name and institution of the maggid is known to have existed
as far back as the 11th century in France and Germany, but with another
meaning. The maggid was a popular preacher, a characteristic feature
of the Russian and Polish communities. From the 17th century on, the
rabbis preached only twice a year; preaching for purposes of instruction
and repentance was left to the maggid. While most of the maggidim
from this period were associated with the Mitnagdim (opponents to
Hasidism), it was mainly by means of wandering preachers that Hasidism
was spread in the 18th century.
The 16th century kabbalists
of Safed used the term maggid (lit. "one who relates") to refer to heavenly
messengers that visited human beings. The maggid acted as an advisor, but
sometimes provided incorrect or misguiding instruction. (In his discussion of
maggidim, the Safed kabbalist Moses Cordovero actually included dybbuk-like
demons and evil spirits within the category.) A maggid could present itself
to a person in the shape of a vision, the well-known examples being manifestations
of Elijah or Metatron. Maggidim appeared in dreams, or they communicated
with individuals through automatic writing. A maggid could also manifest
itself in a person's voice, a phenomenon termed "automatic speech."
Maggidism was considered one of the normal forms of charismatic life.
of the practices the 16th century Safed kabbalists employed to attain
communion with the divine was to repeat or meditate upon lines of a Jewish
sacred text until a maggid emerged. Joseph Karo (1488-1575), author
of the Shulkhan Arukh, possessed a maggid that identified
itself as the voice of the Mishnah and of the Shekhinah (feminine manifestation
of God's presence). Karo's maggid revealed kabbalistic mysteries,
as well as providing him with personal advice. Fully conscious while receiving
its communications, Karo would then write down what he had heard. The
Maggid Mesharim, a fragment of which exists today, is Karo's diary
of the maggid's counsel.
A fellow kabbalist
and member of Karo's circle, Solomon Alkabez, describes one of the maggid's
visits during an all-night prayer and study vigil he attended at Karo's
No sooner had we studied
two tractates of the Mishnah then our Creator smote us so that we heard a
voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint [Karo], may his light shine.
It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. All the companions heard
the voice but were unable to understand what was said. It was an exceedingly
pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. We all fell upon our faces and
none of us had any spirit left in him because of our great dread and awe.
Apparently, at other
times the gathering could understand the words spoken by Karo's maggid.
An extended and technical
discussion of the maggidic voice is included in the "The Eight Gates"
by Hayyim Vital, chief disciple of the great kabbalist Isaac Luria and
a contemporary of Karo. Writes Vital, "When a person studies Torah,
the words and breath that emanate from his mouth become a vehicle for
the souls of the early saints. These can descend and teach that person
mysteries . . . "
According to Vital,
the truth and value of a maggid's instruction depended upon the intentions
of the person it visited. If these were pure, and the person performed
good deeds and studied Torah, his maggid would be holy and speak
the truth. However, if the person was false and operated with ulterior
motives, the maggid would speak falsely.
My master the Ari
[Isaac Luria] gave a sign [through which one can recognize a reliable
maggid]. It must constantly speak the truth, motivate one to
do good deeds, and not err in a single prediction. If it can explain
the secrets and mysteries of the Torah, it is certainly reliable. From
its words, one can recognize its level.
The mystery of ruach
ha-kodesh [divine inspiration] is this: It is a voice sent from
on high to speak to a prophet or to one worthy of ruach ha-kodesh.
But such a voice is purely spiritual, and such a voice cannot enter
the prophet's ear until it clothes itself in a physical voice.
The physical voice in
which it clothes itself is the voice of the prophet himself, when he is involved
in prayer or Torah study. This voice clothes itself in his voice and is attached
to it. It then enters the prophet's ear so that he can hear it. Without the
physical voice of the individual himself, this could not possibly take place.
Later, during the
17th and 18th centuries, the Shabbetaean movement sparked the appearance
of many maggidim. Among them was that of Moses Hayim Luzzatto,
which spoke through his mouth in a voice that could not be heard by anyone
else. A disciple of Luzzatto reports,
He was visited by a maggid,
a holy and awe-inspiring angel, who revealed to him marvelous mysteries .
. . and this is the [unusual] procedure: this angel speaks out of his mouth,
though we, his disciples, do not hear anything.
By Luzzatto's time,
Hayyim Vital's intricate descriptions of maggidim had been canonized
together with the teachings of Luria, and were being employed to judge
the purity of maggidic manifestations. It was used to condemn Luzzatto's
maggid as a heretical product of Shabbetaeanism.
Louis Jacobs' translation in The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies.
New York: Schocken Books, 1977 (reprint edition 1998) p. 24. Back
Vital's "The Gate of the Holy Sprit," in The Eight Gates,
translated by Aryeh Kaplan in Meditation and Kabbalah. York Beach,
Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1982, pp. 223-224. Back
R. J. Zwi Werblowsky's translation of the writing of Luzzatto's disciple
Yequthiel Gordon in Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic. Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society, 1977, p. 23. Back
Louis. Jewish Mystical Testimonies. New York: Schocken Books,
Encyclopedia Judaica, "Joseph Karo" and "Maggid."
Israel: Keter Publishing Company.
R. J. Zwi. Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic. Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society, 1977, p. 23.
Aryeh. Meditation and Kabbalah. York Beach, Maine: Samuel
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