Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Iyar 5762 - May 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

"These guidelines," declares the heading to the recently published "Simcha Guidelines" for chasunas, "will help relieve the overburdening financial strain on many of our neighbors, friends and relatives."

It is true. I had the pleasure a few weeks ago of participating in a wedding that was structured in accordance with the guidelines -- preceded, at the engagement, by a relatively modest in-house lechayim rather than a more elaborate hall-based vort; and featuring a one-man band at the chasunah; a seudas mitzva reserved for only closest family and friends, totaling approximately 300, with a much larger invitation list participating in the chuppah and simchas chosson vekalah (actually, simchos chosson vekalah; the first dance was shortly after the chuppah and preceded the meal, so that non- dinner invitees could fully participate, just as they could in the second, post- seuda, dance); minimal floral arrangements; and a limited number of smorgasbord hot dishes. And, yes, money was saved -- a considerable amount.

So too was time. The mechutanim were nervous, when they sent out so many non-dinner invitations, that some of their friends would take offense at not being invited for the seuda. To their delight, though, they received numerous expressions of appreciation from guests who were able to partake in the simcha without having to devote a full evening to the affair. These guests told them of the time they were able to spend with their families, the shiurim they were able to attend and chavrusas they were able to learn with, the reasonable hour they were able to get to sleep. The expressions of appreciation were so effusive that the mechutanim began to feel badly for those they had invited to the full affair!

The Invaluable Intangible

The tangible benefits of scaling down our simchas are so obvious, and so substantial, that it is almost embarrassing that formal guidelines are needed to help bring us to our collective senses. And, no doubt, those tangible benefits were very much on the minds of the gedolei Yisroel who promulgated the guidelines, Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim all too familiar with horror stories of parents going deep into debt to help pay for their children's weddings and of harried individuals whose long and frequent nights at catering halls leave them little time for their families and themselves.

But the distinguished rabbis also had something else in mind, something intangible, yet perhaps even more valuable than savings of Jewish money and time: the saving of Jewish values. Their main thrust is evident in this translated excerpt from the Kol Koreh they issued in conjunction with the guidelines:

The Torah says, "Not because of your great numbers did Hashem love you." In fact, Hashem told the Jews, "I desire you because even when I bestow greatness on you, you make yourselves small before Me" (Chulin 8a). Chazal learn this from Dovid Hamelech ("I am but a worm, not a man"), from Avraham Ovinu ("I am dust and ashes") and from Moshe and Aharon ("What are we?"). This has been the special merit of the Jewish people from time immemorial, and is all the more so today, when Hashem has clearly devalued the arrogance of man and deflated his pretensions.

The call of the hour, then, is to distance ourselves from the materialistic trappings of our lives, and to divest ourselves of the excessive indulgences in which so many people are involved. It is a time for restraint, modesty, and a scaling down, reflecting a life of holiness, in keeping with the command, "Sanctify yourself even in what is permitted to you."

The issue, then, is not merely one of time and money. The guidelines speak just as powerfully to the wealthiest baalei simchah in the world who can afford the most lavish affair imaginable, and whose friends and family are members of the leisure class with lots of spare time on their hands, as they do to the rest of us -- because they reflect concern for the most basic of Jewish ideals.

Confounding the Caricature

Modesty and restraint are supposed to be hallmarks of Hashem's chosen people. Yet, tragically, one of the characteristics by which the outside world so frequently defines us -- and so condescendingly mocks us -- is ostentatiousness. Popular culture abounds with snickering portrayals of Jewish conspicuous consumption, with cruel caricatures of Jewish affairs as garish displays of glitter and gluttony devoid of any semblance of dignity and decorum. For this we have become an object of derision and scorn -- hoyinu la'ag vokeles bagoyim.

So thank you, Novominsker Rebbe and all the other gedolei Yisroel who issued the guidelines; thank you, Shia Markowitz and Gedalia Weinberger and all the other lay askonim who invested enormous amounts of time and energy on this historic project, thank you for easing our financial burdens and giving us back our precious time. And thank you, most of all, for restoring dignity to our simchas, for setting an example for the rest of the Jewish world to follow and the non-Jewish world to admire, for reminding us that essential Jewish values are worth saving too.

(Chaim Dovid Zwiebel serves as executive vice president for government and public affairs of Agudath Israel of America. This first appeared in "Coalition" an internal publication of Agudath Yisroel of America. )

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