Recently, a friend of my wife moved to another city, and unfortunately, she's been having difficulties getting her kids in the (publicly funded) school-system. For those who are not familiar with the school systems here...many of them are run in a mafia-style way... sorry, I didn't mean to insult the mafia. They at least they have a code of honour. My wife remembered that somebody in our town once had some major issues with this particular system and sent him an email asking for a number of somebody who can help. He asked for more details on what's going on, and then replied, "What they are doing is completely illegal". He then took this entire project on his own shoulders, calling up my wife's friend, telling her who to contact and how to write the emails. For the past 36 hours, he's been on top of things, using whatever connections he has. My wife wrote a letter to him thanking him for all his help, he replied sayin, "Don't thank me. Thank So and So...(another person in the community)... I spoke to him a few hours ago and he's calling up his brother-in-law to make sure this is fixed up".
Who's his brother-in-law? The Israeli Minister of Education, of course.
It's all about who you know in this country. And when the power is in the hands of the common people, well... that's where the most good could be done.
There are times that people gravitate toward certain gemaras or traditions, and you get a feeling that "it's not so simple." So, I have two simple rules in such cases: 1) Many times, for every gemara you find, you can probably find one that says the opposite, and 2) We don't follow gemaras, we follow halacha which is based on those gemaras.
That being said, a few days ago my wife asked the following question. Around every Yom Tov, she sees wives spending tons of money on new dresses for themselves and new matching clothes for ALL their children (including the babies). In case you haven't heard the latest economic reports, Israel has a very high cost of living compared to most countries. Yes, Americans come here and get things cheaper, but when you're earning the shekel, the costs are very high. And these same families are not earning a lot, and of course, the women all complain how poor they are. So, my wife knows the famous gemara on this issue, but is there a limit?
So, I took off a morning from my regularly-scheduled learning, and dove into the issue, which is best summed up by Rav Nissim Karelitz (the nephew of the Chazon Ish) in his sefer "Chut Shani" (Kavod Shabbos, 1st chapter, worth reading the whole thing). Here, he goes into the sources, the halachos, and Jewish outlook on money and emunah. I'm going to simply condense it and put it in my own words.
First the three famous Gemaras:
" A person’s entire livelihood is allocated to him during the period from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur. During that time, as each individual is judged, it is decreed exactly how much money he will earn for all his expenditures of the coming year, except for expenditures for Shabbasos, and expenditures for Festivals, and expenditures for his Torah study. In these areas, no exact amount is determined at the beginning of the year; rather, if he reduced the amount he spends for these purposes, his income is reduced and he earns that much less money in that year, and if he increased his expenditures in these areas, his income is increased to ensure that he can cover the expense" (Beitza 15b).
"Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Shimon: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the Jewish people: My children, borrow on My account, and sanctify the sanctity of the day of Shabbos and the Festivals with wine, and trust in Me, and I will repay this debt" (Beitza 15b).
And finally, the Gemara in Pesachim (109) says, in short, that a man is obligated to bring simcha to his wife on Yom Tov, by buying her new clothes. (He gets meat and wine, and children. Nuts.)
So, so far, it looks like we have an obligation to spend oodles of money on Shabbos and Yom Tov, even to the point of borrowing money that we don't have, and Hashem will pay us back. And that is the prevalent attitude.
However, this is where things get fun…
Tosfos asks a question: On one hand we have a gemara saying that we should go so far as to borrow money for Shabbos/Yom Tov, and Hashem will pay us back. However, there is another gemara in Pesachim that says that one should make his Shabbos like the weekday (i.e. don't spend extra money) so he doesn't end up taking tzedakkah. So what do we do with this seeming contradication? He answers his own question: If he has what to pay back the loan with, he should take out a loan, and Hashem will pay back. However, if he does not, he should cut down on his Shabbos expenses, so he doesn't come to take charity.
So, we see, there is a small catch to this promise. IF you have the money to repay the loan, you should take it, if not you are not allowed to take out a loan. So, it seems from here, that one must work within the limits of what he has and not rely on any miracles. And to add a little cement to that thought, both the Rambam and the Shulchan Oruch say straight out that the HALACHA is such, that each person must spend according to his income level. It's considered a sin for spending more than what you have or taking out a loan which you have no idea on how you will pay back.
In fact, the Tur (the predecessor to the Shulchan Oruch), asked his father, the Rosh, what he should do. He does not have any money, yet he has an obligation to spend extra on Shabbos. The Rosh answered: take a little away from your weekday spending and use it on Shabbos, so then your Shabbos spending will be more than your weekday. You'll notice, these two giants of Jewish law did not rely on their faith that some miracle will happen. Rather, they chose to take logical, financially secure steps, to honor Shabbos.
Finally, and here comes the real fun part, Rav Karelitz, quotes the Chazon Ish himself in his book on Emunah & Bitchon (faith). The Chazon Ish decries a belief that people have regarding faith, which is really baseless. Many erroneously believe that if they have enough faith, then Hashem will grant them their desires. So, if I have enough faith that Hashem will get me a car, He will. And if He doesn't, it's because I don't have enough faith.
That is blatantly wrong, says the Chazon Ish. Rather, faith is believing that no matter what happens, whether your prayers were answered in the positive or not, that ultimately, Hashem knows what is best for you, even though you cannot see it clearly. Your level of "faith" has no ability to "tell" Hashem what to do.
However, says Rav Karelitz, there are three exceptions to this rule: Shabbos, Yom Tov, and learning Torah. The more you put in, the more He pays back.
Sounds a bit contradictory? Not really.
When it comes to spending money on Shabbos, Yom Tov, and learning Torah, one must first make a general financial assessment, and work within those bounds. Anything that we put in extra for these three things will be dependent on our (true) level of faith that Hashem will pay back. So, if I usually spend 100 shekels a day for food and drink and I spend 200 shekels for Shabbos (and I can afford it), with complete faith that Hashem will pay me back the extra 100 shekels that I spent, He will. However, if I spend an extra 500 shekels, and I cannot afford it and/or I do not have true faith, then Hashem will not pay back.
And that's where things get tricky for people.
In our house for example, every Shabbos we buy pitzuchim (nuts, sesame seeds, and what not … welcome to Israel), and other snacks. We're not as stingy as we are during the week. On Yom Tov, we might get gefilte fish and a "special" drink. For some Yomim Tovim, my girls get new outfits from England that will cost between 70-100 shekels (compared to 500 shekels or more here). My sons get some new clothes and kippas as well (likewise for cheaper prices). This year, my eight-year-old got cool boxers for which he yelled "I'm an 'achla gever' (a real man) now!" All in all, we get extra things that will make Shabbos and Yom Tov more enjoyable. On one hand, we buy them without financial thought and worry, yet on the other hand, the expenditures will not "break the bank." In the end, I buy extra things for my wife and kids that I usually might not during the week,but are still within my financial means. AND I KNOW that Hashem will pay me back for them.
But, if I were to spend 500 shekels per child for every Yom Tov, I will honestly start to think and worry about my situation. That itself is a sign that I'm not on some high level of faith, and therefore, I'm limited to what I can afford. Any extra spending is considered foolish and, if I end up taking charity because of my spending, it's considered a sin.
So, like everything, one needs to not only know a couple of lines of gemara, but they need to dive into the actual relevant halachos.
Regarding spending extra for Shabbos, Yom Tov, and learning Torah, one must do their best to spend extra, to bring extra simcha to those mitzvos. Yet, at the same time, one must work within their general budget, and any extra spending will be paid back, according to one's true faith in Hashem.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos!