Dubner Maggid

Reb Yaakov Krantz, Dubner Maggid, (1741-1804). Born in a province of Vilna, Jacob ben Wolf Kranz showed exceptional homiletical and Kabbalistic talents at an early age, and by the age of twenty became the darshan of his city. From there he began preaching through the cities of around Lublin in Poland, finally settling in Dubnow. His reputation as a maggid spread, bringing him in contact with the great rabbis of the period, including the Vilna Gaon. The majority of his works were in homiletics, using stories and parables to transmit deeper ethical and moral teachings.

The Maggid of Dubno Maggid Mesharim Rabbi YaaKov ben Zeev (Wolf) Kranz ztvk'l
He was born in Zetil, Lithuania in 1741 (now Djatlovo in Belarus); Son of  Rabbi Zeev of Zetil and Rebbetzin Hinda daughter of Rabbi Nochym the Gaon of Kobryn ztvk'l.   Although he became famous in Dubno, he spent various numbers of years in other towns finally settling in Zamosc where he was Maggid and Rosh Yeshiva for the last 15 years of his life and he is buried there in the ul Levovska ancient Jewish Burial Ground (16th Century), now called ul Partyzantow). His actual gravesite is thus far unknown. B'ezrath H'  efforts are now being made to recover this ancient holy burial ground, for refencing.  He died in 1804 - 17th Teves at the age of 63, survived until 1811 by his wife the Rebbetzin Udel (Adel) who was born in Miedzyrzec Podlaski, his only son Rabbi Yitzchok Maggid of Miedzyrzec, daughters, two of whom lived in Dubno.


All of Jacob's works were published after his death by his son Isaac Kranz and his pupil Abraham Bär Plahm. These are: "Ohel Ya'akob," a homiletic commentary on the Pentateuch abounding with graphic parables (i., Jozefow, 1830; ii., Zolkiev, 1837; iii., Vienna, 1863; iv., 1861; v., Vienna, 1859); "Kol Ya'akob" (Warsaw, 1819), a similar commentary on the Five Scrolls; "Kokab mi-Ya'akob," a commentary on the "haftarot"; "Emet le-Ya'akob" (Zolkiev, 1836), a commentary on the Passover Haggadah; "Sefer ha-Middot" (n.p., 1862), ethics arranged in eight "gates" or sections, each section being divided into several chapters. This work resembles very much the "Hobot ha-Lebabot" of Bahya. As the author himself had given no name to it, Abraham Bär Plahm, its editor, at first intended to call it "Hobot ha-Lebabot he-Hadash" ( = "The New 'Hobot ha-Lebabot'"); but out of respect for Bahya he changed his mind. The editor also revised the work, and added to it a preface containing a sketch of the author's life, and glosses of his own under the title "Shiyyure ha-Middot." Moses Nussbaum of Przemysl extracted from the author's "Ohel Ya'akob" all the parables, and published them in one book entitled "Mishle Ya'akob" (Cracow, 1886).


This is a parable from the Dubner Maggid. The verse states, "See, I place before you today blessing and curse. The blessing: that you will listen to the mitzvos of Hashem..." (Devarim 11:26-27). Why do we receive blessings in this world for listening to Hashem's mitzvos? The true reward for mitzvos is the schar in Olam Habbo (The Next World), not in this world. The answer is that Hashem gave us Torah of 613 mitzvos to keep. He does not demand the impossible. Therefore, He must give us the means to fulfill those mitzvos. The commandments have "expenses". They take time, energy, thought, and money. He wants us to fulfill the mitzvos; therefore, He must pay our "expenses". When we perform a mitzvah, Hashem says (so to speak), "I see my little Yiddel is doing what I want. He is keeping My mitzvos. I want him to continue to keep My mitzvos. Therefore, I will ‘pay his expenses', and give him the blessings that he needs to keep going."


The Dubner Maggid was famous for his meshalim (parables) which always hit the bull's eye. With a short story he could illuminate a Torah idea, lighting up the eyes and the minds of all who listened.

The Vilna Gaon once asked him how it was that he was able to tell such wonderfully telling parables that always seemed to hit the mark. The Dubner Magid replied with another mashal:

There once was a prince who desired greatly to become a master archer. One day while he was traveling he came to a small village. An archery contest was in progress. The prince noticed that one of the contestant's accuracy was almost uncanny. Each of his targets was pierced exactly in the center.

The prince asked this fellow how he was able to achieve such striking results. This was his reply: "Well first I aim at a tree. Then, once I hit the tree, I run up to it and paint circles around the arrow."

Said the Dubner Maggid to the Vilna Gaon: "I do the same. First of all I find an interesting story, then I look for a relevant verse or Torah thought to which to attach it."


Rabbi Yaakov Krantz zt"l, better known as the Dubner Maggid, was famous for his poignant parables - he somehow managed to come up with the most incredible parables to explain almost anything he wished. He used parables to explain difficult passages in the Gemara and to illuminate complex sections of the Written Torah. Most of all, he used parables to couch his piercing ethical and moral sermons in a vehicle more palatable to his listeners. Parables, he felt, allowed one to laugh at oneself - to recognize and acknowledge one's faults without feeling the need to defend oneself or deny their existence.

One time, the Maggid's travels brought him to a somewhat "enlightened" congregation in Germany. The Maggid's fame as a storyteller and public speaker was so great that the leaders of the community, despite their unenthusiastic stance vis-a-vis Torah and mitzvah observance, felt obligated to invite him to deliver a derasha in their synagogue. They sensed, however, that there was a need to clarify beforehand to the old- school Rabbi exactly what his role was when addressing such a apathetic (to Torah) and enlightened (to everything else) community.

"Rabbi," they said, "we know you are world-renowned for your parables and stories. You use them to beautify your derashos and drive home your powerful message of Torah adherence, and to articulate your biting criticism and reproach. Let there be no mistake: We love a good story, but we have no interest in your rebuke. We don't need some old- fashioned rabbi coming and telling us that we're not as dedicated as we should be to the Torah. We love the Torah - we just understand it differently than you. So please, rabbi, just give us the stories, and leave out the mussar!"

"Let me tell you a parable," said the Maggid. "A yeshiva rebbe once decided to take his students on a walk through the forest. 'Now boys,' he told them, 'we're going to be walking through a forest, and there's a good chance we might come across wild dogs. Well boys - have no fear! All you have to do if we come across wild dogs is to recite the pasuk, And to all the Children of Israel no dog whet its tongue, and no harm will become us. Did you all get that?'

"Just to make sure, the rebbe had them repeat the pasuk back to him. When he was satisfied, he confidently led his class into the forest. Sure enough, they hadn't been walking long when they stumbled upon the lair of a wild and ferocious dog. None too pleased with his intruders, the dog began to bark and howl, sending a piercing shudder of fear through the hearts of the young children and their teacher. All eyes turned to the rebbe - which is just as well, for the rebbe was already a good 50 feet away, darting for safety as fast as his feet could carry him. Reminding himself of his young charge, he screamed over his shoulder as he fled, 'Run for your lives!'

"They ran out of the forest, and found their rebbe still shaking with fear as he huffed and puffed from the ordeal. 'But rebbe,' they asked, 'why did you take-off like that? You said all we had to do was to say the pasuk and we would be safe!'

"Of course all you have to do is to say the pasuk!' said the rebbe. 'But how on earth am I supposed to say the pasuk if that crazy dog chasing after me doesn't let me say it?!'

"Let there be no mistake," concluded the Maggid, "I am not a storyteller. I am a rabbi. I use stories to bring out my points and to illuminate my words - but the stories to me are never just stories. There's always a point to be made, or a lesson to be learned. What point is there in me talking to your community if all they want is to hear a nice derasha, but have no interest in taking anything home? Talk is cheap."


Copyright H. David Marshak, All Rights Reserved