A hushed silence in the beis medrash. The Rebbe begins to speak, weaving a droshoh of dramatic stories and lessons. The audience laughs, cries and sighs alternately as the messages of repentance and serving Hashem are brought home. The maggid has made his mark here in this town and is now ready to move on.
The Maggid of Zaloshitz, as a maggid, spent most of his years doing his holy task. He traveled from shtetl to shtetl, from town to town and from city to city spreading his words and arousing the dormant hearts of his listeners, reaching out to each person according to his level.
The Rav Hakodosh Reb Zvi Hirsch of Ziditchov zt"l, testified that he himself had heard several droshos of the Zaloshitzer Maggid, "in real life, and all his words were spoken in love and truth, to each person according to his madreigoh."
In a similar vein, HaRav Efraim Zalman Margulies, zt"l, in his wonderful haskomoh to Rabbeinu's sefer Bris Avrohom, writes " . . . he never stopped his customary activities, arousing the hearts of his listeners, even when he had passed the age of eighty. Several times, I heard sweet things from him that were applicable to every soul."
The Maggid himself writes in the introduction to his sefer, "From when I was young, my heart burned within me with a desire to fulfill the mitzvah of `hochei'ach tochi'ach es amisecho.'
"It was for this reason that I put my droshos on paper and I request that my children print them." He continues that often the thought would occur to him that maybe he is not fit to bring others to teshuvoh, for perhaps his intentions aren't solely for Hashem.
On second thought, however, he dismissed these negative misgivings as the yetzer hora's ploy to deter him from rebuking people and causing them to repent.
He therefore wrote down the mussar contained in his droshos as a message for himself first. If he would better his ways, he reckoned, others would follow suit and there would be a need to print his words to guide the masses.
Aside from discussing the fulfilling of various mitzvos and zehirus against aveiros, many of his words are profound droshos in both Toras hanigleh and nistar.
Reb Yosef Moshe's grandson, who published his writing, said that his father Reb Yosef Elkonoh zt"l, son of Rabbeinu, once declared, "I am sure that when his days and years are filled, Rabban Shel Yisroel Rashi will come to welcome him to the upper spheres, for many are the places where he answers the questions of the meforshim on Rashi exactly as the holy Rashi had meant."
We wonder at the strange phenomenon of father and son sharing the same name, Yosef. Rabbeinu was initially called Moshe. Subsequently, he suffered many an illness and, at the behest of the maggid of Zlotchov, the name Yosef was added as a segulah.
His difficult yissurim did not prevent him from continuing on his travels in his avodas hakodesh. In fact, in one of his droshos we find the maggid explaining how to accept suffering with love, with the following parable:
An individual was appointed as a servant of the king. With time he rose in rank until he became the highest official, serving at the king's right hand. However, his greatness was not to last. The minister sinned against the king and was driven away from the palace in disgrace.
He was left a lonely beggar, wandering in the streets and foraging for food in the rubbish. All his noble acquaintances from the past kept their distance, knowing that he was now in disfavor.
All but one. One royal minister took pity on the man and comforted him.
"If the king was so annoyed that he punished you so drastically," he told him, "He has vented his anger and will eventually be appeased. I'm sure that the time will come when His Majesty will forgive you and return you to your former glory."
Stirred by his friend's logical explanation, the former minister began to see a ray of hope. He made an all-out effort to display his loyalty to the king in every possible way, so that the king would indeed pardon his sin and reinstate him to his previous position.
So too, the yissurim and trials that a Yid undergoes in life vent, so to speak, Hashem's anger that is caused by the person's sins. He should rejoice that Hashem is giving him an atonement and should accept his tribulations as a steppingstone towards returning ever closer to Hashem and His service.
Reb Yisroel, the son-in-law of the Maggid of Zaloshitz, said that (at least) from when he joined the household he never saw real food, drink or sleep as part of Rabbeinu's schedule, except the very minimum.
He added that the Maggid was like the ladder in the dream of Yaakov Ovinu, with his feet on the ground but his head in the heavens, meaning that physically he was in this world but he knew what was going on in heaven as well.
"Several times he told us to hurry to a certain city and announce in the name of the Maggid that everyone must give tzedokoh as an atonement, to avert an evil decree hanging over them. While we carried out our mission, he stood and poured out his heart in tefilloh until he saved the town from imminent destruction."
Just as he worked tirelessly against physical danger, the Maggid was no less active when the danger was spiritual.
Once Reb Zvi Hirsch Ziditchov requested of the Zaloshitzer that he go to the great city of Yass, far away from Zaloshitz. His task was to rebuke the Jews there specifically for their laxity in the kashrus of their food and shechitoh.
With mesirus nefesh for his life's mitzvah, Reb Yosef Moshe traveled to Yass. On Shabbos afternoon, the shul was packed to capacity as the townspeople waited with bated breath to hear the renowned Maggid.
As he had been instructed, the Maggid centered his droshoh on the theme of kashrus. His words, emanating from the truth of his heart, had such an immense impact that the next day saw the town of Yass in total upheaval. The streets were full of broken dishes and cooking utensils which the townspeople had thrown out of their homes in a firm resolution to start anew and to be particularly careful with their kashrus.
Seeing that his words had achieved their desired affect, Rabbeinu set out in a wagon for home. Sitting atop his seat, the wagon driver felt exceedingly drowsy. He had been paid to drive a passenger to Zaloshitz, but he could not keep his eyes open and before long he was fast asleep, whip in hand, leaving his horse to continue without guidance.
All at once he awoke with a start. Rubbing his eyes, he looked around him to check where they were. Then he checked how his passenger was doing.
The Maggid was sitting in the wagon, pale and trembling.
"Where are we?" panicked the driver, "and why are you shaking in fear?"
"The yetzer hora came to fight against us," explained Rabbeinu. "My droshoh caused such a his'orerus among so great a crowd that the yetzer hora was jolted out of his place and we were in great danger.
"However, in the merit of the Jews of Yass carrying out the mitzvah immediately, we were saved.
"But you should know . . . I feel I do not have much longer to live."
Several weeks later, on Shabbos Parshas Vayeilech, the Maggid was called up to the Torah for the reading of the words, " . . . and Hashem said to Moshe, behold your day to die has drawn near."
Since his name was Moshe, the Rebbe saw in this another sign that his days were numbered.
One day during the following week, the Maggid got up early as usual. After learning his usual seder before and after davening, he called his children to gather around him.
He blessed them and then gave a clear account of the money in his possession, some of which had been deposited temporarily by others. His last request was that his children print his droshos, adding that just as Hashem helped him, so he would surely help those who publish his works, bringing people to do teshuvoh. So saying, he closed his eyes and lips and returned his pure soul to his Creator.