This is a very different midah that all of the previous ones I’ve written about. Take a look back and you’ll see that each of the other midos are character traits concepts that don’t involve material items. This midah directly discusses something very materialistic, money.
The following might shed some light on why Rav Yisrael thought that the concept of “thrift” was so important in midos development:
A person is recognized through three things – his Kos (how he acts after drinking), his Ka’as (anger), and his Kis (wallet or how he spends).- Eruvin 65B
How we spend what Hashem give us is an indication of what we value. I remember my parents always telling me not to spend my money on foolish things. As l think about the things that I still own from when I was growing up I really only have a few books (literature) that belonged to me while I was in high school and maybe half a dozen cassette tapes (yes I still have them). All the other things that I bought when I was much younger are long gone.
Rav Yisrael says, “Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily.” If we realize that every dollar and every penny is ultimately given to us by Hashem, then shouldn’t we be careful how we spend it? Our salaries at work, what money we make selling things on Ebay, what (if anything) we get back after taxes are all decided for us by Hashem. There have been times in my life when I went to Starbucks every day of the work week. There have been times when I’d be happy to have enough money for (I dread to even write the next two words) instant coffee.
We also need to cheshbon out how we spend our money. Until this past week gas prices were out of control. I constantly heard on the radio that Americans were drastically changing their spending habit due to high prices at the gas pumps. Every cent we spend is important, especially towards Shabbos Kodesh.
The truth behind this midah is that Hashem provides exactly what we need (I can’t write this enough). Part of the draw of the Haskallah was that you could be cultured, intelligent, affluent, and accepted into non-Jewish society even if you were Jewish. Have thing changed all that much?
Rav Yisrael, I believe, wanted to remind Jews that affluence wasn’t everything. It’s what you do with your pennies that counts.
There’s a story in Holy Brother that come to mind. It’s about how we spend money…
The summer before Reb Shlomo Carlebach zt’l was nifter he was in a coffeeshop in Liberty, NY. He had ordered a soda to go. He was told that the price was only $.50. He gave the cashier $2.00 and told her to keep the change. The person Reb Shlomo was with whispered to him, “Shlomo, when you order to go, you don’t give a tip, and certainly you don’t give a $1.50 tip for a $.50 soda.”
He smiled at the person he was with, Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum (from the Small Miracles series of books), and said, “Holy sister, Yitta, I know, I know. But I’m trying to make up for unzer tierla yiddalach (our sweet Jews) who don’t give tips, and consequently make a chillul Hashem (defame God’s name).”
It’s truly amazing how we can use everything that Hashem give us. Good Shabbos Kodesh!