Rabbi Heschel’s opinion extolling the virtue of simplicity and the greatness of those who lived with that creed is of great importance. I would only add that in our eyes these Gedolim of Eretz Yisrael lived in poverty. However, I don’t think they viewed themselves as impoverished in any sense of that word. Their sole focus on the spiritual aspects of their lives through Torah simply allowed no place for the mundane. They were not giving it up. They never wanted it in the first place. Harav Shlomo Zalman’s face gave witness to a simchas hachaim that imbued his life and that of his family. As Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, repeatedly said, if one has the attitude “az es iz shver tzu zein a Yid” (it is hard to be Jew) you will not be successful in raising your children. You must be able to demonstrate a true simchas hachaim to be able to pass a Torah lifestyle onto your children.
But, now to a broader point. I agree with Rabbi Heschel that our children should be exposed to literature that describes the lofty lifestyle of the Gedolim who lived their lives with the most meager of material belongings. At the same time, I do not believe that we can emulate that lifestyle here in America. The impact of crushing poverty in a world of such crass materialism is likely to boomerang. Yichidei segulah have been able to accomplish it. But we stand the real danger of losing our children who cannot reconcile the deprivation with the world around them.
But, if we cannot accomplish a simple lifestyle, we can attain a simpler lifestyle. We (and that includes me) must make conscious choices not to buy into upscale living. We need to teach ourselves and our children to say no. If we buy a car it does not have to be a model with all the bells and whistles. We need to tell our children, “Yes, I can afford the luxury car but I choose not to buy it.” I don’t need it and it represents capitulation to a manner of living that is unimportant to me. My main goals in life are spiritual. The luxury car does not excite me. I receive gratification from studying Torah and involving myself in chessed. One might say you can have both. But the truth is that you cannot. Gashmiyus drives out ruchniyus. It is as simple as that. Thus, if we cannot truly emulate the simple lifestyle we can certainly at every turn “tone down” our lifestyle to be far more modest than it is today.