"Abba! Can I have a bike?"
"I'm sorry, Chaim, I cannot afford one now."
"But all my friends have one. Why can't I have one?"
"I told you, Chaim. I just don't have any money now."
"But, Abba, I know a store which sells second-hand bikes for
only a hundred shekels."
"Chaim! I do not even have ten shekels now!"
"Ima, I need twenty shekels for the class trip."
"I'm sorry, Devora. I just don't have the money now. Ask the
teacher if we can pay later."
"Abba! We're buying a present for the teacher and we all need
to bring five shekels."
"I'm sorry, Esty. I don't even have five agorot to give
"But, Abba, everyone is bringing five shekels! How can I be
the only one not to bring?"
Scenes like this are common in low income families. Nowadays,
there is a constant stream of unscheduled demands on the
family budget and parents often find themselves having to
apologize for their inability to come up with the sums
Sometimes the amounts seem petty and they might make the
child feel a social disgrace -- he feels that he is poor and
comes from a nebich family.
Not so long ago, there was a concept of income strata. The
rich could afford whatever they wanted, the middle class
could buy most things and the low income class knew that many
items were out of their reach.
Nowadays, everyone is expected to be able to afford
everything and even if you cannot pay for it now, you can
arrange extended payments or pay for it with a post- dated
check or credit card and worry about it when the bill comes
Bnei Torah might be justified to `live on credit' and each
family needs to consult with their daas Torah for
guidance regarding the extent and for what they can live on
However, the issue here is how we can help our children
understand that it is not shameful to be unable to afford
things which others can afford.
Chazal define wealth and poverty as states of mind. Someone
with a high income but desiring more than he can afford is
actually poorer than someone with a low income who achieves
his satisfaction within his limited purchasing power.
Therefore, the task of the parent is not to try to get enough
money to satisfy all his child's demands since that is not
the real issue. The real task is to teach him to enjoy what
he has and realize that he does not need what he cannot
A critical aspect of understanding hashgocha protis is
to appreciate that each person gets what he needs, how and
when it is best for him.
Once a person understands this principle, his whole attitude
to "being able to afford" and "not being able to afford"
changes. He then understands that having money or not having
money is one way Hashem controls our environment.
Indeed, someone with a very limited income will often be
better able to see the constant Divine monitoring as, day by
day, he sees his needs being fulfilled, sometimes in the most
A further point to explain is that a person can confidently
assume that he has committed some sins sometime during his
life. In His kindness, Hashem can decide to punish him for
those sins in this world instead of waiting for the next
One purpose of punishment is to teach a person the
undesirability of sinning. Another purpose is to purify the
person so that he can attain a higher spiritual level. The
kindness of administering a punishment in this world instead
of waiting for the Great Judgment after 120 years is a triple
First, a punishment received in this world is less painful
than one meted out in Gehennom. Second, the person now has
the opportunity to learn his lesson from the punishment and
thereby improve his behavior while he is still alive. Third,
the punishment purifies him now, enabling him to attain a
higher spiritual level in this world.
There are many ways that Hashem can cause distress for a
person and after considering all the options, most people
agree that "not having enough money" is the easiest one to
A further consideration is that wealth can distract a person
from developing good character traits. A baal tshuva
related that when he was a student, his school sent him on a
student exchange scheme to a poor South American town. Though
the community he stayed with was economically far below that
of his home town, he was amazed at the richness of its
interpersonal relationships and the care and consideration
the people had for one another.
This led him to start on his search for a more meaningful way
of life, which finally led him to the Torah.
As a final point, though some low income people dream of
winning the lottery, recent history is replete with instances
of people who have won millions, only to find that their
wealth destroys them socially, spiritually and even
[We would like readership response to the practical
application of this theme: How to get children/ourselves to
accept the statement, "We can't afford it." As an example of
improvisation, I'd just like to mention the monopoly game
that my husband and his brothers created as children, and
probably enjoyed better than the store-bought set which they
"couldn't afford," because they had invested so much creative
ingenuity in making it.]