Many of our gaonim suffered a poverty-stricken life, but they never complained as long as they were able to devote their time to the study of the Torah. Reb David of Navardok truly knew the meaning of the pasuk in Pirkei Avot that advocates only eating a crust of bread with salt and sleeping on the ground. Although he was one of the leading sages of his generation, his congregation was very poor and many times he suffered the pangs of hunger.
“Thank G-d that He gave us the opportunity to fast on Mondays and Thursdays,” he used to say. “Otherwise I would starve, for so little is my income.”
The arguments, however, could never appease his wife and one Thursday she came to him for money to purchase food for Shabbos. Reb David kept quiet and paid no attention to her requests, for he didn’t have a penny in his pocket.
The poor woman, realizing the situation, exclaimed in a bitter tone, “Look at the difference between myself and the next door neighbor! Her husband is a tailor, an ignorant person, and yet his wife has already prepared all the food for Shabbos. She has already cooked the fish and meat, while we do not have a kopek to buy flour for challah.
“True,” answered the humble sage, “but look at the difference between your husband and her husband. Your husband sits and studies the Torah all day while her husband doesn’t. Isn’t that bigger compensation?”
Reb David would sit all day in the Beis Medrash. From far and wide, questions pertaining to laws of the Torah would come to him and he would answer each and every one.
One day, one of the prominent merchants of the town entered the Beis Medrash and said, “I would like your advice about a business transaction which I am about to enter into.”
“Sorry,” answered Reb David, “I know very little about business.”
A few days later the same man again approached and asked him, “Could you give me some advice about a certain shidduch?”
Again Reb David answered him, “Sorry, but I know nothing about shidduchim.”
The man became angry and said, “Rebbe, I wonder why the congregation pays your salary. Is it because you know nothing?”
Reb David answered him jokingly, “On the contrary. The congregation pays me for the very little I know for if they were to pay me for what I do not know all the kingly treasures could not suffice.”