One of the great personages who lived during the time of the Vilna Gaon (1721-1797) was Rabbi Jacob Kranz (1740-1804), the Maggid of Dubno. He was famous for his parables. They once asked him how his stories always hit the proverbial bull’s-eye. He answered that there were two ways to be a great archer. One was to set up the target, aim, shoot and hit it. That was rare, he said. One needed real skill for that.
What he did, he said, was first to shoot the arrow and then paint the target. That way he always hits the bulls-eye. Here also, he said, first he puts together the parable and then he finds what to fit it to.
There are many legends about the Vilna Gaon and one is that he invited the Maggid of Dubno to come to him once a year so that the Maggid could chastise the Gaon and tell him what was missing in him. The Maggid thought to himself, “What can I tell the Gaon, this angel of a man whose entire life is Torah, who learns 22 hours every day, and who never steps foot out of his house?”
It is told, in another legend, that once the Gaon’s sister came to visit him to talk to him after a separation of many years. He spent about two minutes with her and then said, “In 50 years we will have plenty of time to talk, but right now we are wasting time.”
What could the Maggid tell such a man?
The legend is that he told him, “It is no trick to be the Gaon here, to sit in your house and study 22 hours a day. You don’t have to go out to the market to sell your wares. You don’t have to deal with anybody. It is no trick to do that.”
It is said that the Gaon heard what the Maggid had to say and wept. However, he then said to the Maggid, “You’re right, it’s no trick, but I’m not obligated to do tricks. I’m not obligated to go out in the market.”