🕯 HaRav Yaakov Kranz zt’l, The Dubno Maggid (1741-1804) – 17th of Teves

December 21, 2021

Today marks the 217th yahrtzeit of HaRav Yaakov ben Ze’ev Kranz, zt’l – better known to the world as The Dubno Maggid. He was born in 1741 in the town of Setil, in the district of Vilna (present day Lithuania). At the age of 18, Rav Yaakov left home and went to learn in the beis medrash of Mezeritch, Poland. It was there that his oratorical talents first came to the fore. At this point already a budding talmid chacham, he soon developed a reputation for his speaking and before long, wherever he spoke, the shul would be filled to capacity. Eventually he was appointed the community’s official Maggid. Two years later he moved to Zolkiev, and thereafter to Dubno, a town which remained his home for 18 years and from which his by-name is derived.

Like any true Maggid, he would travel through the length and breadth of Poland and Germany, visiting numerous towns and villages and capturing the hearts of his audiences with his moving eloquence. He became famous particularly for his mashalim, those parables of marvelous directness and classic simplicity with which he would illustrate the lessons he sought to teach. Now, it would be a mistake to remember the Dubno Maggid solely as a teller of tales. In fact, a great many of his teachings contain no mashalim at all. To him, the mashal was not an end in itself but only an aid in accomplishing the task to which he had devoted his life.

However, one of the most famous stories of the Dubno Maggid is actually about the way in which he was able to come up with great stories in the first place. The Vilna Gaon once asked him how he managed to find such appropriate and striking parables for almost every pasuk in Tanach. Well, the Dubno Maggid did not reply with a lengthy explanation but with – you guessed it – with a mashal:

Once upon a time, I was walking in the forest and I saw all these trees in a row with a target drawn on them, and an arrow right in the center. At the end of the row, I saw a little boy with a bow in his hand. “Are you the one who shot all those arrows?!” “Of course!” he replied. “How did you hit all the targets right in the center?” I asked. “Simple”, said the boy, “first I shoot the arrow, and then I draw the target.”

Without a doubt, one of my favorite mashalim of the Maggid is that of Yankel the peddler:

Yankel would travel from town to town, peddling his wares. Day after day, he would drag his heavy cases across the mud-ridden roads of Poland. One day, as Yankel was dragging along, he heard the distinctive drumming of horses’ hooves behind him – a horse-drawn wagon was approaching! Yankel stood aside to let the wagon pass, but today was his lucky day! The owner of the wagon, seeing the peddler schlepping along, sagging under the weight of his wares, had stopped his coach, and was inviting Yankel to come along with him for the ride into the next town.

Yankel happily accepted, and dragged his baggage up onto the carriage. He took a seat, and the wagon again began to move. A few minutes later, the man turned around and saw Yankel sitting with his bundle balanced precariously on his sagging shoulders. “Yankel,” he said, “why don’t you put your bags down?” “Oh, it’s alright,” replied Yankel, “I don’t want to be any trouble.” “Silly man,” he exclaimed, “don’t you realize that even if you put the pack on your shoulders, it is still being carried by my carriage?”

This is precisely what Dovid HaMelech means when he says in Tehillim (55:23) – “Hashleich al Hashem yehavcha v’hu yechalkelecha – Cast your burden upon Hashem and He will sustain you.” Oh, foolish Yankel! Didn’t you realize the wagon’s horses were pulling all the weight anyway! And yet, concludes the Dubno Maggid, isn’t there a little Yankel in all of us? Don’t we all work and worry too much in areas that are out of our control? We may just need to say to ourselves; Yankel, you’ve been carrying that problem for far too long. Throw down your burden, and let Hashem, Who carries you and all your needs, take it from here.

What a powerful message indeed.

HaRav Yaakov ben R’ Ze’ev, The Dubno Maggid – Yehi Zichro Baruch, Zechuso Yagen Aleinu.

Hashleich is a song by Yosef Chaim Shwekey from his 2009 debut album, Lo Lefached. In case you were wondering, Yosef Chaim (Choueka) is the younger brother of singer Yaakov Shwekey (though you probably didn’t need me to explain). This popular kumzitz song was composed by their older brother, R’ Moshe Dovid Shwekey, who between the two of them, has quite a few of their most popular songs to his credit.

Reader challenge: Can you think of at least three songs whose lyrics employ “The Mashal Method” in order to bring about its inherent message? Looking forward to your replies.

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