One does not often associate preachers with Judaism. There are, however, certain distinct personalities in Jewish history who are known for their ability to inspire through their oratory. The maggid (literally “teller”), as such a person is called, is known for bringing Torah and Jewish law to life through stories. This unique skill was epitomized by Rabbi Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz, better known as the Dubner Maggid (Maggid of Dubno, c. 1740 – 1804).
Born in Zetil, near Vilna, in Lithuania, Rabbi Kranz first began speaking in public in Mezeritch, Poland, where he was a student of the yeshiva there. He so impressed the town elders that they offered him a position as a preacher. After working in Mezeritch and Zolkov, he accepted a position in Dubno, where he remained for 18 years.
What made the Dubner Maggid such a powerful speaker was his use of parables, stories that illustrate moral points. When asked how he produced such accurate parables, he replied with a story of a man who found an archer at an archery range who had only perfectly accurate shots. When the man asked the archer how he had such consistent accuracy, the archer responded that first he shot the arrow and then he painted the target. The Dubner Maggid felt that this was very similar to his own method of preaching. First he understood the point he wished to make, and then he created the parable.
To help his listeners understand the words of the Torah, the Dubno Maggid created parables concerning kings, princes, parents, children, in-laws, and a wealth of other characters to whom the common person could relate. He was also recognized as a great scholar of Jewish law and his company was sought out by one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, the Vilna Gaon.
The Dubno Maggid passed away on the 17th of Tevet in 1804.
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