Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Jar of Mann
by Atara Chofetz

Pfft . . . pfft . . . pfft . . . the iron glided rhythmically on the white shirt, straightening the soft fabric and transforming the wrinkled garment into one worthy of being worn.

Esti looked with satisfaction at the pile of shirts on the sofa that had slowly shrunk, to be replaced by the pile of smoothly ironed and folded shirts on the table.

Ah! A good feeling spread through her, filling her with happiness. What a pleasure to see your own handiwork . . . and to think that only half a year ago she barely knew how to hold an iron; in her house, ironing had been the domain of Anna the housekeeper.

Since then, new times had come to their home, because of economic sanctions, as everyone called them. Her parents had had to make all kinds of changes and cutbacks, one of the first being to fire Anna the housekeeper. They had begun managing on their own.

It was true that the Mann family numbered five daughters, the eldest of which, Esti, was fifteen, but inasmuch as they had never been used to helping seriously, the transition was not easy. They had to learn everything from scratch — how to wash the dishes and floors, how to iron and how to sort dirty laundry. Also, the changeover from the relative pampering to which they had been accustomed to the present situation where each one had a daily regular chore was not particularly easy. However, with time, everyone adapted to the situation and now, almost half a year later, Esti found herself actually enjoying ironing her father's and her brothers' shirts and deriving much satisfaction from it.

"Ima," her seven-year-old sister's voice squeaked from the kitchen, cutting off her musings. "Can you please give me thirty shekel? The teacher said we have to buy a new Hebrew book!" Esti's muscles tensed. She pressed her lips together tightly while her right hand absent-mindedly pressed on the steam button, scorching her left hand.

Esti quickly rushed to the nearest faucet to cool her aching hand, but her thoughts were elsewhere.

Enough, it's too much! Would there never be an end to the demands of the school? It was getting impossible! Every other day, they tell the girls to buy new books and workbooks, and that was without even counting the tremendous expenses that were extracted from the family budget at the beginning of the year, amounting to hundreds of shekels for each child! Couldn't the administration be more considerate?

From where was Ima meant to cut down in order to pay for Chani's book? From where? Life was already standing at the bare minimum and she, Esti, did everything, but everything, to help relieve her parent's financial burden so that her father wouldn't have to take out loans.

For example, during summer vacation, she had been a camp counselor, even though she hadn't really felt like doing it; how she had yearned to rest a bit from the year's work. But she dutifully did so, and the money she earned went to her parents for tuition, while most of the school books that she needed, she was able to loan from gemachim for free.

"No problem," Esti heard her mother's voice answer calmly, the sound of water gaily splashing from the faucet in the background. "When Abba comes, I'll ask him for the money and I'll give it to you."

"But from where?" Esti wanted to scream. It was her feet that protested, silently, but achingly, having been crammed already too long into last year's winter shoes which were too small for her. She hadn't told this to her parents, so as not to cause them unnecessary pain or a strain on their budget.

"And Ima," this time Chani's tone was pleading, "may I also go to the play the school is putting on? I heard it's something really special, and it only costs fifteen shekel."

"That's it!" Esti felt the blood rushing to her head. She did everything, made all the sacrifices just so that her parents wouldn't feel too pressured from their situation. She felt she was considerate above and beyond the call of duty so as to make it easier for them and now this pampered princess, named Chani, was making all these unreasonable requests.

"We'll think about it, honey," answered Ima, as she left the kitchen, removing the rubber gloves from her hands, having finished washing the dishes.

"Poor Ima!" thought Esti pityingly. Who knew as well as she that Ima suffered from eczema on her hands, and that's why she had to protect them with gloves whenever she touched water. But now she had to wash dishes every day because they didn't have a housekeeper, because there was no money, because of the econo . . .

"Esti'le, why do you look so upset? Has something happened?" Ima asked her, noticing the angry, frustrated look on her daughter's face.

"Of course!" Esti didn't wait to be asked again. "Of course something happened! I want to know why the school can't be more considerate! Don't they know that the situation is difficult, that many families are groaning under the weight of financial burden, that people don't have money to buy bread and milk, that . . . "

Mrs. Mann looked at her daughter, a bit taken aback at the unexpected and surprising flow of words that escaped her mouth like steam. Esti looked more upset than she had in a long time and without even knowing the exact reason, her mother understood that she had a sore spot that was hurting her very much.

She had no idea how much.

Four Years Earlier . . .

Rav Dovid Mann opened the morning paper and perused the headlines, quickly updating himself on what the residents of the world in general, and Eretz Yisroel in particular were experiencing, while sipping his steamy cup of coffee.

In another half an hour, he would have to leave the house to go to kollel, but the quiet morning hour was for him and his wife Soroh a gift of relaxation when they could talk to one another of important matters without interruption. Now, Soroh had gotten up to feed the baby who had just woken up and Dovid Mann decided to have a quick look at the paper that lay carelessly on the kitchen table. "Serious Cutbacks in Child Allowances!" screamed the thick headline from the newspaper's front page. Rav Mann's eyes thought of moving forward to the next item, but something in his brain signaled to him that this wasn't only about making headlines but something connected to him, to his family, and very much so. Exactly at that moment, Soroh came back from the kitchen holding the baby.

"Nu, is there anything new?" she asked casually while removing the baby's bottle from the pot with the hot water in which it was warming. "Um.. uh" murmured Rav Mann, his eyes continuing to scan the article. "Yes, well . . . no . . . " Soroh sat down on the adjacent chair and began feeding little Menachem while speaking to him softly.

"So it's finally happened," thought Rav Mann in frustration. For a long time, rumors had abounded according to which the government wanted to cut family allowances significantly, but he hadn't taken these rumors seriously. And now . . .

"Listen, it isn't a simple thing," Rav Mann finally broke the silence. "It says here that beginning next month, the government will begin drastically cutting child allowances with the end goal of reducing them to a minimum."

"Wh . . . what?" Complete astonishment registered on his wife's face.

"Exactly what you heard," her husband answered, a sad smile on his lips.

"The Minister of the Treasury has decided that all the money the government is contributing to large families is a big waste of national resources; it's money that could be used in more "productive" ways, such as building a sports stadium, for example . . . " he said cynically.

"Oy vey!" Soroh felt something contract in her heart. Instinctively, she turned, burying her face in her baby's warm soft body.

Enough! If they were cutting child allowances, they'd be cutting into the flesh of thousands of families who based their budgets on the monthly National Insurance payment; people to whom the 20th of the secular month was a very important, very significant date. How would they manage now? How would they survive? These were the piercing and painful questions to surface.

Rav Dovid looked at his wife understandingly but suddenly caught himself. The defeatist reaction that reflected his own internal feelings when he read the article made it clear to him that something here was not right.

"Soroh, I think we're a bit confused," he said softly.

"What do you mean?" Soroh raised her eyes, looking at her husband questioningly.

"I mean our reaction just now, when we heard about the cutbacks," explained Rav Mann. "According to the pressure we're showing, me and you," he said putting himself first so as not to hurt her, "it looks as if it's the National Insurance that supporting us, but is that so? Of course not! The One who allots His share to each creature, in life and in sustenance and in everything else, is the Master of the Universe and we mustn't forget that."

"Yes . . . you're right," Soroh said patting the back of the small baby who had begun to wriggle. "But in any case, you can't deny that when the decree of the cutbacks is enacted, many of us will have several hundred if not thousands of shekels less in the monthly budget!"

Dovid Mann absently brushed breadcrumbs on the tabletop from side to side while considering. The hands of his watch showed that he only had another 25 minutes before he had to leave for Kollel.

Calculating quickly, he concluded that after saying Bircas Hamazon (with double intensity!), he'd be left with only another 20 minutes. Would that be enough time to clarify the sugiyah called "Faith in one's source of livelihood"?

In retrospect, no. But on the other hand, Rav Mann knew that it wasn't a good idea to leave such important things without discussion. Let them say what they will, accomplish what they would; it was important to him that his wife (and he) have complete faith in the Creator of the World.


Days had passed, and then months and even years. And now with the perspective of time, Soroh Mann could prove how the compassionate hand of the Creator had accompanied them and supported them, sending them a livelihood through new conduits ever since the government cutbacks.

First, there had been the student that her husband, Dovid, began teaching every evening to help prepare him for his entrance exams to yeshiva ketana. The monthly income of a few hundred dollars this provided almost completely covered the government cut. Later, a new supersavings supermarket opened up in their neighborhood that provided them with great savings in their expenses. And most of all, life itself had shown them, each day, every hour, that their family continued to survive, honorably, even without the allotment that they had come to rely upon.

Now, when she looked at her worried daughter, Soroh remembered how on that morning, four years ago, she had never suspected nor dreamed that her Esti would be taking things so hard. She was only 16 after all.

"So what to do?" Mrs. Mann asked herself. To explain to Esti all the conclusions her father and I had come to that morning? Would Esti have the tools to internalize the message? Perhaps she was too young? But, on the other hand, to leave her under the duress she was experiencing wasn't a healthy situation, either.

In the end, she decided to follow her heart.

"Esti, take a break from ironing now, and come sit beside me on the sofa," she invited her daughter amiably. "I see that you've accomplished a lot and that's wonderful. Come, rest a bit, sit by my side me and let's have a nice talk, like we used to, in the old days."

Esti gladly accepted the invitation. She was a bit tired from standing a long time near the ironing board. Also her hands would benefit from a break. Esti turned off the iron, rested it on its stand and after unplugging it, plopped herself down on the velvety couch beside her mother.

"When you sit next to me like this, it really reminds me of the old days," said the girl, her voice full of nostalgia.

"The good old days." The expression held much meaning in the Mann household.

"The old days" referred to the good times when the family had lived in economic comfort from her father's kollel stipend and the mother's salary working as the head secretary of the yeshiva. But today, things looked a bit different.

She couldn't deny it; even today, their situation was relatively good. Her father's kollel had not closed, something that couldn't be totally taken for granted in light of the extensive government scheming against Torah institutions; her father still received his grant every Rosh Chodesh. Ima also continued working at the yeshiva but still . . . the cost of living only went up and the National Insurance payments were constantly being cruelly trimmed.

"I've noticed that you're a bit troubled lately, Esti, am I right?" Mrs. Mann said looking directly at her daughter.

"Um . . . no, I mean, well, yes, I'm a little under pressure but that's understandable, isn't it?" Esti answered, embarrassed. She hadn't imagined she was being so transparent.

"Understandable? Depends why. Perhaps you want to talk to me about it?" her mother asked gently.

"Well, it's not a secret, Ima; we're all feeling the strain because of the difficult financial situation!"

"All of us?" her mother threw her an astonished look. "Does Abba seem pressured? Do I?"

"No, you actually don't show it outwardly, but in your heart, I'm sure you are pressured, how could you not be, with all the cutbacks and everything."

Her mother was silent for a few minutes. She was deep in thought, trying to formulate the words to explain to her daughter. Finally, she began, "It seems to me, Esti, that without meaning to, you've made a small error and I want to explain it to you.

"When the cutbacks began a number of years ago, I tended to worry about the situation. 'What will be?' I thought to myself. How would we support our large family without the breadbasket filled by the Bituach Leumi child allowances? I shared my worry with Abba and he simply said to me, 'Why should we worry? Is it the National Insurance that is supporting us? Of course not! That's only the channel through which the Creator of the Universe chose to send us the money. Now, when the Minister of the Treasury decided, for all sorts of reasons to slowly reduce the allowances to the minimum, Hashem will send us the money another way! Does Hashem lack ways and means?'

"That's what Abba said to me and I felt the truth of his words and relaxed completely. The money is in Hashem's hands and He is the only One to decide each and every one's share. All that we're asked to do is to trust in Hashem." Ima was silent, allowing Esti to digest her words.

"But . . . " she said after thinking, "but everyone is saying that the situation is bad, very bad. And the proof is in all the appeals for help we get every day in our mailbox!"

"True," Mrs. Mann nodded her head. "There's no doubt that on the face of things, the situation is very bad. But there is a Master of the Universe and He's the one who supports us. It's true that we've had to become more careful about money and every expense is weighed and if you ask me, that's a good thing that's come out of these laws. Perhaps, until not long ago, we were a bit too extravagant with our money. Perhaps we spent too much on extras without thinking. Today, we no longer spend money uncritically. We're instructed to make the effort to be thoughtful with our spending but I personally have noticed that Hashem gives us enough money for all the things we need!"

"What we need?" Esti wondered aloud. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, that's something that's individual to each person. But in general, it means the basic things that allow a person to continue living normally according to that generation. For example, to buy bread and milk and cheese, meat and vegetables; to buy warm clothes for the winter and new shoes; to have dental treatment and tutoring, these are things we need."

"And what about the other things?" Esti asked herself, "Things that don't fit into the definition of 'need', like extracurricular activities, sweets and trips? Are those things we need or things we want?"

Ima, as if reading her mind continued, "In the things that we need, Abba and I see special siyata d'Shmaya. For example, when Racheli needed tutoring last year to catch up in math, we didn't hesitate and we paid a great deal for the teacher to help her catch up. Also with the dental work that Michal needed, Hashem gave us the opportunity to pay for it all. Regarding the rest, that's another story and that's why we, the parents carefully consider any expense that seems to us to be unnecessary."

Unconsciously, Esti nodded her head. "There's so much truth in what Ima is saying," she thought to herself. "It's too bad we didn't have the chance to talk about this disturbing subject before!"

So perhaps the anguish that her pinching shoes were causing her was completely unnecessary. Hashem is the Provider for everyone, so why should she be pressured (and put pressure on her feet!) and why should she cause herself grief? Shoes in her size aren't a luxury; they're a basic need!

"And that's not even mentioning that we, as Bnei Torah, have special siyata d'Shmaya in matters of parnossoh. It's a promise Hashem made, from the days of the Mishkan. Then Hashem asked Moshe Rabbenu to preserve a jar of the manna that fell from the sky for the generation of the desert, to remind coming generations that He provides for and sustains everyone, in a miraculous way," Ima said.

"Siyata d'Shmaya for Bnei Torah? What does that mean?" Esti asked aloud.

"It means that Bnei Torah can plainly see how Hashem provides for and sustains them and they always have enough. Bnei Torah also have a special blessing in money matters, so that even when they earn little in comparison to other people, they almost never have monetary losses like expensive dental treatments or unnecessary expenses. That's not even mentioning the miracles they have in matters of livelihood. You remember the incredible story of the avrech who went to the Kosel to plead for the expenses to marry off his daughter?" Mrs. Mann asked with a smile.

Yes, Esti knew how a certain Ben Torah had gone to the godol hador and explained his problem to him. He had committed a sum of money to marrying off his daughter and he was penniless.

"Go to the Kosel and ask Hashem for what you need," the godol said. The father didn't hesitate and went to the vestige of the Beis Mikdash. He poured out his heart amidst fervent cries and tearful prayers to the Creator of the Universe. An American tourist standing next to him was disturbed by his cries and asked why he was so distraught.

"I'm praying to Hashem," the avrech said and explained his situation with the few words he knew in English and much international gesturing. `I'm begging Hashem to help me marry off my daughter."

"`How much do you need?" asked the American casually, and the avrech, surprised at himself for spilling his heart out to a complete stranger, answered simply, 'Fifty thousand dollars.'

"`Ah, is that all?' he said indifferently. He whipped out a checkbook and without blinking, wrote out a check for $50,000, handed it to the speechless Jew and said, `Now, please be quiet.' "

"But . . . " said Esti who felt her mother's words penetrating her heart and filling her with calm and peace. "What about all the Torah families who can only afford bread? You can't deny that there are poor people; why our mailbox is full of appeals for tzedokoh!" and her eyes rested on the third drawer in the bookcase where the chesed envelopes, as they were called, lay full of requests for help and assistance for hundreds of families.

"What you say is true, Esti, but unfortunately, for some families among the Bnei Torah, they are decreed to have a difficult trial of poverty and we have to help them as much as we can. But for the most part, when the situation is difficult in a Torah scholar's family, people right away blame it on the fact that the husband learns in a kollel and his stipend is small, etc., etc. Only they forget that even among the regular population, there are many people who live in poverty even though they aren't Bnei Torah."

Esti sighed softly and got up to continue ironing. She felt a great sense of relief! "So maybe it's time to tell Ima that your shoes pinch you so she'll give you money to finally buy new shoes?" her left big toe cried hopefully from inside her tight shoe.


However, even before she finished, she heard her mother saying matter of factly, "I put some money aside especially for new shoes for you, Esti."


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