Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5762 - July 3, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Wealth that Lies in Poverty

by R' Zvi Zobin

"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 you."

"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 required.

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 through.

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 `future finances.'

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 get.

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 amazing ways.

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 world.

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 one:

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 bear.

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 physically.

[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.]


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