Rabbi David Pinto Shlita in the grave site of the Maggid of mezritch

Rabbi Dov Ber – The Maggid of Mezritch

The story is told that when Rabbi Dov Ber was eight years old, a fire broke out in the village of Lukatch where he was born. As a result, his father’s house burned down and his mother was greatly saddened and began to cry. The child asked her, “Why are you crying? I’ve learned that in the same way that one says blessings for good things, one must say a blessing for bad things.”

“No, my son,” his mother replied. “I am not crying for the house, but for my father’s genealogical record that burned with it. Our ancestry goes back to the Tanna Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler, and from him all the way back to King David.”

“Don’t cry dear mother,” the child replied. “I promise that a new family tree will begin with me.”

The child knew perfectly well what he foretold. He was called to take the place of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the “father of Chassidut,” and was also the father of the Ruzhin dynasty, which continues to our day.

Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the “great Maggid,” was born in the village of Lukatch in 5464 (1704), the son of Rabbi Avraham, an impoverished teacher in the village. Still young, he became known for his amazing intelligence, and the Rav of the town sent him to the yeshiva of the famous Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua, author of Pnei Yehoshua, in Lvov. There he studied with great diligence and acquired a considerable amount of Torah knowledge.

After getting married in the town on Turshin, Rabbi Dov Ber became a teacher in a nearby village. He lived there in extreme poverty. He had the habit of fasting several times a week and living a life of mortification, yet despite these fasts, his occupation was not enough for him to earn a living. All the same, he accepted this with love and never complained. He had faith that G-d would help him.

One day, as legend would have it, his wife began to cry because their children didn’t have enough to eat. Incapable of restraining himself, Rabbi Dov Ber let out a heart-breaking sigh. A Heavenly voice was then heard announcing, “Dov Ber, because you sighed over your material situation, you have lost your portion in the World to Come.” He began to despair for a few moments, but immediately recovered and cried out with joy: “From now on, I will serve G-d without looking for reward!”

At that instant, the legend concludes, a second voice was heard from Heaven: “Dov Ber, this joy in serving your Creator without expecting reward has given you back your portion in the World to Come. Yet from now on, you should be careful to never again bemoan your family situation, for you are not more merciful than your Father in Heaven.”

Several years passed, and Rabbi Dov Ber left his occupation and became a famous maggid (preacher). He passed through all the towns and villages of Volhynia and Podolia in Russia. In every place he went, before speaking he had the habit of going out into the street and proclaiming: “Go, O sons, heed me; I will teach you the fear of the L-RD” (Psalms 34:12).

He also passed through the streets of the town and observed the people there. He looked at the laborers who worked hard and saw the merchants that stayed in their shops all day long in order to gain a meager living. He then got up on a platform, but instead of preaching and reprimanding them, he spoke to their hearts and consoled them. Above all, he encouraged them not to lose hope, but rather to put their trust in G-d, from Whom salvation would occur in the blink of an eye. His speeches, spoken with great enthusiasm and passionate style, won the hearts of his listeners.

When the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself, Rabbi Dov Ber joined him and was among his closest disciples. The Baal Shem Tov brought him very close to himself, and it seemed that during his lifetime he was already thinking of making him his successor.

During the festival of Shavuot in 5520 (1760), all the Baal Shem Tov’s great disciples came to Mezhibuzh. They had a feeling that this holiday would be the last in the life of their Rav, Rabbi Israel. He himself was laid out on his bed, eyes shut, and all his disciples were standing around and looking at him with fearful respect. All of a sudden, the Baal Shem Tov woke up, opened his eyes, and looked at his disciples and began to speak: “Today is the eve of Shavuot. No one knows what tomorrow has in store. Come closer to me and I will give you my blessing.”

In speaking, he said to his disciples, “I name Rabbi Dov Ber the Maggid to replace me and lead the Chassidim. The disciples of Rabbi Dov Ber have a ‘great soul’, and he has all the necessary strength to guide the generation.”

He continued, a smile coming to his lips: “I know that this bear [dov] has no legs [as we know, the Maggid of Mezritch’s legs were feeble, and he had to walk on crutches], yet I know that he has big hands to brings hearts closer, and through his leadership he is capable of unifying all those who are faithful to Chassidut.”

After the death of the Baal Shem Tov in 5520 (1760), Rabbi Dov Ber became the leader of the Chassidim. He settled in Mezritch, where the light of Chassidut went out to all Jewish communities around the world. He organized the movement, sending out representatives and spokesmen to every town. Thanks to the considerable influence of the Maggid, Chassidut spread to all social levels of the people and deeply took root in the heart of the Children of Israel. Among those who came to hear his Torah were many famous people, very great in Torah. For example, there was Rabbi Shmelke of Nickelsburg and his brother Rabbi Pinchas of Frankfurt (author of Haflaah), the brothers Rabbi Zusya of Hanipoli and Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the founder of Chabad Chassidut), and others. He also modified the prayer text by instituting the use of a Sephardic format rather than an Askenaz one.

Rabbi Dov Ber excelled in many things, but above all the Chassidim spoke of his great humility.

The story is told concerning Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl that when he went to see the Maggid of Mezritch for the first time, he asked for his advice on a way to escape pride. The Maggid responded quite simply: “Believe me, I can’t give you advice about this. Normally a person advises others in a field that he knows well, but I haven’t the least knowledge of pride. I really don’t understand how a man can become filled with pride.”




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