Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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10 Teves 5765 - December 22, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Dubno Maggid — HaRav Yaakov Kranz
His 200th Yahrtzeit — 17 Teves

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Of the Dubno Maggid, HaRav Yaakov Kranz, it can truly be said, divreihim heim heim zichronom. Even though only sketchy details are known of his life, his teachings have come down to us in much richer portions, and through them we remember him well.

R' Yaakov Kranz was born in the town of Zetil, located in the area of Vilna, sometime around 1740 (5700). His father was a rov and he learned with him in his youth.

It is not known exactly when HaRav Yaakov first studied under the Gra, but it is reasonable to suppose that it was during his first eighteen years when he lived near Vilna in the town of his birth.

The Kranz family as a whole was close to the Gaon. HaRav Chaim of Cheraya, who was one of the early talmidim of the Gra, was an uncle of the Maggid. His brother HaRav Simchah, later the rov of Ragoler, was one of those who was very close to the Gra, one of the "meshamshei vetalmidei haGra," according to the author of the Dikdukei Sofrim according to a manuscript that was seen by Rav Dov Eliach.

At the age of 18 he left home and went to Mezeritch in Poland (not the same town in the Ukraine that was the home of the Mezeritcher Maggid, one of the early leaders of the Chassidim). At first he learned in the beis medrash there, giving occasional droshos on what would now be called mussar. It is said that he used to get up for Tikkun Chatzos and then learn through the night. He soon developed a reputation for his speaking, and the elders of the town offered him an official position as a maggid. He held that position for two years, at the end of which he took up a similar position at Zolkov. After an apparently short time there he became the maggid in Dubno, where he remained for 18 years in that capacity. He became known thereafter as the Dubno Maggid, even though he spent considerable time elsewhere.

According to some sources he was in Dubno from 1768 to 1786 (5728-46). It is said that his stipend was at first six Polish gulden per week with lodging, and it was later raised to eight gulden, perhaps as a result of the moshol quoted below, on erev Pesach.

At the time, Dubno was the largest Jewish community in its area, and one of the most important communities in all Eastern Europe. Jewish taxpayers numbered 1,923 in 1765. The city became a commercial center, and the great fair that had been held in Lvov was held in Dubno after 1773. In 1780 there were 2,325 Jews in Dubno. In those days that was a large community.

He also served elsewhere including Wlodawa (government of Lublin), Kalisch, and Zamosc, where he spent his last 15 years.

HaRav Yaakov Kranz was an unrivaled preacher. His listeners were especially impressed and influenced because he illustrated his speeches and his commentaries with parables taken from human life. Using appropriate stories, he explained many difficult passages and perplexing questions in halochoh in ways that satisfied the sharpest intellectual, while at the same time was able to be grasped by the simplest listener. He was also an eminent rabbinical scholar in halochoh, and was consulted as an authority. He was niftar in Zamosc, Poland on 17 Teves 5565 (December 18, 1804).

It is said that in Zamosc the young Reb Shlomo Kluger became close with the Dubno Maggid who was also living there. Seeing his great potential, the Dubno Maggid sacrificed much time and effort to teach the young Reb Shlomo. They would learn together every Friday, during which time the Dubno Maggid taught and guided Reb Shlomo about how to learn and to understand correctly the Agaddah part of the Torah.

His works have proved enduring, and many generations have already enjoyed them. Many secondary works are derived from his original ideas, as writers in each generation adapt his teachings to changing conditions.

We can thank his son HaRav Yitzchok and his talmid HaRav Avrohom Dov Ber Flamm who published all of his original works that made it into print, after his passing. These include Ohel Yaakov, a commentary on the Chumash with many stories (first published in 1830, about 25 years after the Maggid was niftar); Kol Yaakov (published in 1819) on the Megillos; Kochav miYaakov, a commentary on the haftoras; Emes leYaakov (1836) a commentary on the Haggodoh; Sefer haMiddos (1862), a mussar work arranged in eight "gates."

This last work is based on the Chovos Halevovos. HaRav Flamm made some revisions, and added a preface with a sketch of the author's life, and comments of his own under the title Shiyurei haMiddos.

Another writer took out only the stories from Ohel Yaakov, and published them without their comments on the Chumash in a work entitled Mesholei Yaakov (1886).

The Gaon's Talmid

The Maggid's close relationship with the Gaon is described in HaGaon (Volume I, pp. 328-36). The Maggid himself mentions the Gaon several times as being his master and teacher and, moreover, the only name of a contemporary authority that appears in the Maggid's divrei Torah is that of "the gaon Rabbi Eliyohu of Vilna." The Dubno Maggid refers to the Vilna Gaon as mori (in Ohel Yaakov, parshas Tazria).

Certainly, one of the most famous incidents in the Maggid's life is the fact that the Gaon once asked him to come to him.

According to the sefer Aliyos Eliahu, "When the Gra reached the age of 71 in the year 5551, his age weighed heavily upon him and his strength declined and he became ill. Nonetheless he did not consult doctors at the time and did not pursue physical cures to quiet his thoughts from the illness since his kochos hanefesh had not weakened and had not lost their powers and he desired only to take pleasure in ahavas Hashem and the Torah that had been implanted within his heart from his youth. He wrote, himself, to the Maggid Meishorim of the community of Dubno to come to calm his soul with his wonderful parables that gladden angels and men. (Page 36b — Quoted in Rabbonon Kadishai)

In 5599 (1839) HaRav Flamm printed a Haggodoh entitled Bris Ovos in which he printed two letters from the Gaon to the Maggid. They are reprinted in HaGaon by Rav Dov Eliach (Volume III, p. 1255), based on this first printing.

In 5652, R' Nachman of Horodna printed a Haggodoh based on the customs of the Gra with a commentary from his own father (Zera Gad) and also a commentary from the Dubno Maggid, in which he also printed the two letters. "In order to know the true value of the darshan and maggid meishorim of Dubno in the eyes of the honored Gra ztvk"l of Vilna, we have copied two of his letters in which [the Gra] called him to come to him with great love and asked him to come quickly."

The translation here is based on HaGaon wherever it differs from what appeared in the later Haggodoh.

"B"H, Yom 2, P' Vayeishev 5551

"Sholom rav le'ohuv nafshi, namely the wonderful rav, outstanding in Torah, famous leshvach, the honored morenu HaRav R' Yaakov, maggid meishorim of the Kehilla kedoshoh of Dubno.

"After a drishas sholom as is proper to one I love, I request that which my soul desires, that he should come to me, and it is strange in my eyes that he has so far not come to me for 13 years. Now I have come to encourage him [to come]. The soul of one who loves him dearly and who seeks his peace and benefit, Eliahu the son of morenu HaRav Shlomo Zalman ztvk"l."

The Gaon's son HaRav Avrohom also added his own request, saying that the company of the Maggid, "plants yir'oh, grows haskoloh, harvests tevunoh, and gathers in happiness and joy." He asks the Maggid not to delay his trip because it is a great mitzvah to revive "adoneinu morenu rabbeinu ovi HaGaon, n"y."

The Gaon wrote a second letter on 14 Sivan 5556, in which he tells the Maggid that he has been cured of his ailments and he asks the Maggid to come again and, "he should speed up his trip and not delay." HaRav Avrohom also added a note encouraging the Maggid to respond quickly, and attaching regards from his uncle HaRav Yissochor Ber the Gra's brother, and HaRav Noach Mindis, his own father-in-law.

Rabbi Eliach writes that in response to the first letter, it is said that HaRav Kranz made his way to Vilna with extreme urgency. On his whole journey he did not pause for short rest stops as most travelers did in those days, in his haste to fulfill the request of his rov. Even when he reached Vilna, he did not settle in to his lodgings or even grab a bite to eat, but rushed straight to the home of the Gaon.

The Gra responded in kind, and as soon as the Maggid came in, he asked to hear something from his beloved talmid who obliged.

The novi Yeshayohu says (58:3): "Why did we fast and You did not see; we tortured our souls and You did not know; verily on the day of your fast will you find your desire?"

We can understand what the novi is saying with a moshol about a poor man who brought home a goat. His wife, who has long been seeking some milk for the children, begins immediately to milk her — but no milk comes out. Deeply disappointed, she complained to her husband, `The goat you brought us gives no milk!'

Her husband calmed her down, saying, `First we have to settle her down, give her some food, and give her some time to rest. They you will see that she gives milk.'

Yeshayohu the novi reports that the Jews say to Hashem, `Why did we fast and You did not see; we tortured our souls and You did not know?' How do we see that You have answered our fasting and prayer?

Hashem answers, through the novi, `Verily on the day of your fast will you find your desire?' Do you expect immediate results? First I have to see what the fast has changed within you. Have you mended your ways? If so, then the fast will help you get the answers to your prayers.

The Maggid apparently meant to hint that he also needed to rest before he could give out a full measure of his "milk," but on the other hand he replied with an insight into a posuk through a moshol, answering the Gaon's request.

We will present here some of the many stories that were told by the Dubno Maggid.

A Recently Discovered Story

Two years ago in our Succos issue, we published an account of an incident that had recently been discovered by Rav Dov Eliach, author of HaGaon.

The Maggid once related an incident involving the greatest of the Gaon's talmidim HaRav Chaim of Volozhin. Our source relates:

It is said that the great Dubno Maggid z'l related that once a father and son were travelling together in a wagon during the winter to one of the great trade fairs. It was bitterly cold and they only had one coat between them with which to protect themselves from the freezing weather.

The father said to his son, "You are young and I am afraid that you might catch cold, choliloh. Take the coat and use it to cover your chilled body."

The son refused however and told his father, "I don't need the coat, for I am young and my blood is warm but you, dear father, take the coat and wear it, for I am afraid that you might catch cold, choliloh."

Since neither of them was prepared to accept the other's argument, they decided to approach the gaon Rav Chaim of Volozhin. They came before him and presented their points of view. The father said: "I have no need for the coat. I am already old and am not afraid of catching cold," while the son argued that no, he was still young and the cold wouldn't injure him, so it should go to his father, who is older.

When Rav Chaim heard their unusual arguments, he gave his opinion: "The arguments that you are presenting leave me no choice but to take the coat away from both of you, for you both say that you don't want it. In my view however, your arguments are incorrect; you should have argued differently, as follows:

"The father should have said that even though it is very cold and the coat is necessary to him, since his son is young and is at the beginning of his life, and `Everything depends on Heaven, except for colds and chills' (Kesuvos 30) [from which a person can take steps to protect himself, leaving him undeserving of protection if he fails to do so] he therefore agrees to give the coat to his son. The son should have said that while he indeed needs the coat to warm himself, he has an obligation to honor his father and protect his health and that he therefore wishes the coat to remain with his father.

"If those are your arguments," Rav Chaim concluded, "I will try, im yirtzeh Hashem, to obtain a second coat for you, so that both of your arguments can be upheld."

Parable and Metaphor

The Dubno Maggid suffered from extreme poverty. For years he had to go from city to city, delivering his discourses to the crowds and to support himself from the contributions that he received from the public in return.

Several anecdotes relating to his dealings with others, are recorded in an old, hitherto unpublished manuscript. The sharp retorts which the Maggid delivered on these occasions testify, as do his fascinating parables, to his keen wit.

It is said that during his early years as a maggid in Dubno, he received a very meager salary (as noted above). On erev Pesach, Reb Yaakov abstained from following the usual custom whereby the maggid checked the town's beis hamedrash for chometz. He did not conduct the bedikah; the shamash did it instead of him. When asked about this the following day he replied,

"Once upon a time, when the town's maggid had bread, there was reason for him to check. As for me though, who does not have any bread anyway, why should I check?"

This reply found favor in the eyes of the officials and they immediately raised his salary.

While he was a bochur learning in yeshiva, the maggid had his meals in the home of a certain wealthy fellow, who only gave him a small amount to eat. Once the host scoffed at him, "What benefit will you already see from your learning? If you wanted to become something, you could be with me."

Reb Yaakov replied, "Certainly I wanted to be `something' with you but you don't let me . . . "

His host asked what he meant and the youth explained, "I wanted to be satisfied in your house but you don't let me."

The Man with the Million

A certain wealthy individual once asked the Maggid, "Why do you always go to the homes of the wealthy but we don't see the wealthy coming to you?"

The Maggid responded, "I know that I lack money, so I go to the wealthy men's homes to ask for it. The wealthy men however, are unaware that they lack wisdom, so what should bring them to me?"

On another occasion, the Maggid was the guest of an extremely wealthy man over Shabbos. At the third meal, the assembled drank wine very liberally. When the Maggid felt that he could take no more, he refused his host's offer of more drink. The man pressed him again to have a little more wine and would not leave him alone until he agreed. The Maggid saw that there would be no respite and he told the man to pour him another glass.

The wealthy man was glad and he filled his glass with wine. The Maggid then instructed him — Pour more! The man continued pouring and the wine overflowed the glass, into the plate placed under it. The Maggid however, insisted that he continue pouring, until the wine was about to spill onto the table. The host thought that his guest was unable to see properly in the growing darkness and he said, "Rabbi, even the plate is overflowing."

The Maggid responded, "See? Even this inanimate plate can't hold more wine than it has room for. How is it then, that you want me, a human being with common sense, to keep pouring wine into myself beyond my capacity?"

A Parable of a Parable

The Maggid was often asked to reveal the idea and the technique behind his unique style.

In HaGaon it mentions that in one of the conversations between the Gaon and the Maggid, the sage asked the Maggid how he always managed to find a suitable illustration with such swiftness, for any given lesson, and use it to elucidate pesukim and statements of Chazal so cogently. The Maggid responded immediately with a parable about his parables:

One of the king's ministers once wished to master the art of archery and to learn how to shoot a bullseye. He travelled to the special academy where the subject was taught and studied there for a number of years, by the end of which he could shoot an arrow and get it fairly close to the center of the target.

On his journey home, he passed through a small country village and he noticed an open area for shooting practice, where each arrow was dead in the middle of the its target. He was amazed. How can it be, he wondered, that after such a long time and after having learned so much in the academy, these ordinary country folk can shoot better than he? The minister went in search of the master marksman and asked him to teach him the secret of his tremendous success.

The villager explained to him, "My method is first to shoot the arrow at the board, then to draw a circle around the spot that it reaches. In this way, all my arrows are bullseyes. I don't miss a single one!" he concluded with a broad smile.

"I am the same," explained the Dubno Maggid. "First, I shoot off the arrow and give the posuk's true explanation. Only then do I compose a parable around this explanation. That's why the parable always fits the lesson so well."

Columbus and the Dubno Maggid

It is said that admirers of the Maggid once provokingly asked him, "What is the great novelty in your parables? Each one only illustrates one particular lesson and anyone can do the same."

The Maggid replied with a story. The famous explorer Columbus argued in his day that logic dictated that there had to be hitherto undiscovered lands. He made this claim before kings and ministers but none would listen to him, until years later the king of Spain agreed with him and placed ships and a large crew at his disposal. Columbus departed on his search and sailed until he found America.

Upon his return, the Spanish king held a lavish banquet in which the royal princes participated. They began to discuss the event. Some were amazed at Columbus' wisdom, while others argued that he had not really achieved anything out of the ordinary, for common sense said that if one kept on sailing, one would eventually reach some continent or other.

Columbus pretended not to hear them. He took a boiled egg from a plate in the middle of the table and asked them if they could stand it on its end. Some tried standing the egg on one of its ends, while others tried to stand it on the other but they all failed. Columbus took the egg, cut off one end and stood it up, in which position it remained. The members of the party looked at one another sheepishly. How had such a simple solution escaped them?

So it is with us. Although the parable seems extremely simple, the fact is that nobody thought of it by himself. Only after I tell you, do you all wonder how you didn't think of it by yourselves.

I Open my Mouth with a Parable

Once, two of the greatest maggidim of their day met. One was the Dubno Maggid and the other was Rav Yehuda Leib Edel of Slonim zt'l, author of Afikei Yehuda who, incidentally, was also befriended and esteemed by the Vilna Gaon. The latter Maggid's approach was deep and penetrating, employing speculative and philosophical questions discussed by the Sefer Ho'ikrim, the Cuzari, the Moreh Nevuchim and other works. This was perhaps the reason that the crowd that was present preferred that the Dubno Maggid be the first to speak.

Rav Y. L. Edel commented lightheartedly to the assembled, "The posuk (Tehillim 78:2) says, `I shall open my mouth with a parable; I shall express riddles of yore.' In other words, there is a difference between a discourse based on parables and one based on theoretical questions. When `I open' the discourse with `parables,' it is `my mouth' alone that speaks, with no qualifying description of the maggid who is speaking, to distinguish him and accord him honor. It is not so when, `I express' the contents of the discourse as `riddles' and perplexing issues. In the latter case, the speaker is described as being, `of yore,' an [honored] speaker of the old, well known school."

The Dubno Maggid responded in kind: "The explanation of this posuk seems to me to be different, but also in keeping with the language. When `I open' my discourse `with a parable,' then everyone acknowledges that it is `my [own] mouth' that is speaking. Not so when `I express riddles' and profound issues; then people immediately say that what I am saying is taken from `of yore,' from earlier works."

A Moshol of Teshuvoh

In the teshuvoh process, people have to come by themselves. The Maggid of Dubno tells about a Jew who came to a village and saw many people standing around outside a house, arguing with each other. The visitor asked what had happened, and they answered that the house was burning down and a person was inside, sleeping on his bed. "We want to save him," they explained, "but the bed will not fit through the door or the window. We do not know what to do."

The visitor asked them, "Why do you not simply wake him up? Then he will get himself out of the house."

Similarly, a person must choose by himself to start doing teshuvoh and then it will go relatively easily.

The Overflowing Vessel

The Dubno Maggid related, "When I was in Vilna with my teacher, our holy rebbe, the gaon and chossid, Rabbenu Eliyahu of Vilna zy'a, I asked him how spiritual bounty is attained, and how a tzaddik can impart his own yiras Shomayim to his generation. He replied by way of a parable, wherein a large vessel is completely surrounded by smaller ones and someone is standing and pouring into the large vessel without stopping. Naturally, once the large vessel is full to overflowing, whatever else is poured into it will flow into the smaller vessels next to it. However, so long as the large vessel itself has not been filled, nothing at all will reach the adjacent vessels."

The Maggid's Family

The descendants of the Maggid have been doing research over the past few years about other members of the family.

The Maggid's mother Rebbetzin Hinda o"h was the daughter of HaRav Nochum of Kobrin zt"l.

The wife of the Dubno Maggid was Rebbetzin Adel, who was niftar six years later than her husband at the age of 56 (yahrtzeit 8 Nisan), according to her death certificate, a copy of which was published in the Vayikra, 5762 issue of Yated. The Maggid's sister Devorah married her own uncle, the brother of her mother. It is not certain what the family name was, but it may have been Tiktin. They believe that a Grozovsky family is descended from this family.

The Maggid of Dubno ztvk'l needs our help!

The Yaacov Maggid of Dubno Fund of London writes that the dearest wish of the Maggid's descendants was to go on a pilgrimage to Zamosc, say Kaddish and pray for Klal Yisroel at the site of the holy kevorim.

During the last ten years, descendants of the holy Maggid have discovered the extent of the desecration of the two Jewish Burial Grounds in Zamosc and are making every effort — with the exceptional help of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, Rabbi M. Schudrich of the Rabbinical Committee for Burial Grounds in Poland, and Monika Krawczyk of the Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland — to have these grounds returned to the Jewish community for refencing.

Public awareness of these terrible desecrations is very limited. The descendants feel that it is high time that everyone should know the true current situation, especially since the Maggid of Dubno ztvk'l is popular and beloved in our time as he was in his own era.

A recent Polish law gives the jurisdiction of Jewish holy sites to the Jewish community in Poland. One would think, therefore, that all Jewish burial grounds would now be protected by Polish law. However, in reality this is not so.

In the case of the 16th-century Jewish Burial Ground at ul Partyzantow (formerly ul Levovska) in Zamosc (purchased by Sephardim in 1588) (see map) and the newer Jewish Burial Ground opened in 1907 at ul Prosta, certain persons who claimed "ownership" of these grounds sometime after the Second World War "sold" them to the Municipality of Zamosc. To this day, this "sale" is considered perfectly legal. Surely something which is perfectly legal also has to be perfectly moral?

We claim that this so-called "sale" was not legal at all.

It is well known that Jewish burial grounds belong in perpetuity to those buried there and cannot ever be sold.

What sort of person would participate in the destruction of the holy remains of someone's beloved relatives, and also a world Jewish heritage site, in order to line his own pockets?

What sort of Municipality would take a holy Jewish burial ground and build a kindergarten on it? Would any parent agree that their child should begin his school life amongst the dead?

The ancient Jewish Burial Ground at ul Partyzantow which is the place wherein the Maggid and his descendants lie buried has been relandscaped and many decorative trees have been planted on the graves. On these grounds are already built a large Cultural Center, a kindergarten, and a recreation area for children. A new road, ul Kiepury, has been built through the grounds.

The newer Jewish burial ground at ul Prosta has been almost entirely obliterated. All that one can see is a gruesome wall made up of headstones all stuck together (some upside down) and a memorial made up of more headstones, some too high to read.

From reports in the Yizkor books of Zamosc, it seems that this memorial marks a mass grave of 97 martyrs who were murdered in the Holocaust in the forests around Zamosc. Returning survivors reburied them in the Jewish burial ground. Hundreds more still remain in the forests.

We understand that a car park covers some of the original burial ground at ul Prosta and another area of this burial ground has been used for residential construction.

At this point, we would like to request information from any survivors of Zamosc who may remember these grounds. Would anyone remember the position of the Maggid of Dubno's kever? Do they remember the site of their own relatives kevorim?

We would be very grateful indeed for any information.

What has happened in our era? After the destruction of the Holocaust, returning survivors of Polish towns and villages were not allowed into their own homes and were even murdered for their property. Today, the Jewish community is faced with the bill for the repair and refencing of Jewish burial grounds and restoration of holy sites (that is, if they will in fact be returned), which have been exploited to the limit by Polish local authorities.

With regard to Zamosc, if the Municipality will not return the grounds for refencing, we are faced with the need to repurchase these areas. So much for the new Polish law!

The Yaacov Maggid of Dubno Fund aims to translate and publish the works of the Maggid with all proceeds going to the fund. We hope to mark this special Yahrtzeit with our first publication, the Haggadah of Pesach in Hebrew and English with the Maggid's own commentary Emes leYaakov, first published in 1836.

For 200 years, translators and publishers have benefited from the Maggid of Dubno's works. The descendants of the Maggid do not want to exploit these works to line their own pockets. However, the Maggid now needs our help more than ever and therefore be'ezras Hashem all the proceeds from our publications will go towards the eventual refencing of the holy Jewish burial Grounds in Zamosc as well as other charitable works.

We would like to invite sponsorship of our Haggadah, the first one to be published by the family since 1831, when the only son of the Maggid HaRav Yitzchok Kranz ztvk'l passed away in an epidemic.

The Yaacov Maggid of Dubno Fund is overwhelmed with gratitude to HaKodosh Boruch Hu that it has the privilege of marking this special occasion of the 200th Yahrtzeit of our illustrious and beloved ancestor and of being able to bring the above information to the notice of the general public.

A spark of understanding has ignited between the Polish Government and the Jewish community. Now a means has to be found to broaden this understanding to such an extent that we will have somewhere to light our Yahrtzeit candles and say Kaddish for our beloved ancestors.

Please contact us at: Yaacov Maggid of Dubno Fund, POB 33628, London N16 6AW, England; or telephone 0044 208 806 1684.


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