Rabbi Yaakov Krantz Zatzal • “The Maggid of Dubno”

Rabbi Yaakov Krantz was born in Zateil, Lithuania in 1740 (5500). He was the greatest preacher of all time and is know in every Jewish community by the name of “the Maggid of Dubno,” Dubno being the city where he served as Rabbi.

His students collected his teachings in the works Ohel Yaakov, Hamidoth, and Kol Yaakov.

He returned many people to the right path, and up to today his sayings and parables sustain the hearts of the entire Jewish people.

He passed away in 1805 (5565).

Rabbi Yaakov Krantz had considerable ability with the tongue, a tongue from which flowed precious gems and created a special category of stories and tales. Many followed his trail, but none attained his greatness.

By his sayings and parables, the Maggid of Dubno managed to ignite the public and arouse in it feelings of holiness and thoughts of Teshuvah. It often happened that his audience bitterly wept while listening. During a certain period of time, he found himself in Lvov, the town where the author of Yeshuot Yaakov lived. That Gaon, as well as another Rav living in the town (who was among the greatest scholars of the generation), would regularly come to the lectures that the Maggid gave in one of the town’s synagogues between the prayers of Mincha and Arvit.

On the last day of his stay in town, the Maggid asked them not to come to his lecture because the public would be crying, and since both of these men were aged, this prolonged crying risked doing them harm. The author of Yeshuot Yaakov responded by saying that he was exaggerating. Naturally, these two rabbis were present in the synagogue at the designated time to listen to the lecture. Then, as soon as the Maggid rose to the platform, he right away directed his piercing gaze toward the audience, who were seized with fright. The author of Yeshuot Yaakov immediately began to cry. His friend tried to contain himself, but after about 15 minutes he too was weeping copious tears, to the point that he was ill for a long time afterwards. Such was the power of the Maggid.

However the Maggid of Dubno was not only a preacher. He was also a great Torah scholar. Each night he arose at midnight, and after having recited the Tikkun, he settled into the Beth Midrash to study until the first hours of the morning. After the Morning Prayer (when he was not traveling from one community to another), he continued to study until nightfall.

He was extremely close to the Vilna Gaon, who loved him greatly. We have in our possession two letters in which the Vilna Gaon calls the Maggid “the one dear to my soul,” a letter wherein he begs him to come to see him quickly, and in which expresses his certainty that the Maggid “will not delay, in order to bring me back to myself.”

The Maggid of Dubno’s humility can be seen in a response that he wrote to the Gaon after the night of one particular Shavuot, one of the times in which he had stayed at the Gaon’s.

On Shavuot the Gaon had the custom, as is prevalent among the community of Israel, to recite the evening Tikkun for the night of Shavuot. This consists of reading the beginning and the end of all the books of the Bible, as well as the beginning and the end of all the tractates of the Gemara. However the Maggid of Dubno buried himself in the study of a certain subject, and the Gaon asked him why he deviated from the established custom.

The Maggid responded, “To what can this be likened? To a merchant who has an entire assortment of merchandise in his store. He puts in the storefront display a sample of each, and these samples testify to all that he owns. However a merchant who is poor and has but a few objects of no real value can put the entirety of his merchandise on display, since on the inside of the store there is nothing left. This is what is happening here. You know the entire Torah, and during this night you study “samples” of each type. But myself, who is poor and lacking things of value in Torah, I am forced to deal with the merchandise itself.”

Instead of recounting the Maggid of Dubno’s life, we will present a parable that he conceived on the spot after hearing the Vilna Gaon’s explanation on a Mishnah of Perkei Avoth.

The Mishnah states: “Against your will you were created; against your will you were born; against your will you live; against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give an account before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”

What does “against your will” mean?

The Vilna Gaon explains this Mishnah according to another Mishnah found in the first chapter of Bava Batra. There, a question of two persons whose fields lay one inside the other is discussed. Thus A has a field that completely surrounds, on all four sides, the field of B. The Mishnah says that if A encircles his field with a fence on three sides, B is not obliged to pay the costs incurred thereof, even though it is obvious that he benefits from the fence that is built around his own field (albeit on three sides only). However, the Mishnah continues and states that if the B closes the fourth side of the field on his own, he must pay a certain amount to A for the costs that A incurred for having built the other three sides of the fence. This is because by building the fourth side of the fence, B shows that he is satisfied with the original three sides. Hence B cannot claim that he does not benefit from the three other sides.

“Therefore,” said the Gaon, “during his entire existence a man can say that he didn’t want to live and that he enjoyed nothing of life, for ‘against your will you were born; against your will you live.’

“But it is a given that when he arrives on his deathbed, he will try everything he can to continue to live. He will call doctors and expend a fortune in medicine to prolong his life as much as possible, and he will voice his desire to live and his difficulty in renouncing life. Consequently, if ‘against your will you die,’ you must then render an account to the Creator for everything you did in life.”

Thus the explanation of the Vilna Gaon.

After having heard this, the Maggid said, “I will give you a parable. A man had two daughters, one ugly and one quick-tempered. They were at an age to get married, but it was difficult to find husbands for them because of their respective faults. One day a cunning matchmaker arrived and managed to marry them off. To the ugly one, the matchmaker found a blind man, and to the quick-tempered one, a deaf man. These two couples lived in harmony, up until the day that a great doctor arrived in town, a doctor who knew how to heal many illnesses. Among those who came to see him for help were these two husbands. The doctor prepared his potions, made them drink it, and delivered them from their ills. Then suddenly, when the bind man began to see, he noticed his wife’s ugliness and was stunned. For his part, the deaf man began to hear, but his wife’s cries drove him mad.

The two husbands decided among themselves not to pay the doctor. He had not helped them at all, but much to the contrary, by relieving them of their ailments he had wronged them. Their life had become torture, and the doctor was forced to go before the Beit Din to collect his dues. He presented himself before the town’s Rav and decided to accept the decision he would render.

The Rav listened to the arguments of both sides. He weighed them and finally asked the doctor if he was capable of bringing the men back to their previous states.

“Nothing could be easier,” the doctor replied, and he immediately went to prepare his potions.

The two men became fearful and absolutely refused to accept the verdict.

“If that is the case,” the Rav replied, “Hurry to pay the doctor what you owe him, for you have just proved that your are satisfied with your state of health.”

The moral of the story is clear.




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