Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, used to pray at great length. Sometimes his prayers would take hours. Near Mezeritch there lived a learned man who, like the Maggid, also used to pray according to the kavanot (mystical intentions) taught by the holy Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) of Safed, but whose prayers did not take so long. When he heard about how much time the Maggid spent, he was perplexed, and wanted to know the reason. He decided to ask the Maggid himself.
Once a year this learned man, who also happened to be quite wealthy, would travel to the great fair in Leipzig. There he would invest some of his capital in merchandise, which he would then sell in his hometown upon his return at a good profit. He was able to live off the proceeds from these transactions for the rest of the year, while he devoted his time to Torah study and prayer. On his next such business trip, he made a point to pass through Mezeritch and stop there.
Witnessing for himself the Maggid’s lengthy prayers, he was amazed . . .
Witnessing for himself the Maggid’s lengthy prayers, he was amazed. At his first opportunity to speak privately to the Maggid, the wealthy scholar said, “I also pray according to the special mystical intentions taught by the holy Ari, yet I don’t find the necessity to extend my prayers for so long.”
Instead of answering directly, the Maggid expressed interest in how his guest made a living. The man explained how it was enough for him to travel once a year to Leipzig to invest in merchandise, which he then sold for a good profit in the area where he lived.
“But how do you know that you have made a profit?” inquired the Maggid.
“Simple. I enter all my capital expenditures and traveling expenses in my ledger, and subtract their sum from the total amount of income from sales. The remainder is my profit,” replied the merchant, wondering why the rebbe was so interested in the details of his business.
“But why,” the Maggid asked innocently, “do you waste all that time and money traveling to Leipzig and back? Why don’t you just write all the credit and debit figures down in your ledger and calculate your profits that way, without fuss?”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the merchant. “Is it possible to think that from writing numbers can come a profit without bothering to do anything else? Ha, ha, ha. Of course, you have to travel and buy and sell before the profit can be real, not just theoretical.”
“Well,” said the Maggid, “the kavanot are like merchandise: if they are not fully possessed in your mind and heart as if you were ‘there,’ it is like writing profit figures on a piece of paper without doing the business work. On the other hand, if you are firmly attached ‘there,’ you can then acquire some excellent ‘merchandise’ and make a handsome profit with the kavanot.
“But that,” concluded the Maggid to his astonished visitor, “requires extended time and investment in prayer.”
Translated/retold from Reshimas Devarim, vol. 4.
Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch is known as “the Maggid.” A gifted orator and original thinker, he was a maggid, or preacher. Initially a fierce opponent of the new Chassidic movement, he became the Baal Shem’s ardent follower, and after the his death, the consolidator of the Chassidic movement. Under his guidance for 11 years, the movement expanded rapidly. In time, both chassidim and their opponents came to defend a common Torah against the onslaught of the rising tide of enlightenment and secularization. Among the Maggid’s students were Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg and his brother Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Rabbi Nachum of Chernobel, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and his brother Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, Rabbi Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and many others. The Maggid’s only son was the saintly Rabbi Avraham HaMalach (“the Angel,” 1741–1776).
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