Many of our greatest Sages were sustained at spiritual "tables" richly laden with the greatest delicacies, while their physical tables were almost bare. One such Sage was Rabbi Yehuda bar (meaning 'son of') Ilai, who lived in the time of the Nasi (prince) Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. It was of no importance to him that he ate only the simplest fare or even that he lacked proper clothing. His Torah learning sufficed to nourish him even to the extent that he glowed with happiness and good health.

Once he was studying with his teacher Rabbi Tarfon, when his teacher remarked in surprise, "Why is your face shining today like gold?" Rabbi Yehuda replied, "Yesterday your servants bought teradim (an inexpensive type of beet) for us to eat and they were very delicious and healthful, and although we ate them without salt since we had no money to buy it, they were good. Had we been able to afford the salt, the teradim would have been even tastier, and our appearance would be even better."

Rabbi Yehuda never dressed in the noble manner befitting a person of his stature. In fact, he didn't even own any warm clothing at all. One day his wife managed to purchase some inexpensive wool yarn. She spun it and wove it into cloth. From this material she fashioned a loose robe worn as a cloak. She even decorated it with beautiful embroidery to give it a finer appearance, as was fitting for her distinguished husband.

Now, this type of garment was worn at that time by men and women alike, so Rabbi Yehuda and his wife shared it. When she needed to do errands in the marketplace she wore it; when Rabbi Yehuda went to the study hall he would wear the new cloak. He was, in fact, so pleased to own this warm coat that he composed a special blessing to be recited before putting it on: "Blessed is G‑d who has enwrapped me in a cloak." Never mind that his coat was made of coarse homespun wool or that others had cloaks of far superior quality — Rabbi Yehuda was completely satisfied with his and never even noticed the others.

Once Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared a day of public fast and prayer because of a problem which beset the Jewish community. On such a day it was customary for all the Sages to gather together at the residence of the Nasi to pray as a group. This time as well, they all came, with the exception of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai. It so happened that when the fast day was proclaimed, Rabbi Yehuda's wife was wearing the shared cape. Rabbi Yehuda, lacking a coat, was unable to join his colleagues. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel noted his absence with surprise, and questioned the other Sages to discover the reason he had failed to come. They explained to the Nasi that Rabbi Yehuda was unable to come because he had no coat to wear.

When the Nasi heard this he was quick to dispatch a messenger to Rabbi Yehuda bearing a beautiful new cloak. When the messenger arrived, Rabbi Yehuda was seated on a mat on the floor engaged in the study of Torah. "The Nasi has sent this coat to the Rabbi as a gift," said the messenger. "He asks that Rabbi Yehuda wear it and come to pray with the other Sages." Rabbi Yehuda answered: "I have no need for a gift, as I already have a coat, thank G‑d. My wife will return soon and bring it, and then I will come to the Nasi's house. I lack nothing; as you can see I am very wealthy." And with those words he lifted a corner of the mat on which he sat. There, sparkling like fire, were hundreds of gold dinars. The messenger was left speechless by the sight of such an enormous fortune.

Rabbi Yehuda explained: "You see, I have enormous wealth if I want it, but I do not desire to benefit from this world any more than necessary." As he spoke, the golden coins disappeared, fulfilling his spoken desire. Rabbi Yehuda lived as always, in poverty. But he was satisfied with what he had, and he exemplified the words of the Sages: "Who is a rich man? He who is happy with his lot."

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