallmarks of one's temperament and character are recognizable in all generations. The qualities remain standing. There are those with good qualities and those with bad qualities, creative and constructive people and destructive ones. We find active people and indolent ones, voluble ones and silent ones, hurrying people and moderate ones, easy to anger and be angered and those able to conquer their anger. There are wise men who examine the sources and attributes to be found in human nature, even if he discusses matters of the moment, and describes them in the context of the present, his words are relevant to our lives and are integrated with what happens in the present and on into the future.

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz, the Maggid of Dubno was a sage of the type who debated in the present and creates and sees the newborn, and above all, he sees the continuity that is present in human nature, the permanence of its weaknesses, its transgressions and its failures. But even the temporary is raised to the permanent by him. He always grasps the general rule and the typical. Because of this, his influence spread far and wide in time from his era. His fables and his conversations talk to us today as if they had just been spoken.

Rabbi Ya'acov was not only a preacher, advocate and censurer. He was, first and foremost an expositor. He was a great expositor of the Torah and great also was his strength as an expositor of the Jewish heart – and that one heart is in all the generations. In the same way, he asserts the Torah and the commandments of the Almighty, Blessed be He, so he addresses the people of Israel. And to all he speaks of the generations of the people, describing their deeds as a sort of theatrical play with their various incarnations and evolutions. The sorcery of his language created living souls. And he was the actor playing the lead role presenting the sorrows and grief and he is also the vision of consolation and salvation of great futures and exalted hopes between Israel and their G–d.

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz speaks with sublime grace. He wants to know the Jewish soul and its path in the end of days in the lands of Poland and Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania and will not cease reading the book of Chronicles. Do not tell me you have read enough. Never ever enough. The depths of Israel's soul is frequently reflected in homiletic literature. The wisdom displayed there is very spiritual. There it is simple clear and straightforward Torah and prayer.

Among the community of preachers and tellers of fables, the Maggid of Dubno has carved uniqueness for himself. He is the most diligent and studious among them, the most straightforward and simplest with his explanations, the wisest, the poet and most imaginative. He is full and overflowing with Torah and his contribution to research is great but in his conversation, it is just simply one man talking to another.

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If we were to extract all the souls that the Maggid of Dubno created in his books and stories there would appear before our eyes an entire community of humanity's creation – Jewish almost the entire House of Israel with its divisions: the poor, the rich, the customs official, the trader, the rabbi, the sexton, the treasurer, the cantor; the matchmaker, the resolute, the community head, the scholar, the barman, the wise son, the silk–trader, the simple son, the evil one, the only son, the hostel–keeper, a man just as he is, or special with his group, students of the Yeshiva, house owners, itinerant beggars and traders going about their business. The wagon master, his horse and his whip, he is one of the leading actors for the Jew was always travelling. Most of the things Mendele and his mare saw on the Jewish wagon in his clear mirror preceded the Maggid of Dubno and saw as in a blurred cloud of smoke rising from the flame of his feelings.

I would be amazed if there is, among the fabulists and preachers in Israel one to match the Maggid of Dubno in all his attributes. Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz is clear in his knowledge and expressiveness. He is sharply intelligent with good taste. He is simplistic with his explanations and very close to his hearers, intelligent and educated, well–informed in worldly matters. He is desolate because of the schism in his people outraged at the woes and sufferings that fall upon the House of Israel, vigorous in his pleadings before the Lord of the Universe with courage and earnestness. In his opinion, the Creator, may He be blessed, brought very little of his promises to pass for our forefathers: He brought them to the Promised Land but exiled them from it; He brought them out of their exile in Egypt but tortured them with other exiles; He built for them two Temples and then destroyed them; He gave us the Torah – the Torah of life – but life he failed to give us, that we could expand and perform the commandments of that Torah. We never experienced a complete redemption. Only in the place where you find rebellion do you find his hopes and commiserations. On every tear–drop there are many dew–drops; on every cup of agony and suffering he pours out four cups full of salvation and consolation.

A man is good if his conversation is good – that is the perfect fitting description of Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz. A man remembered for his good qualities. A man always remembered only for good things and his compassion. In his writings, there are no curses or expletives or anger. Hades is not a common word in his books. Rabbi Ya'acov is never aided by admonishments and punishments. He teaches only with a gentle heart and there is no strap in his hand and no reprimand on his lips. He never suffers from impatience.

Because the man is inherently good, how is it possible to pour upon him anger and disdain? Even the evil in the world will not find words spilling anger from his lips; on the contrary – he shows pity for the unhappy individuals, we who are not showered with those lusts. “Eyes they have but see not, ears they have but hear not”[3] common sense they have but understandeth not because their souls are forfeit here in this world and not in the world to come.

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Because he is good hearted, he is forever soaked in sadness when he sees the House of Israel insulted.

He had unlimited pity on Israel and the holy ones. Have they anything in this world? They have no fields and no heritage, no assets and no authority. For all the peoples of the world all is well and for Israel – calamities and divine punishment.

Rabbi Ya'acov sees in earlier generations that they had no pleasure in this world. Go and look what befell this people: From its earliest days, it had no satisfaction. No promise given to it by the Holy One, blessed be He, was kept and fulfilled by Him. The Creator promised the Holy Land to our forefathers and even that promise was not kept except for a few hundred years and immediately they were banished from the land and the Temple destroyed. But what are a few hundred years in the life of a nation? The House of Israel has many complaints against the Lord of the Universe, and he, Rabbi Ya'acov, is their defense attorney. For Israel, Rabbi Ya'acov is a great light, and against the Holy One, blessed be He, he is most severe, painstakingly and punctiliously calling Him to account on every woe and disturbance. His complaints to the Creator are made loudly and forcefully saying: We are entitled to the Holy Land, we are entitled to our fields and our inheritance they are signposts of our people and by rights must speedily come into our hands. He is sitting, watching and expecting the return to Zion. The Land of Israel is on his lips and in his heart. Certainly, the Messiah will come and redeem us but we, too, must voice our rights. The Owner of the land isn't claiming it is His. The Maggid of Dubno makes unceasing claims.

The fables of the Maggid of Dubno are full of various themes – poetry, emotions, the investigations of humanity [Sifrei Ḥakira – Trans.], and opinions on life. Rabbi Ya'acov read and changed a lot, he lived a lot, gazing upon the way of the world, had experienced many events. In addition to being world–wise, he was a great student, highly perceptive and a specialist in all aspects of the Torah; in the Tanaḥ[4], legends and Midrashim [see footnote 4], in Investigative Books and books on Mussar. His expertise in all the literature of Ha–Rishonim and the Aḥaronim[5] is astounding. More than that, we are amazed by the expansive knowledge and understanding that he brings up in confirmation from the very verse. There are in these proverbs basic lines of world views, general rules of life.

These are briefly some of the headings:

Pleasant is the man created in G–d's image that is to say, that he has a measure of intelligence and strength of will and choice. Indeed all of creation worships G–d and performs his will but they always act according to the natural human nature given to them. In the way that fire burns and water douses, cold cools without knowledge and intent. So man and animals fulfill their roles in life. Man himself is gifted not only with the strength to desire but also with the ability to choose.

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Because of this, he rules over creation but he is only custodian and responsible for it and he is a delegate for every living thing, to bless, to thank, to praise, to exalt the Creator for all His benevolence on his creation. Man is not simply superior to all of creation but also to his own small world that includes all of nature and its qualities, its many attribute, both good and bad, of animals confined within it. Man knows the soul of the living beast and of every living creature there is a spark in Man's soul.

The might of Rabbi Ya'acov's belief is, at best, a source of blessing and an honor for the triumph to come that is waiting in his mouth, strength greater than the calamity. Evil passes, Evil has no legs, it has no truth and no reality. But its good deed is its immediate foundation fund and its fruit is preserved into the future. Light shines over the righteous, and only the honest are happy and joyous. The evil have no joy, no peace of mind, no tranquility. They appear as succeeding and the immediate present seems to favor them. But if their sinful manipulations gain them nothing if the joy of life eludes them, if their hearts are never at peace? And so Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz was wont to say: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”; crying never lasts forever but genuine happiness is enduring and long–lasting. Generation after generation of the righteous, communicate the joy of fulfilling the commandments and performing good deeds. Wonders and miracles, salvation and comfort that in early times encouraged and pleased our hearts do so today. That is the way of the Lord of the Universe, to provide a healing for every woe. The Creator created evil – created the Torah as a healing herb against the woe. And so, the Devil is ill–conceived and is rejected. Man has to take the test, and it is good that he does so. The tests strengthen and heal him.

The Maggid of Dubno considers that all the woes will eventually evolve into salvation and comfort. The troubles are a combination of exposed sicknesses and hidden cures. A good ending is a condition of every beginning. The bad is bitter before it is healed. All medicines are bitter.

The Maggid of Dubno debates a lot on medical matters. The topic is very close to him. Most of his fables in some way involve doctors and medicines. According to him in the beginning, there was the medicine. Just as all herbs are encoded in medicine, so all the actions of the Creator are cures for disease, between the ills of the bodies and the diseases of the soul. He never seeks to equate the functions of the body with the needs of the soul. The lynch–pin of his interest and the one that mostly occupied his mind – was the wisdom of the mind as the doctrine of education. He poses a serious question: Why was evil (Satan) created? Why did the Creator embed within our nature the attribute of evil? Why do we have within us pride, anger, cruelty, hatred, envy? The excuse is that the negative attributes are as if measurements against the evil. Not only that, they are used as motivation to perform good deeds, such as by which they fight exploitation and diverse forms of greed and plunder, stand to the right of the persecuted and the despised, they hate the evil, and give…

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…them the tools to educate the mind to proper leadership. The youth flooded with the lust for gambling and pleasure is made more alert than his companions and will become as light as an eagle courageous as a lion and a scholar of the Torah performing good deeds.

All matters of exile and redemption, the destruction of the Temple and the return to Zion, and the calamities that have fallen upon Israel in their northern lands and good destinies for the future to come, all the reproach to them by our Prophets and all their Northern influence in the future, are made intelligible in his clear mind. Israel and its advancing country were not as the Gentile resident in his homeland, we were at home. There is no comparison, says Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz, between a home and clothing. A house moves from hand to hand. Clothing doesn't transfer from body to body, except if one cuts it and re–stitches it to fit the new body. And that is the point: every Gentile resides in his country as an individual in his house and he can exchange house for house. But the Land of Israel is as if a garment measured and made according to the measurements of Israel. Israel cannot remove the garment except it be ripped from his body and his land will not fit any other nation. Except if it is cut into shreds and re–sewn into a different pattern. According to this Israel went out of its land – in dignified exile and sits as a widow, desolate and abandoned. This is evidence that Israel is not simply a purchasable piece of merchandise that can be exchanged between proprietors like a passing shadow. The Land of Israel may be called a purchase of truth by Israel, given to us for eternity. All people are sinners, no land in together with its people. Every nation that sinneth, its land sinneth not with it; Israel's sins impose a defect on the Holy Land, tearing its finest purple[6], again the torn garment does not fit our nation and we go out to exile. You learned that exile is not simply a physical blow to the body, but a fault of the soul, a blemish on the image of G–d. The curse of exile – he says that our people are no longer fed by the blessings of his land, but by the residual wealth of the nations of the world.

It is a mitzvah[7] to gather together all of the Maggid of Dubno's proverbs, just for their own inimitable value, so they will be in all minds. Not only preachers and expositors took them and used them for their own talks, many authors of practical stories dug into the gold mine of his works and raised nuggets for their stories. Jews are distracted by the legend or fabled world experience that they have integrated into their own from the scribe, and it is the fate of the most illustrious figures who have had their works made famous, and their famous names repeated so often that the teller no longer mentions the names of the authors. The Maggid of Dubno was in opposition to the Ḥassidut movement but their most prominent and learned scholar also “dipped” into his fables to “spice” their own points of view. Thus, many quoted or paraphrased him without mentioning his name. Anyone who calls anything by name, saying so brings the redemption closer, and he that does not do so, delays the redemption…

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…Many are they who delay the redemption because of Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz. His fables are for the trader, the rabbi, the hoe–holder, the preacher and many, many more. His words dissolve into the conversation of the Jews as easily as salt dissolve in water.

It is therefore only just to at least bring redemption to Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz and present him with his portion, and name the fables in his name.

We love the Maggid of Dubno whose fables are not just fables but pleasant stories and his wisdom is not just pungent wisdom but also cleverness that warms the heart. He encircled his fables of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings, Midrashim and legends – and the Jewish heart, with a golden girdle.

For examples, we bring three of his fables together with their lessons:

 

We have in our hands but a moment

A poor man came to a rich man and asked of him a loan of a 100 zloty and to repay him every week one zloty, part of it for a charity and a few zloty as interest. The rich man refused to loan the poor man money.

The poor man asked him: “Why not? You'll get your money back and also a small profit.”

The rich man replied: “In my opinion it's a false accounting. What do I get in return? For 100 zloty, he gives me only one zloty, every time just one zloty. But one zloty every time does not add up to 100 zloty. From my side it is more like giving a 100 zloty and getting back only one zloty for he will be paying me back only bit by bit. The one zloty he gives me will be gone before he gives me the next payment; it's not worth making a deal.”

The lesson behind the parable:

Thus, it is with a person's lifetime. If we would tell a person in advance that he will live to the age of 80, he would really feel that he is getting 80 years. But this is not how it works. Rather, a person receives life only one moment at a time. As each moment comes, it seems as if his lifetime consists only of the moment he is living right then, for the previous moment has already gone, and he does not know whether he will get the next moment. Thus, King David declares (Psalms 39:6): “Behold, You have made my days like handbreadths, and before You my time in this world is like nothing. Elsewhere David states that man's days are “like a passing shadow” (ibid. 144:4). This is what the Midrash is saying. Our days are not like shadow of a wall or a tree that remains in place for an extended time. Rather, they are like the shadow of a bird while it is flying. At each moment a new shadow appears, while the previous shadow is uprooted and vanishes.

 

Our Spiritual Endowments Are the Tools of Our Craft

The Maggid presents a parable. A skilled craftsman fell into bankruptcy and was threatened with jail by his debtors. He escaped and ran away from his home town leaving behind all his possessions specially his beloved tools. He wandered from place to place, town to town, suffering many privations. He was so burdened with his situation that all he could think of was his physical sufferings. Occasionally he bemoaned the loss of his beloved tools because with them he made wonderful things and he had no idea where they were or what was happening to them. Then one day heaven smiled on him again and he returned home. But things were never the same again and the replacement tools he found were never good enough for him and he found fault with all of them. And he bewailed his loss.

The lesson behind the parable:

The Holy One blessed be He, planted within the Jewish heart precious attributes with which all the Holy work could be accomplished – the Torah and the Commandments. And the Lord instilled in our hearts the love of the Lord saying to us: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And commanded us “Honor thy father and thy mother,” instructing us how to live a life of holiness and all these measures became hidden within us in good measure. But with the constant exile and wanderings the baser instincts gradually grew from day to day and the Children of Israel did not notice the low erosion and the loss of the finer qualities. It was only when Ezra[8] came to help them and opened up the Torah before them reading the laws and Commandments to them explicitly they understood what had happened to them for there was not in their hearts the love for the Creator nor the fear of Heaven.

 

One Must Love the Land of Israel for its Name's Sake Alone

Two childless neighbors went together to a great righteous man, a miracle–worker, to plead for a miracle for them and a promise that G–d will bless them and that each shall have a male child. The righteous man gave them his blessing and to take rigorous care of the boys for a year, commanding them to bring the children to him when they reached their third year of life so that congratulate them, and so they did.

At the appointed time, when the children reached the age the righteous man had designated, the fathers brought the two boys to him. The righteous man looked at each of them carefully and said: “That little one will be a great scholar – a fitting, happy, Heaven–fearing Jew. But his companion will be shameful, a fool, involved in fights and a far as the Torah is concerned, uninterested. You will do well as a parent to keep a sharp eye on this wild child and teach him how to behave.”

The father of the good child was happy while the father of the bad child was sad and disheartened at what had befallen him. The days and weeks passed into years and the children became youths but not as the righteous man had predicted. The youth he foresaw would have a blessed and honorable future because he was a good child, was insensitive and hard–headed and unmindful of education; while the other child, for whom had been predicted a wasteful and inattentive life, turned out to be attentive and quiet in his ways, learning Torah and running eagerly each day to study with his rabbi. When the father saw that all the predictions of the righteous man had reversed he went to the miracle worker, telling him of his woes and unhappiness saying: “Oh, woe is me, woe is me! It is not enough that I hoped to raise a good child, a great scholar, a Jewish man, as you have promised me. Your Honor, there is a great trouble for me in my home and I have a bad son of shame, sorcerer and teacher, a hater of Torah and morality.”

The righteous man began to console the stricken father speaking to his heart, because in the end the boy would change his ways, his actions and in his desires for his studies and be a credit to himself. But the man cried bitterly and said: “Why are you consoling me your Excellency, while my soul is inconsolable? Do not my eyes see what evil and bitterness has befallen me? Two children are before me, my neighbor's and mine: mine – only bad things I see, he is not studying neither is he behaving well and courteously, he is nothing but a wild man. In fact, one of the teachers came to take him to the class–room and he refused to go. I thought to run to him at noon and took a handful of nuts for him and he threw them in my face; he did the same thing with some apples that I took for him. In contrast to that, the neighbor's son goes willingly to school and accepts easily the tempting nuts and apples; the lad walks happily because his soul is steeped in Torah. And after all, you have witnessed the difference between the stubborn, dumb son and neighboring son who is a benevolent son, blessed seed, a comfort to his parents, and happy for all to see.”

The righteous man answered him:

Nevertheless, my judgment is sound; everything that I have predicted concerning the two boys will come to pass, not one element will fail. Do not judge on what you see now….

[Column 145]

…the lads are yet young and have little sense in their hearts. And from where will the lad have the taste to be a scholar of the Torah? It is natural that there is little taste for study. But what? The neighbor's son sees as his rewards from the Torah nuts and apples and all kinds of sweet things so he tries very hard in his studies to earn these “rewards”. Here we have the evidence that he is naturally lustful. His heart doesn't yearn after the Torah but its rewards, apples and nuts and so on. When he grows up he will also follow his lusts and stray from the straight path and he will no longer have the guidance of his parents to give him rewards for good deed. But yours son from his childhood has known not to allow his desire to govern him. It is impossible to tempt him to study – not with nuts, apples or anything else. When he grows, he will be the master of his creativity and not the slave. His eyes will be opened and he will see how goodly is the Torah and how pleasant its ways. My promise for your son stands and I trust in your son's good future; he will provoke the evil–doers and be a great, Heaven–fearing Jewish scholar.

The lesson behind the parable:

Even if the love for the Land of Israel in the beginning was closer to the hearts of the people, who were attracted by the imagined attributes like the good fruit, the fresh air and the rest of the other impressive qualities of human enjoyment – and this is what the Midrash has been saying: In this world, everything was desirable in the Land of Israel because of its earthly and pleasant virtues, and this in itself caused them to become sinful until they found out. But in the future, God will uproot the evil out of our hearts and slowly our sin and iniquity will be on us and our desire for the land will be on the purity of holiness and our sons “will be planted on their land and will no longer be crushed.”[9]

[Translator's comment and note of thanks: For the three sequential parables and their interpretations commencing on column 142, I am indebted to David Zucker, who's immensely rich and scholarly website is dedicated to The Maggid of Dubno. http://jlm–dubno–maggid.org/blog/]


Translator's footnotes:
  1. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musar_movement Return
  2. Broadly speaking the interpretation of Holy texts, it can also apply to the methodical ways of interpreting them. Return
  3. Psalm 135 Return
  4. The complete Old Testament comprising the Five Books of Moses – Torah, the Prophets – Nevi'im and Ketuvim (‘Writings’) Return
  5. See: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/a–ḥ–aronim Return
  6. A reference to the “Royal purple” – i.e. the “finest of the finest”; “to be born into the purple.”(trans). Return
  7. A blessed commandment – more generally any good deed. Return
  8. Ezra the Scribe is credited with instituting Torah readings in the reconstructed Temple after the return from Babylon and basically introducing public prayer into the life of the Jewish people resulting in what has becoe the basis of our synagogue service today. – translator's comment. Return
  9. Amos 9:15 Return


The Maggid of Dubno and His Fables

by Y. P. Ben–Ḥaya

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The Ḥassidut Movement existed in Dubno over fifty years ago as it did in the rest of the towns in Ukraine, and was showing sign of decline although it still had some influence in a few sections of the community that were mainly concentrated in the various Study Houses and Kloizim of the Ḥassidim. There, it was possible to find groups of young and old between the afternoon and evening prayers – the hour during which the daily page of the Gemara would be studied, or engaged in some kind of Shaklah ve–Tarya[1] on some rabbinic point or other of the “Shulḥan Aruḥ” – and discuss the doings of the fathers of the Ḥassidut, the Ba'al Shem Tov and his students, preparing themselves for the Rebbe's planned visit to the town.

If you were to enter the Study House on Shabbat, or the festival of Shavuot in the afternoon, or the evening of the Festival of the Giving of the Law, before the traditional parading of the scrolls, you would find the place humming with the groups of Ḥassidim, passionately singing the festival hymns and melodies creating a special atmosphere such that even if you were not to take part in their joy, the atmosphere would enwrap you completely. He who would be a part of this or similar group would incline the ear, and drink thirstily of the stories and deeds, the “wonders” of the first of the Rebbes; you could hear also about the “misdeeds” of those opposed to the movement – the “Mitnagdim” in their attempts to prove the worthlessness of Ḥassidut.

In these Study Houses and Kloizim, you could also hear the Fables of the Maggid of Dubno that were well–known and repeated by students and scholars of those institutions carried down from mouth–to–mouth throughout the generations.

*

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz was young at the time – he was born in the town of Zdzięcioł (Zhetl), near Vilna, the county of the “Litvaks” – when he was invited to the town of Mezrycz in Wohlinia to function as a preacher. In those days, the end of the 18th Century, Mezrycz was an important center of the Ḥassidut Movement. The influential Rabbi Dov Ber officiated there and was accepted as the chosen heir of the Ba'al Shem Tov himself, to succeed him after his death. In Ḥassidut circles, there was a feeling of comfort and satisfaction that the Maggid, Rabbi Ya'acov had been invited to Mezrycz by the Mitnagdim there as a counter–balance to the highly influential Rebbe since it was known that the Maggid was a strong supporter of the Gaon of Vilna and a fierce proponent of the Mitnagdim.

Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz remained in Mezrycz for only a few years. He moved to the village of Żółkiew (Zhovkve, Zolkva) in Galicia and from there to Dubno but even from there he moved on and became an itinerant preacher in many towns and villages but was always known a the “Maggid of Dubno”.

*

They say, that the Maggid was once asked: “How is it that you can weave a fable spontaneously, on the spot?” The Maggid replied instantly with this:

“An estate owner once sent his son to the army barracks in town to learn how to shoot accurately. The son remained there many years in the barracks learning and eventually specializing how to shoot until he became an expert. In time, he left the barracks to return to his father's estate. On the way…

[Column 147]

…he passed through a village and noticed that on one of the houses, the wall was entirely peppered with bullet holes and each and every one was right in the center of a white chalk target. The young man was stunned at the accuracy of the unknown shooter and asked to see him. The villagers brought before him nothing more than a simple young village boy. The estate owner's son turned to the village boy and asked him how he could possibly shoot with such unerring accuracy. “Please tell me how you can shoot so accurately that every shot hits the target?” The young village boy answered him saying: “What is so wonderful about it? First I shoot all the bullets into the wall and then I take a piece of chalk and draw a small white circle round the bullet–hole.”

The Maggid wandered all over Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland visiting many villages and towns appearing as a teller of fables and preaching morals, calling for good deeds and influencing the people to walk the straight path. He pleaded for help for the needy and to give charitably to the poor and especially to donate for the release of prisoners and made collections to accumulate money for that purpose and made sure to visit the homes of the important and wealthy. They tell, that once one of the stately personages asked him: “Rabbi Ya'acov, we see you visiting the homes of the wealthy. Why don't we see them visit you?” He immediately replied: “The Holy One, blessed be He, blessed me and gave me knowledge; therefore I can understand that I lack money. The Lord gave them money, but they do not understand that they lack knowledge, so they do not come to me …”

The Maggid was once asked: “Why do you receive payments for your sermons, while your whole intention is to set an example to the people?” He replied: “Even the Holy One, blessed be He, does not afflict His people, Israel, for free…”

They also asked the Maggid: “What is the point in a notable tending to give donations to the poor, blind or crippled and not donate to the poor scholar?” The Maggid replied: “It's quite simple: the notable has no idea what fate has in store for him and one day he also may find himself handicapped; but about one thing the notable can be sure – he will never be a scholar…”

There were many Ḥassidim who never missed an opportunity to listen to him but there were also those who opposed him, who even hated him, among whom were many heretics, agnostics and secularists.

It is related that one such said to the Maggid: “Rabbi, they say about you that by the force of your arguments you inspire the spirit of regret and repentance in the heart of a man and that your power is so great as to convert a strict epicurean to become a repentant. Show me, now, this power and cause me, too, to repent.”

The Maggid replied: “I'll tell you a story. It concerns a Jewish man…

[Column 148]

…who had lived all his life in a village and one day came to the town and saw a blacksmith using his bellows on his fire. He liked the idea of the bellows and thought to buy a present for his wife to use on her kitchen stove. On his return home, he gave the bellows to his wife and said to her happily: ‘Now it will always be easy for you to get our stove burning well’. The following day, his wife came to him complaining bitterly: ‘What kind of bellows have you brought me? I pump and pump and pump and nothing happens!’ The man approached the stove and saw that it was full of coal but there wasn't a single spark of fire there. He laughed at his wife and said to her: A fire you can ignite if there is at least one single spark; although the stove is full of coal there isn't a single spark there to start the fire.' Thus so it is with you.” The Maggid added to the epicurean: “When there is in a Jewish heart, a single spark of Jewishness it is possible to light the fire of repentance in his heart and cause the fire to burn fiercely and the man to become a repentant. Not so with you – your heart is empty and there isn't a single park of Jewishness, so what will it help all the hard work of my bellows?”

*

Although the Maggid of Dubno was an expert in his knowledge of the Torah, he preached to his congregations in simple language that was understood by everyone and when he heard a rabbi giving an explanation on the Torah in language that no one understood, he told him a parable:

“This is about a smart businessman who arrived at a large city. When he learned that there were many rich people in the town he opened up a shop dealing in diamonds and other precious gems and he had many customers. In time, the businessman left the town and went to live in a small village where he opened a small shop selling food and provisions. One day he was visited by one of his old friends from the big city who, finding him in his small shop said to him:

“Is this indeed so pleasant for you – a successful trader in diamonds and precious jewels, to trade in such items as food and trifles?” The businessman answered him thus: “In the big city there were many rich people and they understood the value of jewel while here, in this small village most of the peoples are simple villagers who don't understand jewels and don't need them either. What they need is food and other domestic trifles.”

“Thus it is with the scholarly rabbi, preaching to a congregation of poor, simple folk who never learned. What will they understand from these sayings of the scholar?”

*

Many were the parables of the Maggid of Dubno and they spread all over the Jewish world and when you mention the town of Dubno – the immediate response is: The town of the Maggid of Dubno.”

Only for eighteen years did Rabbi Ya'acov Krantz reside in Dubno, but his name is forever known as “The Maggid of Dubno” and the honor bestowed upon him reflected upon all her sons.


Translator's footnote:
  1. An Aramaic expression literally meaning “Clean and Fresh” but usually interpreted as “discussion”, “debate” or “negotiation” Return

 

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