Inspirational stories about our gedolim and the
hardships and poverty they had to deal with in their total
dedication to Torah study. We offer grateful acknowledgement
to the author of Hi Sichosi.
HaRav Menachem Yosef Ginsberg, zt'l, motz in Samargan,
writes in the introduction to his work Giv'os Olom as
"`I am the man who has seen affliction' (Eichoh 3:1),
as if I never saw the sun shine in all my life. For from the
day I attained awareness, I was besieged by hosts of
tribulations that kept food from my mouth, and all the time I
was thwarted in every possible way. I was beset by troubles
from early youth and succumbed to them. Upon whom could I
have possibly relied, if not upon Hashem, my Father in
Heaven! And this was and shall always be my comfort in my
"I pray that I also merit earning a name amongst those
scholars of the gates who delve in halochoh. I parried
in Torah wisdom and produced many a treasure. As Chazal
commented upon the verse, `Af — (literally,
wrath) Even — my wisdom stood me in good stead —
The wisdom I acquired through wrath, that is, through great
vigorous effort and perspiration and under adverse
conditions.' Only through such suffering will my reward be
good for all of my invested toil, in both this world and the
R' Yichye Badichi zt'l was amongst the most saintly
figures of his country. He served as rosh yeshiva of the
central yeshiva in Yemen and became famous for his holiness
and marvelous works.
As was the accepted custom in Yemen, he refused to take
remuneration for his teaching and eked out a livelihood as a
scribe. But this barely sufficed even to feed his family and
he lived in constant poverty. He testifies, "For in my sins,
I did not have the time to sit in study all day long. There
was no one to support me or assist me in feeding my family,
aside from Hashem, the Sustainer and Supporter of all
creatures . . . "
One of his sons, HaRav Emanuel Badichi zt'l was once
imprisoned. During this period, he innovated profound
chidushim in the weekly portions read during his
imprisonment, from parshas Re'eih through Zos
His father, R' Yichye, copied them into his own work, Chen
Tov, and writes, "Up till here is what my son innovated
while he was in prison . . . And I improved the language
somewhat in order to make it more understandable and
(Gedolei Yisroel beTeiman)
In his prime, the author of Ketzos HaChoshen served as
rov and av beis din in the small townlet of Razintov,
where he lived in abject poverty. His home did not even boast
a table other than a plank supported by two barrels. The room
was freezing cold in winter to such a degree that he was
forced to sit wrapped up in a blanket. This is how he sat and
wrote his work, Ketzos HaChoshen.
It was so freezing cold that he had to keep the bottle of ink
under the covers as well, to keep it from freezing. In spite
of this, he was able to dive into the clear waters of Torah
and dredge up marvelous treasures of the Talmud and
The famous gaon HaRav Efraim Zalman Margolies,
zt'l, once traveled from Brod and made a point of
stopping by Razintov to pay his respects to the Ketzos. He
entered the small hovel that was his home and the two great
men reveled in Torah discussion. At one point, the host
heaved a deep sigh and bemoaned the sad and lowly state of
"Why are you so distressed?" asked R' Efraim Zalman, thinking
for sure that the Baal Haketzos was ashamed of his
The Baal Haketzos replied, "I am thinking to myself
that were you not a great Torah scholar but merely a very
wealthy Jew, it would not be fitting for you to enter such a
dilapidated shack to visit me. But since you are, indeed, a
very learned scholar, you feel it necessary and fitting to
pay your respects to me as a Torah scholar. Is this not a
sign of the poor state of Torah?"
R' Efraim Zalman was very pleased with this reply and said,
"Your reply is indeed very wise and astute. It befits the
author of a work such as yours, the Ketzos
The author of Ketzos HaChoshen was once asked why this
particular work of his became more accepted in the Torah
world than his other book, Avnei Milu'im. This fact is
even more surprising when one takes into account that the
latter work was composed at a later, wiser age.
He replied very simply. "The difference is that I composed
Ketzos HaChoshen during my years of poverty, whereas
Avnei Milu'im was written when I was already
financially secure and comfortable."
(Toras Chaim p. 75)
HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, rosh mesivta of Yeshivas
Kamenitz ztvk'l used to lavish praise upon the works
Shaagas Aryeh and Turei Evven. He would often
enumerate their highlights and emphasize their value to Torah
"My master and teacher, HaGaon Hakodosh, the awesome
Shaagas Arye," he would say, "epitomizes in his first
work the value of Torah studied in want and poverty, for this
was composed while he served as rabbi in Volozhin where he
suffered acutely from lack of food and means. His first work
was published during this period in his life and it succeeded
in rapidly gaining wide acclaim among Torah scholars.
"His next work, Turei Evven, was written while he was
rabbi of Metz where he lived in comfort and wealth. One can
actually discern the difference in the quality and caliber of
his innovations. In fact, I heard my master, HaGaon R' Chaim
Soloveitchik of Brisk, state that he had personally
scrutinized both works and found that the quality of the
first one far surpassed that of the second precisely because
it was produced in conditions of abject destitution."
(Shaagas Aryeh — Biographical Notes)
The son of HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Halevi Horowitz, zt'l,
author of Tzur Yaakov, tells:
A young Torah scholar who escaped the massacre in Kamenitz
and fled to Pravozna, found all the inhabitants in great
panic for their lives were already threatened by constant
selections and mass murder. He went to the home of my father,
and there sat undisturbed and began studying Torah in the
traditional "voice of Yaakov."
At this time, the members of the family were fear-stricken,
besides being upon the verge of starvation, since the meager
bread ration which they received was saved for Shabbos.
During the week, they sustained themselves with a minimum of
potatoes. During the night, the visitor noted my father
sitting at the table, writing. He was not sure if he was
writing his chidushei Torah or responsa to halachic
questions, but he was so beside himself with amazement that
he fell off the bed. At such a time, when everyone was weak
from hunger, he marveled that one should find the strength to
delve in Torah!
But he accepted his state of suffering with loving
resignation which brooked no bitul Torah. His love for
Torah went beyond any physical state.
(Introduction to Responsa Tzur Yaakov)
It is told about HaRav Avrohom Meyuchas, author of the
responsa Sdei Ho'oretz, as follows:
R' Avrohom was an exalted Kabbalist, the younger
brother of the enstated rov of the community, Morenu HaRav
Meyuchas, author of Pri Ho'adomoh and disciple of
HaRav Yisroel Meir Mizrachi. He lived a life of hardship, for
all of his days were in suffering and pain, though poverty is
the most difficult of all trials. He was beset by a variety
of physical ailments throughout his life but accepted his
various suffering with love, continuing to delve in Torah,
both the mystic and the revealed, with great diligence.
He would sit in the yeshiva and expound, by night as by day,
to the point that his eyesight dimmed by the age of forty. At
the young age of forty-eight he passed away, leaving behind
three sons who were great Torah scholars in their own right.
The eldest, Chacham Yitzchok Shmuel, also passed away in his
prime, at a very young age.
R' Ezra Attiya zt'l rosh yeshivas Porat Yosef, was
born on Tu BeShevat, 5641 (1881), in Aleppo, Syria, to R'
Yitzchok and Leah, both most devout, upright people.
In 5655 (1895) he decided to immigrate to Yerushalayim
together with his wife and two children, Eliyahu and Ezra.
But he was not destined to live there long. He passed away
suddenly, leaving behind an impoverished wife and her two
The valorous widow hired herself out for domestic work in the
homes of several wealthy people in Yerushalayim to earn her
livelihood. Ezra was fifteen years old at the time. He
desperately wished to devote himself to Torah study and would
spend his nights in the solitude of a small beis midrash
Shoshanim leDovid, outside the Old City walls in the
He sustained himself with a mere crust of dry bread which he
seasoned with salt, and drank only water. He slept on a bench
there but devoted most of his hours to the study of
Gemora and its commentaries.
In his old age, he would relate: When I was young, I studied
Torah through hardship. If we were truly fortunate, my mother
and I had a whole pita-bread to share. At rare
occasions we also had an egg, which we divided in half. But
the hunger did not bother me in the least . . .
The righteous Dayan R' Eliyohu Shmuckler was born in 5604
(1844) in Ibiya to his father, R' Kehos. As was the custom in
those days, he was referred to by his father's name, like
Yisroel Yoshe's, Yitzchok Ber's etc., and thus, became known
as R' Eliyohu Kehos's. He did not originate from a family of
rabbis. His father was a businessman, but a devout and
R' Eliyohu the Dayan was a humble tzaddik, all of
whose ways were holy. He would spend his entire days in the
new beis midrash in a corner near the western wall,
enveloped in his tallis and tefillin, studying
Torah. When people wished to consult him concerning questions
of hetter ve'issur, they knew to find him there.
I remember the rambling, rather unusual house in which he
lived. There were no walls or partitions inside, nor regular
furniture. Instead of chairs, there were long planks
supported by wooden crates, while a wide plank laid on wooden
sawhorses served as the family's table. The beds stood along
one wall, hidden behind a large curtain, while in another
corner, opposite the entrance, stood a large stove which
served for cooking and provided warmth. The floor was bare
Thus did R' Eliyohu live throughout his life, in poverty and
want, sufficing with the bare minimum.
(Sefer Zikoron leKehillas Ibiya)
On Tuesday, Parshas Vayeiro, on the 11th of Cheshvan of 5687
(1927), the rov of Ludmir, grandson of Morenu the Pnei
Yehoshua, related what he had heard from the Divrei Chaim.
After a miracle experienced by the Pnei Yehoshua when the
houses of his town collapsed, as noted in the introduction to
his work, he resolved to spend the next two years in study in
the local synagogue for eighteen successive hours each
In the winter, the cold was so fierce that his beard actually
froze stiff, and warm water had to be brought to wash it
free. It was during this period that he organized his
chidushim for subsequent publication.
(Elef Ksav, part II)
HaRav Avrohom Maskil Le'Eison zt'l author of
Metzape Le'Eison, consecrated his entire life to Torah
study, sufficed with very little and lived a life of hardship
When he returned home at night, he would continue his study
by reviewing the works of the Rambam, the Yad
Hachazokoh by heart, in bed.
When his little children fretted, he would hold a child's
hand in one of his hands and continue writing his insights
with the other . . .
(Taken from the haskomos to his work Maskil
A young man, beset by financial troubles, had fallen into a
state of depression and came to the Kehillos Yaakov, the
Steipler, for help and encouragement.
It was heartwarming to hear Rabbeinu's moving words. His face
lit up by concern and love, he said, "You should know that in
order to be successful in Torah study, one must learn to
ignore one's suffering and erase all worry and anxiety
concerning worldly matters.
"This applies to me, too," he confessed. "Were I to pay heed
to all my afflictions, I would be unable to study a thing.
And know that throughout my life I was always been beset by
suffering and want. My livelihood was the bare minimum and
often I was on the verge of starvation. My health was not
very good either, and I suffered the hardships of raising my
family. This was compounded by all kinds of additional
problems, pain and aggravation. I tried my best to ignore
these and not let them disturb my peace of mind.
"I would pray to Hashem for the best and trust in Him that
all would eventually turn out all right. Only this way, with
the help of Hashem, was I able to study Torah successfully .
(Pninei Rabbenu Kehillos Yaakov, I:11)
R' Ben Zion Yadler, the famous Yerushalmi Maggid,
zt'l, writes in his work Betuv Yerushalayim as
follows (p. 297):
"To this very day, I recall the extent of the poverty in our
home in those times. My mother once gave me a few pennies to
buy something to put on our bread since all we had was dry
bread. But I took those few spare pennies and bought some
tobacco for my father, since I knew how much this enabled him
to sit and concentrate upon his study. Truly, it was thanks
to this that he was able to compose his monumental commentary
Tiferes Zion on Midrash Rabboh."
On p. 383 he writes:
"I was once talking to HaGaon R' Naftoli Hertz Halevi
zt'l rabbi of Yaffo and its environs, about the virtue
of sufficiency. He told me that it sufficed me to reserve the
measure of sufficiency, of being satisfied with the bare
minimum, with regard to food alone and to accept this with
love, as Chazal teach in Pirkei Ovos, `Eat a slice of
bread with salt and drink measured water . . . ' But one must
also make peace with the conditions behind it and be grateful
for this very crust of bread as well, and acknowledge it with
"He told me that when he lived in Meah Shearim, he was
sustained by a good woman who would gather bread from her
neighbors and bring it to him to eat. One time she delayed in
coming and, as he continued to study, he was beset by
terrible pangs of hunger to the point that he felt faint and
darkness swam before his eyes. He then understood the meaning
of Chazal who said that a person does not feel secure unless
his sees his bread in his basket, so to speak. Until the door
opened to admit that woman, he was full of anxiety."
From all these stories we can learn how previous
generations studied Torah from true deprivation, and how they
prayed and lived in virtual self- sacrifice.