In ancient Jewish tradition, a maggid was a traveling preacher and storyteller. The maggid would travel from town to town, entertaining and teaching the people moral lessons through stories. Whereas the rabbi of a town would make rulings on halacha (Jewish law), perform synagogue services, and generally oversee the town’s Jewish life, the maggid would preach sermons, tell stories, and bring grassroots teaching to the people. A maggid‘s job was to inspire the people to turn back to G-d. Early on, before the Baal Shem Tov (z”l) began his work, maggidim often reproached the people in their sermons, trying to frighten them into good behavior with “fire and brimstone” preaching. The Baal Shem Tov (or the Besht, as he was affectionately called) instead spent his time encouraging and uplifting people to bring them closer to G-d. He spoke in stories to his disciples and laypeople alike, gently pushing them to a closer relationship with the Holy One. From his gentle approach and propensity for stories was born the seed of modern maggidut.
Born out of the ecstatic tradition of Hasidic Judaism, the ancient art of maggidut is being revived in the modern age. Our rabbis still serve our people through interpretation of halacha, study, and teaching of Torah, and we need that. But there is also a real need for Jews to allow themselves to access the Divine Source with their hearts, not just their heads… to be in a joyous, holy space with their G-d. We’re an extremely intellectual people, but sometimes intellect isn’t enough to reach G-d. Study connects with the mind; stories connect with the heart. A maggid helps Jews create heart connections to G-d through stories. The maggid is the “people’s teacher”, leading from within their community to weave a web of story, poetry, Torah teaching, and what I call “kitchen Judaism” — everyday Jewish ritual for real life.