Chanukah: A No-Debt Chanukah
Gifts on Chanukah are not a part of Jewish tradition; the real celebration of Chanukah is lighting candles and singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Chanuka this year begins Saturday night, Dec. 24, 2016
Chanuka should be a week of immense joy, but unfortunately for many people, it is a rough week. They can barely afford the the weekly food bill, much less the electric bill and the mortgage. One would think that the anticipation of Chanuka's impending illumination would fill their souls with joy, but no: “How will we afford Chanuka gifts?” they ask.
“Gifts”, from a Jewish standpoint, is part of Purim, not Chanuka. Even then, the gifts consist of food to our friends and money to the poor. But, gifts on Chanuka are an imitation of the non-Jewish custom at this time of the year. The real celebration of Chanuka is lighting candles and singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem. So, if you go into more credit-card debts by buying gifts for Chanuka, you're not really doing a mitzva!
A couple came to me with a marital tsunami that was about to destroy a home with six children, right before Chanuka several years ago. Among other problems, the couple suffered from acute financial difficulties. During the course of my initial peacemaking session with them, I discovered that neither husband nor wife lived on a budget or knew how to plan one. They were buying Chanuka gifts left and right – on credit, of course, with the false type of emuna that says, “Hashem will provide.” Meanwhile, they continued spending money they didn't have, indiscriminately on frills and needless items. That was really unfortunate, especially in light of the fact that the husband and wife were quite compatible. If Hashem put them under the chuppa together, then they are surely soulmates. They didn't have to be miserable, especially when some simple guidance could help them be happy.
The Talmud is well aware of the havoc that money problems create in a marital relationship. Our sages said that "Whenever a woman lacks wheat in her silo, she immediately screams". No wife enjoys looking at bare cupboards.
Having drawn up a practical financial rehabilitation program for the couple at hand that also addresses the spiritual root of money problems, I decided to share it with our readers as well.
Here is a program of thirteen important pointers for avoiding financial trouble,especially before Chanuka. The closer you stick to them, the more peacefully you'll sleep at night:
1. Sit down with your spouse over a cup of tea or coffee, and make a list of all your monthly income and expenses.
2. Arrange your expenses in order of priority, highest to lowest.
3. If your expenses exceed the income, start deleting the lowest priority expenses until you balance the budget. That includes the Chanuka gifts you can't afford.
4. Don't use charge cards and don't buy on credit. Rav Shalom Arush warns us against falling into debt. Also, credit purchases are questionable according to religious law, because of interest payments. Especially at the grocery store or supermarket, pay cash and avoid impulse buying.
5. Look at all the junk you've accumulated over the years, and think about how many things you purchased on a whim, that really add nothing to your life. Sell or get rid of whatever you don’t need in the service of Hashem (making a living in order to raise an upright family is certainly the service of Hashem).
6. Remember that The Almighty gives you everything you need in life; But, He does not provide you with a stipend for "keeping up with the Jones". Spiritually, debt stems from things you don't really need.
7. Our sages teach that "Happy is the person who is satisfied with what he/she has". Don't expect material possessions to satiate spiritual or emotional hunger. Try walking and using public transportation. Try getting rid of the extra car, you'll save time, money, and improve your health. If you live in the city, you probably don't need a car at all.
8. Don't save on Jewish education - the Talmud promises that you'll be refunded to the last cent. The message of Chanuka is to shun Hellenism and to educate our children in the way of our holy forefathers.
9. Give at least 10% of your net income to charity. The Almighty is more than happy to give you $100,000 when He knows that you'll give $10,000 to charity.
10. Cutting out whiskey, wine, beer and cigarettes will save you hundreds of dollars a month, and improve your health. On Chanuka, there's no mitzva to get drunk, G-d forbid.
11. Teach your children to perform household and garden chores; let them earn their spending money. It's great for their education and saves on domestic help. Unspoiled kids are less likely to fall into financial trouble when they grow up.
12. Husbands – honor and respect your wives! This will make you rich. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that the illumination of a wife’s soul is a fantastic spiritual vessel for abundance.
13. Never lose your temper, especially on Chanuka. Anger causes financial difficulties. Rebbe Nachman teaches that oftentimes when a person is about to receive riches, he or she is tested with anger. If they pass the test and don’t lose their temper, they are rewarded with a gift of abundance from Above.
13 is the numerical equivalent of echad, or One, Hashem who sustains every living thing. That includes us and our loved ones. Happy Chanuka preparations!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.