The Gaon Rabi Yaakov, known throughout Europe as the Dubno Maggid, was a brilliant orator and scholar. He was never at a loss for words, and always had a parable or a story from the Torah to fit the occasion. In his younger years, he was a merchant and often traveled around the country. It was only when he lost his business and became poverty-stricken that he took to the pulpit and wandered from town to town lecturing and telling stories.
The Lost Land
Once, while still a merchant, he reached a small town near Berditchev. It was erev Shabbos, and he stopped at an inn to inquire how to get to Berditchev.
Seeing an opportunity to secure a customer for Shabbos, the innkeeper said, “I would advise you to stay here as it is too late to reach the town in time for Shabbos.”
Realizing he had no choice, Rabi Yaakov remained at the hotel. After Shabbos he paid the hotelkeeper and departed.
A number of years later when he became a maggid, he again visited the hotel on an erev Shabbos.
“Tell me, my dear man,” he asked, “how far is it to the town of Berditchev? I am a maggid and I am scheduled to speak at the main shul this Shabbos.”
The hotelkeeper did not recognize the former merchant and, thinking him to be a poor preacher with little money to pay for lodging and food, said, “The town of Berditchev is very near. If you will hurry, you may make it in time.”
The Dubno Maggid smiled and said, “Now I understand the meaning implied in ‘Why did the land become lost? Because he had forsaken my Torah’ (Yirmiyahu 9:11): This sentence is puzzling. The land is not lost; it is still in existence. However, your behavior explains the sentence.
“Two years ago when I arrived at your hotel on an erev Shabbos, I was a merchant with money. When I asked you how far it was to the next town, you said that it was very far. But suddenly, now that I am a maggid, a man of Torah, the distance becomes very near. How did the land in between suddenly become lost? How is it that from far it became near? Because you have forsaken the Torah – because you do not think too much of Torah, you have forsaken it. Therefore, the land between these two towns has become shorter.”
The Troubles At Home
When the Dubno Maggid reached the town of Berditchev, he visited the leader of the community and asked him to arrange a lecture.
“Rebbe,” said the official, “I cannot understand why you leave your city and wander from town to town, suffering so many inconveniences and hardships. The people of your city know of you, and they would gladly pay to hear your lecture every Shabbos.”
“We are told that our mother Rivka, when pregnant with twins, suffered greatly,” said the Dubno Maggid. “When she would pass the beit midrash of Shem, Yaakov, although unborn, would struggle to get out. When she passed a house of idolatry, Esav would struggle to get out. Thus, she suffered many pains when she passed these places. The question arises: Why did she have to leave the house and pass these places and end up suffering so much? Couldn’t she have stayed at home?
“The answer is simple. Staying home was a greater trial to her than walking outside: There were too many troubles at home. So it is with me.”
The Stingy Host
Once, during a cold wintry night, while the Dubno Maggid was wandering from town to town, it suddenly became dark. The only house in the vicinity was a small inn. Tired and hungry and nearly half-frozen from the bitter cold, the Maggid introduced himself to the innkeeper and asked for some food and a night’s lodging.
The innkeeper, who considered himself a scholar, was known to be very stingy. “It is a pity,” he said, “but we just finished our last piece of bread. There is absolutely nothing left. However, you may lie down behind the stove and keep yourself warm during the night.”
Having no choice, the Dubno Maggid recited Krias Shema and lay down behind the warm oven. But he found it very difficult sleeping on an empty stomach. He turned from side to side but to no avail. He just couldn’t fall asleep.
Meanwhile, the innkeeper, thinking that the Maggid had fallen asleep, called in his household members and they sat down to a sumptuous meal – fish, meat and all the delicacies of a banquet. The Maggid saw it all but he kept quiet.
In the morning, after davening, the Maggid prepared to leave. The hotelkeeper approached him and said, “I am sure that my guest, the Maggid, remembers the words of our Sages, ‘A person should never depart from his friend without saying a word of halacha’” (Berachot 31a).
“Very well,” he answered. “By your behavior last night I began to understand the meaning of the following passage from the Gemara (Baba Metzia 86b): ‘A person should always follow the custom of his host.’ When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Heaven he followed the custom of the angels; he did not eat for 40 days.
“Now the question arises: Why did our Sages only emphasize eating, why not sleeping, for angels do not sleep? It is more difficult to be without sleeping, more so than eating. Indeed, we are taught (Shavuot 25a) that a person who swears he will not sleep for three days should be punished with flogging and he may go to sleep immediately.
“But you answered me last night, when you and your family ate and did not give me anything to eat. For how did Moshe know that the angels did not eat? Perhaps they ate while Moshe slept as you did last night. Obviously Moshe remained awake to watch the angels. That’s why he was sure that they did not eat. I, too, had to remain awake to watch you.”