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2 Sivan 5768 - June 5, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
This is the Way of Torah . . . a Crust Dipped in Salt . . . "

by R' A. Chefetz

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 follows:

"`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 suffering.

"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 next."


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 Habrochoh.

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 palatable."

(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 poskim.

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 Torah.

"Why are you so distressed?" asked R' Efraim Zalman, thinking for sure that the Baal Haketzos was ashamed of his living conditions.

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 HaChoshen!"

(Dor Dei'ah)


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 scholars.

"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.

(Ohr HaChaim)


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 orphans.

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 Bucharim section.

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 . . .

(Oros miMizrach)


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 learned man.

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 clay, unpaved.

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 day.

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 and poverty.

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 Le'Eison)


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 thanks.

"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.

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