Someone once asked Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l why he had such extraordinary self-sacrifice for the mitzvah of tzitzis. He answered very simply: “Chacham leiv yikach mitzvos” – The wise of heart will seize good deeds. (Mishlei 10:8) He would often cite the Gemara: “Grab and eat, grab and drink, for the World in which we are leaving is like a wedding” – Eiruvin 54a. He wanted to “chap” as many mitzvos as he could. When he was asked how he could wear so many pairs when they were so heavy, he would respond, “Would you have such a question if you would be carrying gold?” To him, his layers of tzitzis were layers of pure gold.
When a young boy asked him about his tzitzis, he told him two things. First, he recounted the well-known lament of the Vilna Gaon zt”l, who, on his deathbed, cried that he was leaving a world where it is so easy to gain merit and reward for performing a mitzvah as simple as tzitzis. Seeing that the boy was not yet satisfied, he decided to tell him another story.
Rav Moshe Ashkenazi zt”l, a disciple of the Gaon, was unable to find employment in his hometown, and was forced to become a rebbi in a village quite a distance from his family. He stayed away from home for most of the year, as he could not afford frequent trips to visit his family. For the Yamim Tovim, however, he would scrape together enough money to come home and bring with him the funds he had earned to share with his poor family.
Although he was scrupulous in his observance of all the mitzvos, there was one mitzvah about which Rav Moshe was especially careful: the mitzvah of tzitzis. As far back as he could remember, Rav Moshe had never walked four amos (cubits) without wearing his tzitzis. He was constantly looking at them, holding them, making sure they were clean and untorn. The reverence he felt for the mitzvah of tzitzis was imparted to his young, impressionable students.
Prior to one Yom Tov, Rav Moshe boarded a wagon for the journey to his hometown. But midway through the trip, Rav Moshe’s tzitzis got caught inside one of the spokes of the wheels and tore in half. Immediately, Rav Moshe asked the driver to stop the wagon so that he could check his tzitzis. Upon examination, he realized that they were not usable. Although they could be fixed, there was nothing he could do about the situation so far from any city.
Because he did not want to travel four amos without tzitzis, Rav Moshe offered to pay the driver to return to the village, retrieve another pair of tzitzis, and bring them back to Rav Moshe, but the driver refused. Finally, after much negotiation, Rav Moshe agreed to give the driver all the money he had made over the last few months. It was an incredible sum to pay for tzitzis, but Rav Moshe felt he had no choice. He sent the driver off and waited by the side of the road. But the driver never came back. Rav Moshe had given away all his money and had received nothing in return.
But while he was disappointed that the driver had tricked him, he was elated that he had sacrificed so much for this mitzvah that was so dear to him. He waited by the side of the road until another wagon came along a few hours later, and the driver kindly agreed to go to the next town and obtain a pair of tzitzis for Rav Moshe.
A few months later, Rav Moshe was in middle of teaching his young students when a messenger burst into the room. The messenger informed Rav Moshe that his brother, Rav Yitzchak, the rav and author of sefer Bris Olam, had suffered a stroke; Rav Moshe was needed at his brother’s side during his last moments. Rav Moshe ran immediately to his brother’s bedside and asked that everyone leave the room. The small crowd exited, but after they closed the door, a few people peered through the cracks to see what was happening. Rav Moshe stood over his brother’s still body and whispered words of T’hilim. Suddenly, he removed his tzitzis and spread it over his brother’s body. “Master of the World,” he said, “not only have I dedicated my life to performing Your commandments, but I have sacrificed all my money for the sake of tzitzis. Now I am prepared to give up my reward if You will restore my brother’s health.” He then donned his tzitzis and walked out of the room. His brother lived for another five years.
(Adapted from Rav Scheinberg, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero)