When the author of the booklet Zichron Yechezkel seeks to describe R' Yechezkel Levenstein's vast trust and faith in Hashem, he tells the following story:
The Mashgiach was always of serious mien; one could see the fear and awe of Hashem's majesty reflected on his face and permeating his 248 organs and 365 sinews. Thus, when one of his confidants once entered his room in Yeshivas Ponovezh and saw him smiling, he summoned up his courage and asked what was amusing him. Replied R' Yechezkel, "When I was mashgiach in Mir, I hardly ever received my monthly salary because of the difficult financial situation. I had to exercise my trust in Hashem that my sustenance would come from some other source. But when I began my tenure here in Ponovezh, I received a high salary each month without delay, and felt the lack of my need to practice bitochon, as I had in Mir. But now that it is eight months since I received my last salary, I am again forced to exercise that trait and I must trust and pray that my sustenance come from a different source. This was why I was feeling so pleased."
In order to understand the Mashgiach's marvelous faith in his Heavenly Father, as expressed in the above tale, we turn to the teachings of other great Torah scholars who deal with this subject. Perhaps we will obtain a glimmer of an idea of the spiritual heritage which he bequeathed to the succeeding generations.
After the serpent tempted Chava to eat from the eitz hadaas, he was cursed by Hashem: "Dust shall you eat all the days of your life." According to the notions of modern society, this might be considered a blessing. Is this not a lifetime guarantee of sustenance, without the need to work, without limitations? The serpent's food is accessible everywhere; there is no difficulty in obtaining it.
This perceptive question was asked by HaRav Moshe Midner zt'l, menahel of Yeshivas Torah Chessed in Baranowitz. He explained that there was, indeed, a curse in the universal accessibility of the serpent's food, for it cut him off from Hashem altogether, as opposed to other creatures, which continually depend on Him and must ask Him for help. "The eyes of all look hopefully unto You" (Tehillim 145:15).
The disciples of R' Shimon bar Yochai asked him why the manna did not fall just once a year (Yoma 76). He answered them with a parable. This can be compared to a king who gave his son an annual stipend. The son duly came once a year to receive it from him. Said the king: `I am better off giving him his allocation every day. That way I will see him every day!' So it was with the Jews in the desert. People with four or five children were concerned that if they did not have enough to feed their families on the morrow, they would starve to death. Thus, the hearts of all Jewry were turned towards Heaven. The very purpose of the manna, notes HaRav Midner, was to train Jews to always depend on Hashem and to recognize His goodness daily. In providing the serpent with such readily obtainable food, Hashem distanced Himself from it and made sure that it would not approach Him for its needs.
In Ohr Yechezkel HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein explains the words of the above gemora along the same lines. It is amazing to consider that the Dor Hamidbor, which saw Hashem in tangible form by the hour, as it were, through His works, still needed the manna to fall down each day to train them in dependence upon Hashem and to uproot any sense of self reliance. Even under the harsh conditions of the desert, it was still necessary for them to beseech Hashem afresh each day for the morrow's sustenance, since they might forget that they were totally dependent upon Hashem's kindness. Man must arouse himself each day and be freshly aware that he is completely in the hands of Hashem. How much more so must we feel thus, who live under a hidden Providence, where we do not tangibly see Hashem's hand outstretched with our daily sustenance. We are liable to forget our dependence much more readily.
This is why Hashem commanded us to stand before Him in prayer three times a day: so that we are constantly reminded of the need to ask for His protection and sustenance. For if we do not get these reminders, the powers of the physical, material world may overcome us and make us forget Hashem and cause us to become complacent and assume that our needs will be provided for automatically. Similarly, the commandment of Torah study is to connect us to Hashem and to remind us that He is our Provider; this reminder leads us to a perfect emunah in Him.
The Kli Yokor explains that the main reason for the prohibition of usury is that it removes a person's measure of trust. Every businessman is obliged to rely on Hashem for his profits. One who lends money for interest, however, can calculate exactly how much his money will earn for him, and this will cause him to feel that he has no need to trust in Hashem. The borrower is also at fault, for he causes the lender to cancel his trust and to think that he is independent of Hashem's Providence. It is known that moneylenders are generally tightfisted, hardhearted people far removed from charity who feel self-sufficient and secure in their profits.
We thus see that there is a great advantage for those whose condition forces them to turn to Hashem, and who must fortify their bitochon and pray for sustenance as compared to those whose income is secure and steady. We can now understand the Mashgiach's joy in finding himself in a tenuous financial situation, when his salary was not a foregone conclusion, since this called for him to exercise his bitochon. He found these circumstances far more pleasing than the sense of security he had enjoyed with a steady monthly salary. We can only be astounded at such genuine trust, and can begin to understand the blessing of al hatzaddikim in Shemoneh Esrei in which we pray, "And give goodly reward to all those who trust in Your name truly, and put our portion amongst them forever."
There is a publicity stunt in which the winner of a certain lottery is guaranteed "a lifetime salary." What could be wrong with this? According to what we have just learned, we can understand the damage it can do to one's trust in Hashem. Those behind this gambit do not mean to undermine trust in Hashem, but our attitude towards such a seemingly innocent advertisement should be suspect. It is not innocent but subversive to our emunah. It runs counter to the teachings of our leaders. What could be simpler than the security of a lifetime salary? But we see that in the eyes of our teachers, it is dangerous, besides which, something that seems a blessing can actually be a curse. Not even a simple curse, but the Original curse that Hashem put upon the serpent to minimize contact between this despicable creature and its Creator.
It is not always easy to absorb such fine-line truths when the whole world thinks along different lines that lead in the opposite direction and lend the impression that there is no other way of thinking, no other face to this coin. But we must impress the truth upon our way of thinking, especially if we pray that "our portion be amongst theirs forever," with those who "trust in Your name truly." Does it not seem strange to pray for a wish that we do not even nurse in our hearts?
The father of the mussar movement, R' Yisroel Salanter zy'o, used to say that a prayer for spiritual needs is never in vain, never goes unanswered. If we contemplate the meaning of the concept "trust in Your name truly" and ask for this from the depths of our heart, then Hashem will truly assist us to attain this precious trait, with all the happiness that it encompasses.