Although best known for his organizational ability and for turning Chassidus into a full-fledged movement by dint of his disciples, R. Dov Ber had extraordinary impact and a good deal of contact with the masses as well.
An Inspector of TefillinThe Maggid's followers would customarily show him parshios that they wished to use in their Tefillin. Once when a chassid showed his parshios, the Maggid told him that he saw the form of a dog on them. When the chassid told his sofer (scribe) the latter said, "The Maggid is correct. When I was writing these parshios, I looked out the window and saw some children playing with a puppy."
R. Dovid of Stefin, an impoverished talmid of the Maggid, somehow managed to obtain a choice pair of Tefillin. He once found something wrong with a letter in one of the parshios (parchments), and brought it to the Maggid. The Maggid took the parshah, placed it upon his own brow, and the letter was repaired.
"But Mustn't the letters of the Tefillin be written in order?" queried R. Dovid. "And therefore, are they not still pasul [unfit]?"
The Maggid replied, "Originally, there was nothing wrong with these Tefillin. However, someone who davened with them improperly caused a 'barrier' to form over the letter. When I sanctified it upon my forehead, the barrier dissolved and the letter reappeared as before. The Tefillin are thus kosher."
When he heard what had happened, the Maggid instructed his visitor to attend a bris milah (circumcision), in the next town. One of the poor people there, whom the Maggid carefully described, was the culprit. The victim was told to ask for his belongings back, and if the poor man denied taking them, he was to repeat his demand in the name of the Maggid.
These directives worked, but the thief agreed to return the stolen goods only in the presence of the Maggid.
When they came to Mezritch, the poor man said to the Maggid, "I see you are very perceptive, and I can't deny your claim. But do you have nothing else to do but observe thieves at work?"
"I was in the lavatory at the time. Only there does one see such things," the Maggid answered.
A wealthy misnaggid, attracted by Chassidus, became a student of the Maggid, and soon lost his riches. "Why did I become poor after I began following you?" he asked the Maggid.
"Our Sages have said, 'Whoever seeks wisdom should go south; whoever seeks wealth should head north.' It's impossible to be in two places at once," the Maggid replied.
"So nothing can be done?" the man continued.
"There is one way," said the Maggid. "One who diminishes himself and becomes as naught, takes up no space and can thus go both north and south."
A poor man once asked the Maggid for money to help marry off his daughter.
"What can I give you?" the Maggid thundered. "I'll give you a fever!" The man was astonished by this response, but he trusted the Tzaddik and assumed there was some hidden meaning in the odd reply.
Shortly thereafter, a wealthy man begged the Maggid to soothe his burning fever. The Maggid told him, "Give this poor man two hundred rubles and you'll be cured!" Then the poor man understood what the Maggid had meant.
A villager and his wife came to the Maggid, seeking to be blessed with a son. The Maggid requested fifty-two rubles for his efforts, fifty-two being the Gematria (numerical value) of ben (son). The villager only had twenty-one rubles, but R. Dov Ber refused them.
Desperate, the villager scraped together more money, and placed it before the Maggid. But R. Dov Ber insisted that it still wasn't enough.
"Let's take the money back," the villager said to his wife. "HaShem will help us without the Maggid."
"That's just what I was waiting to hear," exclaimed the Maggid. "You should trust only in HaShem." Within a year they had a baby boy.
The only son of a widow in Mezritch abandoned Judaism for Christianity. At the urging of R. Shneur Zalman, her tenant, the widow came to the Maggid for advice. But when she entered his room that Friday she burst into tears and became so hysterical that she couldn't speak. The Maggid merely nodded and motioned for her to leave.
To everyone's surprise, the Maggid instructed his attendants and students to prepare for Shabbos very early in the day. That night, the Shabbos meal was unusually brief, and the Maggid told his pupils to recite Birkas HaMazon aloud and with fervor. He did so as well.
In the middle of his discourse, the Maggid became very impassioned and his face reddened. Outside, a fierce gale began to blow. Trees were uprooted, the walls of the house shook, and the students trembled. The Maggid then instructed one of his attendants to go to a nearby inn. The attendant went outside and found the widow's son lying on the ground, crying. He took him to the inn, while the Maggid joyously finished his sermon.
R. Shneur Zalman walked to the inn and found the lad weeping profusely while reading the weekly Torah portion. He asked him to relate how he had been saved.
The widow's son, determined to convert to Christianity, had been placed in the attic of a tower. Two hours before nightfall, just as his mother had gone to see the Maggid, he felt intense pangs of love for Judaism. He tried to open the door, but it was sealed shut. Yet new-found faith told him he would find a way out.
The sky darkened, and he courageously jumped from his second-story window, sustaining slight bruises. No sooner had he gotten to his feet than he recalled that the tower was surrounded by dangerous watchdogs. Out of fear and confusion, he began walking towards them. To his amazement, they merely licked his feet.
When he reached the twelve-foot-high courtyard wall he began to scale it, but the top proved to be studded with iron spikes. He raised his eyes Heavenward and said, "Master of the Universe, You have helped me until now, and I now devote myself, body and soul, to sanctifying Your Name. I have done everything humanly possible. Please don't forsake me!" As he spoke, a gust of wind lifted him over the wall and brought him to the Maggid's house.
Passing through Mezritch on business, a distinguished Jew from Vilna who had heard great things about the Maggid decided to see for himself. Although he expected to hear words of Torah from the Maggid, R. Dov Ber simply told him, "Medicines do not always cure a person. Sometimes the mere presence of a doctor can heal, for each physician is accompanied by a Heavenly healing force, and the best are escorted by Raphael [the angel of healing] himself."
The puzzled man dismissed these words as meaningless, and resumed his business.
When he returned home to Vilna, he took ill. The doctors were helpless, and his condition worsened. He lost his voice, and his family began to lose hope.
Meanwhile, a German Jew named Dr. Aharon Gordia had left Judaism to become the personal physician to the king of Prussia and his ministers. he happened to be in Vilna, and the family of the sick Jew sought him out.
When Dr. Gordia entered the Jew's home and saw that the man's life was ebbing away, he grew angry. "I am only a doctor," he declared. "I cannot resurrect the dead!" The family members apologized to him as he prepared to leave. As he stood to depart, he noticed that the patient's face showed signs of improvement. "There's still hope," he announced as he took the man's pulse.
Dr. Gordia sent someone for some medicine, but before the envoy returned he saw that the patient had improved further, so he sent for a weaker remedy. This happened several times, until the Jew regained consciousness.
"Doctor, please - just sit next to me," he implored. "A Rebbe told me that if a great doctor comes to see a patient, the angel Raphael himself comes with him, and a sick person can be cured without any medicines. Now that you're here and I've revived, I am convinced that the Rebbe was right. So please stay with me until I recover."
Astounded, Dr. Gordia took down the Rebbe's name and address, gave the patient some medicine, and eventually left. he was deeply impressed with everything he'd heard about the Maggid, and a long-extinguished spark of Jewishness was rekindled within him. He remembered his youth, his parents' home, and the Jewish festivals, and developed a thirst to return to his faith.
Dr. Gordia came to Mezritch in a magnificent carriage, and prepared himself to meet the Maggid by resolving to change his indulgent lifestyle.
"I've waited a long time for you," said the Maggid upon greeting him. "Now, I will heal your soul, and you will heal my body."
Over the months, Dr. Gordia purified his soul and learned a great deal of Torah, becoming a Tzaddik, a scholar, and a devotee of the Maggid.
"Who is trying to force premature redemption?" he was asked from Heaven.
"It is I," he replied. "As the Tzaddik of this generation, it is incumbent upon me to end the exile."
"Who will testify that you are the Tzaddik of the generation?"
"The holy chevraya."
"Let them come and bear witness!"
So R. Dov Ber hastily gathered his students and asked them, "Who is the Tzaddik of this generation?" No one responded. He repeated the question twice, but the silence persisted. After a long time the Maggid muttered, "We've lost, we've missed our opportunity."
"What is amazing," commented his grandson, R. Yisrael of Rizhin, "is that they all firmly believed the Maggid to be the Tzaddik of the generation, but they maintained their silence. The Maggid thus saw that redemption was being withheld from Heaven."