Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | March 27, 2009

The Observant Jew – That’s What Money Is For

The Observant Jew
That’s What It’s For
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
One Friday, my wife called me. She had purchased a dress that she wanted to wear for Shabbos, but she didn’t have the coupons she thought she would have by then, and the only way to get the credit was to keep the tags on. What should she do?
“Do you want to wear the dress for this Shabbos?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied.
“Then the extra money is for kavod Shabbos. It’s worth it. (Maybe I spoke too soon; I didn’t know how much the dress cost…)”
An hour later, she called to tell me she had found a better coupon than she was expecting and she was on the way to the store to get the credit. She got the money back AND got to wear it for Shabbos. And I got the zechus of honoring both my wife AND Shabbos and it didn’t cost me a penny!
I could have told her to wait and wear something else, and planned to save the money, but what am I saving it for? Chazal tell us that righteous people value their money more than their own bodies. This is often misconstrued that money has importance of its own. Far from it. The tzadikim love money because of what they can do with it.
Here, I had an opportunity to honor Shabbos, a special day for cultivating our relationship with HaShem, and it would only cost me a few dollars. On top of that, I had a chance to spend money on my wife, who takes care of me and my children; enables me to learn Torah, often sending me out to a shiur even when I’m exhausted; who encourages me and is proud of how I try to help people and inspire them with my writing and speaking; and who is herself such a good and caring friend to so many. I had a chance to do something for a person like that, do you think I’d let such an opportunity slip away from me?
It’s funny. People often hesitate to spend money on their wives and on Shabbos, yet Chazal have told us that these things are segulos for becoming wealthy. They think that by being stingy they will have more money, but in reality they are choking off the sources of bracha in their life.
Of course, being stingy is nothing new. The very first person to be stingy was recorded in the Torah. His name was Kayin. Heard of him? He brought a korban to HaShem which was a great idea. The problem was that he was cheap about it so HaShem ignored it. HaShem told him that if he ever wanted to succeed he had to spend money when it came to spiritual things. Hevel, of course did that right off the bat, when he brought from the best of his flocks and HaShem sent him an immediate sign of acceptance and approval.
But what’s considered spiritual uses of money? Of course you understand that buying good food for Shabbos is that way, and giving tzedaka to a poor person is too. But what about energizing your “mundane” expenditures with a boost of ruchnius?
A friend who cleans carpets told me a harrowing story. A very frum woman called him to her home for an estimate. He quoted her a reasonable price and she began to haggle. “Last year, a non-Jewish carpet cleaner quoted me ten dollars cheaper. Either you go down in your price or I’m going to call the Goy.” That was it. Her money was more valuable to her than patronizing a Jew. Was she right?
Rashi in Parshas Behar quotes a Toras Kohanim that states that one should patronize a Jew when possible. Although this is not recorded as law in the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, the Chofetz Chayim in Ahavas Chesed and Nesiv HaChesed rules that one should follow this policy. Even if the Jewish-owned business is located a bit further away and it will take longer to shop there, or it costs a little more, it is still a mitzvah to give preference to the Jewish-owned establishment. Poskim discuss how much more one should spend to do business with a Jew. Most say somewhere between a fifth and a sixth (15% – 20%) more is appropriate. The Chofetz Chaim says this is one of the highest forms of tzedaka, using our money for the right purposes.
While I was thinking about this article, I saw a great story in R’ Leibie Sternberg’s weekly Dvar Torah. The first Belzer Rebbe, the “Sar Shalom” was orphaned at an early age. His father used to patronize a Gentile shoemaker and would always haggle and try to knock down the price. When a Jewish shoemaker opened up, he was so happy because now he took his shoes exclusively there and often gave extra money to the shoemaker.
His father explained. “As long as I dealt with the non-Jew, I was afraid of the prohibition of giving a gift to a Gentile. Now I am so thrilled to be able to patronize a Yid that I want to give even more money.”
My friend told me another story. He bid for a job at a school. It was a huge job, involving lots of shlepping and hard work. His bid came in at $50 more than the Polish cleaner who had just left. “Why are you so much more??” he was asked.
“Why are my prices higher?” he asked incredulously. “When I shop, I go to a Kosher supermarket, he goes to Shoprite or Pathmark. It costs me twice as much. I pay tuition for Yeshivos, and he sends his kids to Public School for free. I have expenses for Yom Tov that he never heard of. And besides,” he concluded, “when you need money to pay your teachers, who are you going to call for a donation – him or me?”
“W-Well, you have to understand,” stammered the school representative, “this is mammon hekdesh.”
Guess what, folks? So is this. When you spend your money at the Jewish stores, or hire Jewish workers even if it costs you a little more, you are turning your money into mammon hekdesh, “HaShem’s Money.” You are following the spiritual initiatives of Hevel in understanding what HaShem wants us to do with our money.
And as my friend pointed out, it’s cyclical. When you give your money to a Jew, it’s going back into your community and generating mitzvos as he pays for tuition, food, Shabbos items and so on. When you hire the cheapest person no matter who they are, your money could be used for the worst of things. Would that really be worth the ten bucks?
He also told me that Pesach has become a huge competition in his industry as people from all around flock to offer cleaning services because they know that for Pesach the Jews clean their carpets. He knows that a few of his competitors are Jewish, but many more are not. And he knows that people will look to save a buck.
Well, being that it’s Pesach-time, let me share something with all of you. Did you know that when you sell your chametz the Rav often does several different kinyanim? There are major differences of opinion in halacha about how to transact business with Gentiles so they try to cover as many bases as possible. What’s the big deal? Why not just look in the Gemara and see what they did?
The reason is because there’s no Gemara that talks about doing business with Gentiles. In those times it was unheard of. While today things have changed, and we constantly do business with non-Jews, we should never forget that our first choice should be to invest in our own communities and our own people. What goes around really does come around.
So, as you’re spending $16 for a package of pesachdik cookies, or paying the higher prices at the Jewish stores while shopping for your Yom Tov needs, make sure you don’t follow the stinginess of Cain. Just remind yourself that you are turning your money into ruchnius, and do it as long as you are “Abel.”
The author is a regular contributor to The Front Page who looks at the world a little differently than most people. You can read and comment on this and other ideas on his blog at Need more inspiration? Get a free subscription to my weekly Dvar Torah in English via e-mail. Just e-mail Subscribe to
© 2009 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.

Originally published in The Front Page Magazine, March 27, 2009


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