What Is a Maggid? – From fire and brimstone to the rise of the Chassidic movement – Chabad.org

Posted By on December 17, 2019

A maggid isa Jewish preacher, a title most commonly held by preacherswho flourished in Poland and Russia during the 17th and 18th centuries, mostnotably the Maggid of Mezrich.

A maggidwould usually preach about ethics, morality and religious observance, oftenlinked to the current Torah portion or holiday, with the goal ofencouraging or admonishing the audience. His sermon would be interlaced withquotes from the Bible, Talmud and Jewish law, as well as exegesis and homileticinterpretations.

In general, there were two types of maggidim: one who lived and preached ina set community; and an itinerant or "wandering preacher, who would go from town totown preaching in the various synagogues. The communities would usually pay him a modest sumbased on his stature and ability.

A well-known maggid of that era was Rabbi Yaakov Kranz (1741-1804), the Dubner Maggid, who is famous for the many parables that he used to illustrate his point.Ironically, his most famous parable explains why his stories fit so well withthe lesson he was trying to teach:

Once, I was walking in the forest, and saw tree after treewith a target drawn on it, and at the center of each target an arrow. I thencame upon a person with a bow in his hand. "Are you the one who shot allthese arrows?" I asked. "Yes!" he replied. "Then how didyou always hit the center of the target?" I asked. "Simple," hereplied, "first I shoot the arrow, then I draw the target."

Of course, there have been rabbis going back to theTalmudic era who have given sermons of the type that later maggidim would give. But in the late 17th and early 18th centuriesthere arose a new type of maggid,largely influenced by Rabbi Eliyahu of Izmir(1640-1729), author of Shevet Mussar.In his speeches, Rabbi Eliyahu would describe the terrible punishments andhorrors that one would experience both in this world and the next unless hecorrected his moral and religious conduct. Many maggidim followed in his footsteps and borrowed ideas from hiswork; thus, the "fire and brimstone" maggid was born.

Atroughly the same time, the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) began to preach an altogether differentphilosophy, one that called for serving Gd will joy and love. While the BaalShem Tov did not go by the title of maggid,his successor, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch (d. 1772), was known as the Maggid of Mezeritch. Unlike hispredecessor, who traveled extensively, Rabbi DovBerstayed in Mezeritch, and his students would flock to him to hear his teachings.

Thefollowing stories illustrate the contrast between the fire and brimstone maggidim and the Chassidic masters,while giving us a taste of Jewish life in that era.

Thesixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, recounts a story thatoccurred when the Baal Shem Tov was still traveling incognito, before heofficially started the Chassidic movement:

Once, the Baal Shem Tov arrived in a village where thelocal Jews worked the land for their livelihood. It was in the middle of thesummer, and the area suffered from a terrible drought. The rain hadnt fallenin a long while, and the crop was drying out. The livestock were getting sick withan epidemic, and the townsfolk were in great distress. The locals were piousJews, and these events aroused them to repentance. When the tragedy persisted,they decided to bring a maggid topreach words of rebuke and inspire them to even greater repentance.

All the townsfolk gathered in the shul, and the maggid didnot spare any words. He used harsh language to rebuke his listeners with fireand brimstone while the entire community groaned and cried bitterly. Hearingthe painful cries of the men and women, the Baal Shem Tov, who was in the shul at the time, turned to the maggid and called out: What do you havewith the Yidden? Yidden are good! Turning to the Jewish community, the BaalShem Tov announced, Come, Yidden! Dance with me, and after Minchah, the rainwill fall! The assembled first looked at him suspiciously. They thoughtperhaps he didnt believe in Gd, or maybe he was out of his mind, Gd forbid.But then, the Baal Shem Tov began strengthening his argument with proofs fromthe Sages, and the people took heed of his words, believing in the power ofGds salvation. They joined him in a dance. As their dance progressed, thegates of heaven opened, and a downpour of rain fell upon the ground.

Another incident helps illustrate the point:

Awell-known preacher once came to Berditchev before Rosh Hashanah and requestedpermission from the head of the Jewish community to preach. I am awidely-acclaimed maggid, he said,and consider myself worthy of preaching in the synagogue of Rabbi LeviYitzchak.

Iwould gladly allow you to preach in any other synagogue, the communal leaderreplied. If, however, you wish to speak in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's synagogue,obtain permission from him. The preacher went to the Chassidic master andpresented his request. "I give you my permission on condition that I say afew words before your speech, said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

Wordspread quickly that a visiting preacher would be speaking in the Rebbe'ssynagogue and that the Rebbe himself would introduce him. Crowds of peopleflocked to the shul and listenedattentively as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak made his introduction.

Masterin Heaven, the Day of Judgment approaches. The Satan will come before You toaccuse the Jewish people. Do not listen to him, for You have written in YourTorah, One witness shall not suffice to accuse in judgment.

Thisvisiting preacher has come to preach in our city. Should his words containaccusations against Your people, do not hearken to his words. Do not accept himas a second witness. He is unqualified to pass testimony, for he has a personalinterest in the matter. He is preaching only because he is in need of funds tomarry off his daughter.

However,if his words are commendable to Your people, listen to them, though he is onlyone witness. Our sages have taught us that while the testimony of a single witnessis not sufficient to obligate a person, it is sufficient for a vow to be taken.And You have made a vow to our forefathers.

Thepreacher was at a loss for words. The talk he had prepared was filled with fireand brimstone, condemning the people for their many faults. He announced thatin light of the Rebbe's words, he had nothing to say. The crowd dispersed.

AfterRosh Hashanah, Rebbe Levi Yitzchok himself collected money for the needypreacher and provided him with the funds necessary to marry off his daughter.

While there weremany innovations and teachings that were introduced with the Chassidicmovement, one underlying theme is the importance of instilling all Jews, eventhe unlettered folk, with a sense of hope, pride and joy. For it is throughthis that we will overcome both our personal and communal exiles, allowing theessential goodness of the soul to shine brightly and radiate to the entireworld.

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What Is a Maggid? - From fire and brimstone to the rise of the Chassidic movement - Chabad.org

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