The Gaon and the Maggid
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TorahParshat Naso

The Gaon and the Maggid

Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

(File photo)
(File photo)

There is a well-known story in which the Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to give him constructive criticism (mussar) and to challenge him to reach even more lofty spiritual heights.

The Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797), was the foremost leader of Ashkenazic Jewry in his day. Like any person, he felt the need for a colleague or mentor who could point out some areas in which he could improve his behavior and religious observance.

So he asked the Dubno Maggid, Jacob ben Wolf Kranz of Lithuania (1741-1804), who was renowned for weaving his parables into Torah and instructive lessons. After careful consideration, he told the Gaon:

“Leave your house of study. Go out into the world, into the public arena of life and action, and withstand the challenges of daily life, and there serve G-d …”

The Dubno Maggid’s words came back to me as I read this week’s Torah portion of Naso. In it, we find the Nazirite (Numbers 6:1-8). The Nazirite was a person who felt he needed to withdraw from everyday challenges and to retreat to a more spiritual climate. In this setting, he or she would take on certain customs and use the period to become more devoted to G-d through prayer and through Torah study.

But the Nazirite period was meant to be temporary, and the ultimate goal was for the individual to return to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are not meant to be hermits or monks, sitting alone on a mountaintop seeking spiritual bliss. G-d wants us to interact with His world and to inject a spiritual awareness into everything we do.

Our challenge is to strike the right balance between our personal Jewish religious observance and our outreach to the community we live in. We cannot merely cloister ourselves inside the four walls of the synagogue. Ultimately, our goal must be to use the spiritual truths of our heritage to shine upon and improve ourselves — and our community and world as well.
Shabbat shalom. PJC

Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.

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