Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Kislev 5767 - November 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Economics or Wreckonomics: Supporting the Family or Destroying It

Part III

"The More a Person Is Connected to Worldly Pleasure, the Closer He Is to a Wild Animal"

A number of volunteers assisting families in financial trouble visited HaRav Shteinman's home last summer. The stories they told of people drowning in debt were heart- rending and apparently hopeless. The volunteers presented HaRav Shteinman with a number of questions that had arisen during their work. We took notes. After discussing the difficult, heart-rending cases, the conversation took a different turn. We present the godol's outlook on a very complicated issue affecting chareidi Jewry:


This is what Maran HaRav Shteinman said in response to the many issues and problems that were raised:

People must be extremely wary of an extravagant lifestyle and they must be very careful not to live beyond their means. Adopting a lifestyle that one can ill afford leads a person ultimately to embarrassment; to a life that does not include a fear of Heaven and to a life that may easily entail stealing.

A person who is entrenched in worldly pleasures becomes a wild animal. This applies to everyone. Even those who have adequate incomes must be careful to avoid extravagance.

The Chofetz Chaim denounced this phenomenon extensively, "An increase in expenditures and extravagant clothing has unfortunately become the norm, and there is no doubt that all of our troubles, external as well as internal, have been caused by this problem. When a person initially becomes accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, he doesn't consider to where it will lead him. The yetzer hora leads a person astray just as a hunter throws food at his prey in order to entice it into the net."

That is the way it works regarding lifestyle also. In the beginning, Hashem generously provides a person with money to live and in order to fulfill His obligation of charity toward His creations. The yetzer hora convinces people that they must now dress and act like people of a higher social standing in order for them to attain respect from their friends. People follow the bad lead and then become so used to the higher standard of living that they are unable to do without it even if it should happen that for a year or two their income is not as high as they had become used to. The yetzer finds a way to tempt them to steal and cheat and to become an evil borrower who does not repay, so that they can continue to maintain the standard to which they have become accustomed.

Eventually the person will become so accustomed to stealing that he will not care about the very lives of his friends.

People frequently endanger themselves; they become sick due to their excessive worrying about the criticism that they will receive from the society around them. If they previously received a small amount of recognition due to their appearance, they will later receive a double portion of ridicule as everyone around them despises them due to their money. This is their punishment in this world; they will receive the punishment for stealing in the hereafter.

Chazal said that the wise person foresees the consequences. It is for this reason that a person must consider in what direction he is headed while he still has some ability to reason. He must, therefore, be careful not to spend lavishly, but to make sure that his expenditures are within the norm, each person according to his individual abilities and circumstances. Even if Hashem granted a person wealth, he should be careful not to wear overly expensive clothes as this form of dress leads to haughtiness as well as causing other people, who lack the same means, to want to copy the wealthy. Inevitably, this leads to people either borrowing money without repaying it or stealing.

One of the worst forms of overly lavish spending is for weddings. The mere cost of the clothing is enough to cause the bride and her family to cry helplessly. There is no one to blame but the very same people who are responsible for the increase in unnecessary expenditures and lavish wardrobes. They are to blame for their own pain and for others' pain as well.

Question: Often it is not just dependent on him. Isn't a person frequently forced to take upon himself the cost of unnecessary expenditures due to the pressure coming from his family?

HaRav Shteinman answered with the Biyur Halochoh's explanation (529): "The gemora states that a person's income is predetermined every Rosh Hashonoh. Rashi warns that people must be careful, therefore, not to spend too much, lest they spend more than was allotted to them. This criticism applies aptly today as many people fail to control their spending and do not take notice of their expenditures. They do not know how to avoid luxuries. Many people have fallen prey to this problem, which leads to stealing and embarrassment. There are many causes for this, the foremost being people who are easily persuaded and fail to see the ultimate effects of their behavior. It is therefore incumbent upon people to oversee the management of their household finances and to make sure that they do not live beyond their means."

Question: But if there is pressure from within the family, you have to know how to respond.

HaRav Shteinman finds a passage in Toras Habayis of the Chofetz Chaim (Chapter 7) and asks one of those present to read: "About a portion of those who learn Torah we can judge them favorably, but their family does not let them. But a person can think for himself: what would happen if he gets a business opportunity that he sees clearly will be very profitable, but his family does not want him to do it. How hard he would try and how persuasive he would be, to try to get his family's assent. He would argue that they would all be rich. That is what he must do also in this matter . . . "

If people follow the path of moderation and living within their means they can have adequate wealth.

If people only looked at Torah as a great business opportunity too good to be lost, they would do their utmost to acquire it and their families would offer as much encouragement as they possibly could. The Torah is their happiness in This World and in the hereafter.

And HaRav Shteinman added from what the Chofetz Chaim writes in Sheim Olom (Shaar HaTorah Chapter 1): I will give you a moshol. There was one falsely accused of counterfeiting money. He tried to defend himself but was unsuccessful and the punishment decreed was that either his hand or his wife's hand would be cut off.

When the time came and they took them to court and wanted to cut off the husband's hand the wife began to cry and plead about what would she do with a husband without a hand and that she loved him. And she fell at the feet of the judges, begging them not to cut off her husband's hand. But they argued that the counterfeit notes were found in her home and if her husband was not guilty then she must be the guilty one so they would cut off her hand. And when she saw that there was no way out and they were determined to cut off her hand and they even put it in place to cut it off, she finally withdrew her hand. At the end of the day, she still cared more about her own hand.

Therefore, says the husband to the wife, even though you continually push me to bring in more money, and certainly your intention is not for evil, but when we both go before the Heavenly Court, they will judge me to go to Gehennom for hundreds of mitzvos that I did not do during my life (as it says in Bovo Basra 79, whoever is lax in divrei Torah is cast into Gehennom). When you see this certainly you will cry and beg for mercy. Then they will answer you and say: So who, then, is guilty? Is it you who constantly distracted him and tempted him and asked him to do more in Olom Hazeh and did not think about the ultimate consequences? So you go to Gehennom in his stead.

But then when you see them coming to throw you in, you will certainly cry out that you were innocent because after all you were just a woman who is not obligated to learn, and you did not learn, and therefore you had no way to know the greatness of the obligation to learn Torah. But your husband did go to the beis medrash and heard about this from a rov or from another Torah personality, so he should have known how important it is. After all he could learn himself. So it is really his fault.

"So therefore you do this as long as they do not bring us to Court. But when there is a threat, you will do everything in your power to get out of it. So let me go now to the beis medrash for Torah and tefilloh, and, on the contrary, encourage me to go so that my days do not go by for nothing. And help me out, and you will also have a part of the Torah . . . "

And HaRav Shteinman added:

When Hashem states that He only asks us to "be honest, love chessed and to walk humbly with G-d," His directions are applicable to each and every one of us. That means that He expects everyone to live a life of humility, and that is an essential foundation of a Jewish home. Humility means that everything should be simple, not extravagant, and that is essential. If a person builds his house on a foundation of extravagances then his house may become extremely corrupt. This is one of the main things.

If someone would like to check his level and his spiritual status, he can ask himself how much he receives pleasure from worldly pursuits. It says of this world: "In it stalk the animals of the wild." This means that having pleasure from this world is like being a wild animal. The more pleasure he receives, the closer he is to a wild animal.

It is known that in previous generations tzaddikim lived in dire poverty. This, however, did not bother them as they were not at all connected to worldly pleasures. They only used material resources to do mitzvas, not for their personal enjoyment. And not just that, but they even went into personal exile (golus) to suffer more. They say that the Shaagas Aryeh while he was in personal exile sighed that it caused him bitul Torah. Soon he was offered a permanent position as the rov of Metz. They asked him why he had suddenly sighed about his exile. He answered that up until that point it had not caused him bitul Torah.

Since it had not caused him bitul Torah, he liked it since it distanced him from Olom Hazeh. This is the way of tzaddikim, that all their pleasure from Olom Hazeh is for whatever is necessary for avodas Hashem and not for their personal pleasure. Since he did not need any of the pleasures in order to learn, he went to golus with happiness and love. But when he saw that it interfered with his avodas Hashem, he stopped it.

And even though we are very far from these levels, still we must know that this is the basic truth: the more life is based on extra portions of Olom Hazeh, it interferes. That is the way of the animals of the forest.

Question: Maybe we have to change the community's opinion drastically. For example, ostentatious weddings are a completely purposeless waste of money and they steal a ton of money from people who really need it, but social pressure obligates people to maintain a certain standard.

HaRav Shteinman already wrote a letter regarding this matter:

People have recently become accustomed to making Sheva brochoh almost every evening for the newlyweds and this custom has become almost obligatory, causing people to go into debt because of it. We know that there isn't any obligation to make a meal in such a way as to require the recitation of Sheva brochos, but there is a prohibition against borrowing money that one doesn't know how to repay. People think that they will just borrow from a second source in order to repay the first and so forth. Then they become so preoccupied by money that they are unable to learn Torah properly. One community leader already convinced me that I should denounce this phenomenon.

People feel that they must make fancy aufrufs and they invite entire families despite the exorbitant cost. In this way people incur debts that they are unable to repay. This is a form of stealing. People violate the prohibition against petty stealing in this way and this is how they are pulled away from Torah study.

For this reason it is also commendable for wealthier people not to throw lavish affairs, as they make other people in their communities feel that they must maintain a certain standard that they cannot afford. Wealthy people who refrain from throwing elegant events so as not to embarrass the poor will certainly have the merit of not placing a stumbling block before other Jews and not causing them to take out loans that they cannot reasonably repay.

HaRav Shteinman emphasized that the responsibility lies not only on those people who do not have the resources, but also on the wealthy, as it is human nature for the poor to always copy the rich. They may not be able to attain the same standard, but they will always do half or a third of what the wealthy do. They will measure themselves against the wealthy. That is why the wealthy have so much responsibility in addition to their obligation to give a lot of charity — especially during difficult times such as these when we hear about illnesses and tragic deaths on a daily basis. It is at such times that people must increase the amounts they donate to charity and increase the chessed that they do.

And just as the Chofetz Chaim wrote at the end of Ahavas Chesed that some people think that tzedokoh and chesed are so well-developed today that what is there to add.

However I say that while the amount of charity and chessed have increased, there is still an even larger need than ever before as people have become accustomed to a higher standard of living, to a larger wardrobe and more amenities and the cost of living has risen drastically. While it used to be sufficient to give a poor person a small amount of money in order to cover his basic needs, the same person now needs a much larger amount in our current economy. At the same time, however, the average person's earnings have not adequately increased as compared to rising costs. Thus, if you look around, you can see that people who used to be considered middle-class are now poor. At the same time, the number of extremely wealthy, influential people has also increased.

Why is our obligation greater than in the past? One reason is that it says that the obligation to donate is based on two factors: The first is the amount required by the poor person in order to fulfill his basic needs, such needs having increased recently. The second determining factor is the financial status of the donor. At one time people's needs were minimal, and they needed only a small amount to get by. Now everyone needs much more. Now also the donors are much wealthier and there are many more people of means. So certainly they have a greater obligation to give. Also in the past, almost everyone spent only on his barest necessities, so he could fulfill the mitzvoh of tzedokoh also with a minimal expenditure. But now when he spends so much on pleasures and luxuries and clothes and housing, so giving tzedokoh which is his life and salvation in This World and in the Next, should not be less important than one of his other expenses.

Finally, it is known that giving charity increases the amount of Divine mercy in the world. In this age of tragedies, when we see that the attribute of Divine judgment is so strong, and there are so many strange deaths and sicknesses, it is especially important to arouse Hashem's rachamim.

Question: Bnei Torah's financial difficulties are even more problematic as they can cause people to leave learning or to be unable to concentrate on their learning.

While everyone must distance themselves from unnecessary expenditures and luxuries just as they would be careful of fire, Bnei Torah have an especial obligation as the simple life is recommended for acquiring Torah, and they have it better if they live a life of simplicity and tsnius, and even poverty and want. It says: This is the way of Torah - - eat bread with salt. But it is important to stress that what is necessary is strengthening emunoh and dedication to Torah. One should definitely not look for solutions that might cause avreichim to leave learning, G-d forbid.

I was asked if it would be a good idea to open offices for chareidi men in the large chareidi cities so that they could work in an appropriate atmosphere. It is obvious that the idea is a bad one though the intentions are good. The fact that the workplaces would be especially suited to the needs of chareidi men, and set up by chareidi people, might encourage people in difficult financial situations to leave learning. It is a spiritual stumbling block for the community at large. It would be terrible even if it would cause just one man to leave full-time learning.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of learning Torah for its own sake. While there are a large number of people learning full-time today, the number must increase because learning Torah is central to our lives, ki heim chayeinu. The medrash says that a thousand go in and one comes out. The number of avreichim bnei Torah is very large. Kein yirbu. They invest themselves in learning and that is the entire purpose: Torah lishmoh - - Torah for the sake of Torah. But in addition to this we have to give it over. There is a big need here. And with all those who are learning today, there are still not enough who go out to teach. Klal Yisroel in general and the Torah world in particular need more who will go out and spread Torah: roshei yeshivos, dayanim, rabbonim, maggidei shiur, teachers of young children, and more. Therefore we must increase the numbers of those learning and not cut back, choliloh, because one community leader or teacher comes out of every thousand men that sit and learn. We need more people entering kollel in order to meet the growing needs of the Jewish world. We are not allowed to give up even one avreich, not a single one! It's forbidden to change the system, even in the slightest way. And that is aside from the need to increase those who learn Torah lishmoh.

And if you ask: How will they support themselves? What are the effects of poverty? The answer is that it is better to be poor than to be rich, as Torah comes forth from the poor; they are the ones that become talmidei chachomim. The Jewish People has always undergone difficult trials. Historically, it's been the poor people who have maintained their commitment to Judaism, despite the difficulties. It was among the rich people that some failed to withstand the temptations and trials. They are the ones that lost their children and grandchildren to Torah. It was the poor who remained especially steadfast in their dedication.

I have personally witnessed, and history testifies, that in all of the places where people learned Torah in poverty, they were able to maintain the Mesorah. In the places where the people had a comfortable standard of living, their learning was not immune to the Haskalah's influences and many abandoned the Jewish and Torah way of life.

If someone would approach the avreichim sitting in kollel and say that they wanted to rescue them from their misery, the avreichim should answer that they are not in misery, they are in Gan Eden. While avreichim may have financial difficulties, they must protest those who come to save them from their misery and saiy that on the contrary, they are on top of the world. Fortunate are they in This World and it is well for them in the World to Come.

There are always things trying to take people away from learning, whether financial pressure or government regulations or it might be the anti-religious leaders who desire to stop the number of avreichim from growing by passing regulations to decrease their stipends.

The only thing that a person needs to desire is Torah. It is the thing that requires self-sacrifice on our part! People do not need to worry about earning money. Anyone who really sacrifices himself for Torah will have his needs taken care of by Hashem.

While we do not witness the same miracles while learning Torah as people saw in the times of the gemora, where it says they sat four and six within an amoh, depending on their desire to learn Torah, we still know that the stronger our desire is to learn, the more Hashem will ensure that no one will harm the supporters of Torah. As our desire to learn increases, so too will our situation improve until we will ultimately merit the complete Redemption.

Clearly, the answer to our difficult financial situation is not to surrender and to cut ourselves off from the beis hamedrash. Rather, we must strengthen our commitment to Torah. People who really dedicate themselves to learning will find that their financial needs are taken care of by Hashem. The Malbim writes that the monn was not just in the desert, but it applies throughout the generations. If one dedicates himself to Torah, then Hashem will send him his parnossoh without a specific effort in that direction. Just as Moshe was given the chips off the Luchos and Aharon and his children were given their sustenance from the sacrifices and terumos. And the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Terumos Umaaseros is well- known, that also says that if one dedicates himself to Torah and withdraws from This World, he can be like the tribe of Levi and live directly from Hashem.

It is impossible, however, for people to live a life full of luxuries and to acquire Torah at the same time, as Torah is given to people who live simply. A person should not desire to live a comfortable life and to also acquire a kinyan in Torah.

The meeting with the volunteers ended at a very late hour, much later than had been planned. It was an amazing lesson in the true way to run a Jewish home — a lesson in the obligation to dedicate oneself unwaveringly to Torah, to have emunoh, to be careful not to enter into debt and to give to charity. That's what a Jewish home is all about.

HaRav Lefkovitz, Shlita: The Proper Attitude Towards Money Matters

When a young couple gets married they need to remember that Torah comes above everything including money and the other preoccupations of this world. People must be careful that they should not become overly involved with daily matters, nor should they waste their time dealing with checks and waiting in line at the bank. Rather, they should immerse themselves wholeheartedly in Torah study and trust that Hashem will take care of their physical needs just as he provided the Jews food to eat in the Desert.

Before I became engaged, the Chazon Ish discussed this matter with me. I asked him beremez, saying, "And if you will say . . . ?" (alluding to the posuk that says that people will ask that during shmittah). He answered, "You go to sleep without any food to eat in the house and when you wake up in the morning, there's a good breakfast waiting."

This was the answer of the Chazon Ish, and this answer, be'ezras Hashem has guided us and aided us for our whole lives, in every period and situation, and we did not have to deal with loans and banks and checks and so on.

This is the principle that Chazal expressed when they said that the Torah was given only to those who eat monn. Learning Torah and truly acquiring Torah is possible only if one lives like those who ate monn: that one does not invest effort in matters of Olom Hazeh. Rather for all of one's physical needs one just goes out the door of his home and he gets what he needs. And Chazal taught us that it comes to each according to his level. If one is worthy he gets what he needs with a most minimal effort. If he is not quite that worthy he must make more of an effort and so on.

The foundation of our home is that we have to strengthen our trust in Hashem and truly dedicate ourselves to Torah learning. The Jewish home must be founded on a deep sense of trust that Hashem provides for each and every individual and that he will lack nothing. One must work hard to ensure that the trust and emunoh will be true and whole. Instead of searching for physical pleasure, we must concentrate on learning from everything that happens to us to strengthen our emunoh, since if we truly trust Hashem, we won't lack anything.

We must run our lives with the knowledge that all our needs in This World are given to us because of emunoh. And to achieve this we need to internalize the idea that all of our physical possessions are given to us only in order to enable us learn Torah, to become closer to G-d and to establish a home that is a center for chachomim. In that way we will grow and rise and strengthen spiritually and realize that everything is prepared for us in advance and we will merit nachas and everything good from Him, may He be blessed. (From a Sheva brochos speech, 5741, 1981.)


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