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 he 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 off at a nearby inn to inquire the way to Berditchev.
Seeing an opportunity to secure a customer for Shabbos, the innkeeper said, “I would advise you to stop at my hotel for Shabbos, for the distance is too far to reach town in time for Shabbos.”
Realizing he had no choice, Rabbi Yaakov remained at the hotel for Shabbos. After Shabbos he paid the hotelkeeper and departed.
A number of years later when he left the business world and became a maggid, he again visited the same 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 have an engagement to lecture at the main synagogue of the town this Shabbos.”
The hotelkeeper did not recognize the former merchant and thinking him to be a poor indigent preacher, with little money to pay for lodging and food, he said to him, “The town of Berditchev is very near. If you will hurry, you may just make it in time for Shabbos.”
The Dubno Maggid smiled and said, “Now I understand the meaning implied in the sentence of Scriptures (Jeremiah 9:11): ‘Why did the land become lost? Because he had forsaken my Torah.’ This sentence is puzzling. The land is not lost; it is still in existence. But 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, when I am a maggid, a man of Torah, the distance becomes very near. How did the land in-between suddenly become lost, 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 the lecture for the coming Shabbos.
“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.”
“Let me explain a portion of our Torah,” answered the Dubno Maggid. “We are told that our mother Rivka, when pregnant with twins, suffered greatly. When she would pass the Beth 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?
“But 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.”