The Jews in Europe were tzaddikim a thousand years ago, why did they live in such poverty?
Let me explain something to you: what do you think is happiness? The fact that you have rugs on your
floor? You must know happiness consists of human emotions. There is not the slightest question that the
Jews a thousand years ago enjoyed more real happiness than anybody does today.
Even though they were persecuted, you must realize, first of all there were Jewish wealthy men. The
history books give you the wrong perspective; there were wealthy Jews in every generation, and the
wealthy Jews took care of the poor Jews. There was never so much tzadaka in the world as among Jews.
In addition, the Jews had a family life. The Jews were under the leadership of the bais din, and the bais
din saw to it that there was shalom bayis. In the ancient times everybody respected his parents. When
an old parent fell ill, the bais din saw to it that the sons and the daughters took care of their parents. We
have no idea how powerful was the bais din in Europe; even the church supported the authority of the
bais din. The Jews had their own community life; Simchas Torah was to them the most joyous day, we
have no idea how much they enjoyed it, and Shavuos. Shabbos was a glorious day, then they really
appreciated the Shabbos.
Don't make any errors. When it came to solid happiness, the ancient Jew sucked the honey of this world!
It's only today that we measure happiness by other standards that we fail to understand that we are not
the ones that are happy. Therefore when you look back on the little hut of the ancient Jew, where the wife
stood over a tripod and tried to prepare for Shabbos with the meager supplies that she had...
I'll tell you a little story. Once there was a gadol who was traveling, and in his travels he came to a place
and asked if he can eat there for Shabbos. So they said yes. There were thirty guests for Shabbos; he was
one of thirty guests, a very poor hut. Now, how did they get food for Shabbos? She worked in a place
where she plucked the feathers of chickens, so they used to give her the legs of the chicken – not the upper
part, the bottom part of the legs. From that she made a leg jelly, she made soup, and she cooked delicacies,
and she fed 30 guests every Shabbos… and they sang zemiros.
And when that gadol left that place, he said he never saw such a happy place like that poor home, because
it's not wealth, it's the quality of understanding what life is that makes people happy. Eizehu ashir
ha'someiach b'chelko, not the one who has money, the one who is happy with what he has. Our forefathers
learned that because they lived according to Torah ideals.
As the years went by and the Torah ideals began to become more and more dim, then unhappiness began
to come in.