Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #12

Thrift: Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily

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!

16 thoughts on “Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #12

  1. Bari

    Great story.

    In terms of spending for Shabbos Kodesh – I don’t keep such a Cheshbon about it. That’s part of Kol HaMosif Mosifin Lo. I’ve bought some fine wines for Shabbos which are beyond my means, and I’ve never regretted it. 🙂

    Have a great Shabbos.

  2. MC Aryeh

    Really like this post – practical and inspiring – great to take into shabbos. Where do you draw the line, though? What does being careful with your money actually mean? Should you forgo the tuna sandwich with eggs which is $3 for the plain one which is $2 so that the exta $1 can be applied towards tzedaka or something else more important than tuna? Hmmm…not such a bad idea, actually, but I am curious how you are defining the terms…

  3. Neil Harris

    Good question. The word in hebrew is קימוץ
    and basically it means being careful about how you spend.
    If you’ve got $3 for lunch, why not get something that’s under $2.70 and give the remainder to tzedaka?
    If you’ve got 16 dollar set aside to spend for a bottle of wine for Shabbos, maybe spending a little less and buying a rose or two for your wife is an option also.
    Thanks for looking at the blog.

  4. SephardiLady

    I don’t think that a discussion of tzedakah should play into a discussion of thrift or frugalness.

    The amount that should be given to tzedakah is defined by halachic peramiters.

    All other money that is not designated to tzedakah (or should NOT be given to ma’aser) can be saved or spent. I think that the point of the middah of thrift is not related to tzedakah, but is related to modesty in spending and saving.

    I can spend $50,000 on a chatunah, or I can spend $25,000 on a similiar chatunah. I think the middah of thrift would guide me towards making the $25,000 chatunah. I don’t think that the difference need to be given to tzedakah so long as I have met my obligations. (Of course, one can always go beyond their obligation–but only to a certain extend that is muttar also).

  5. Sharon S

    ” I think the middah of thrift would guide me towards making the $25,000 chatunah.”

    Oh, man! If $25,000 is considered a thrifty chasunah, we are all going to be in the poor house someday! I am obviously out of touch with today’s cost of weddings.

    There are a few people I (confidentially) know of who are tremendous baal cheseds/tzedakahs, who have great wealth, but no one would ever suspect – neither their richness or the depth of the tzedakah they give.

    People like that impress me so much. I mean, it’s easy for someone with little or no money to espouse the ideal of living frugally and giving tzedakah quietly. But how great the temptation must be to give into the desire for material things and communal recognition for large donations. I think that is the real test – to be able to spend big but choose not to, to be able to give big and get big recognition, but to choose to remain anonymous.

    I know, I know – may Hashem give us all such a test in the upcoming year!

  6. SephardiLady

    Sharon S-I know what you are talking about with weddings. Our wedding cost an exceptionally low price (don’t have the exact figures anymore, but it was around $15K and we thought that was way too much). Most people are spending far too much on smachot and that is where my example came from.

    Anyways, we won’t be spending that type of money on a chatunah or on a bar mitzvah. But, we don’t mind being in the thrifty minority.

  7. Neil Harris

    I have very good friends in Lawrence, who when it was time for a Bar Mitzvah, made a kiddish at their home. Everything was homemade and they kept it simple. I hear that this is slowly becoming a trend within a small circle.

  8. Bari

    One of my oldies from way back when they were talking about the tuition crisis on Hirhurim:

    Maybe we should consider?

    S hopping around for the best prices?
    T aking less expensive vacations?
    O rdering less impulse buys off the web?
    P urchase of newest technology is a no-no?

    S econd-hand is not a dirty word?
    P lying your kids with nosh on Shabbos only?
    E ating less even at home?
    N ot making such lavish weddings?
    D on’t get the human hair Shaitels?
    I sn’t it enough to make a small Bris at home?
    N ice Kiddushim should be limited?
    G oing to entertainment arenas should be off limits?

    (yes, I remember Sephardilady didn’t like the last one, and I agreed that a bit of luxury is a necessity.But its still a good one.)

  9. SephardiLady

    Bari, I don’t recall being opposed to the idea of limiting entertainment. But, I’m not an absolutist. We run on a tight budget here. But, I still budget maybe $50-100 a year for “entertainment.” In fact, just recently, we took the family to the zoo and a festival. So, our budget for the year is gone. Most things we do are free.

    I like your ideas. But, like I said in Gil’s tuition discussion, even if we stop eating and buying diapers, cleaning supplies, etc. . . it won’t pay for ONE tuition. We are in a sad state.

    Neil-We attending a bar mitzvah open house in someone’s home where the father made most of the food himself. It was quite pleasant. I’m planning on doing the same when the time comes for us. Not to brag, but I have a pretty good rep in the kitchen. So, I’m already making a mental list of salads and other foods that are inexpensive to make in mass.

  10. Neil Harris

    Bari, nice addition.

    “In fact, just recently, we took the family to the zoo and a festival. So, our budget for the year is gone. Most things we do are free.”
    One of the added treats we’ve found while living in Chicago, is that there are tons of free/inexpensive (and I mean inexpensive things to do. A major zoo downtown is free, many parks have sports programs that are free (my son spent a week at a baseball clinic for 3 hours a day), the library network has a ‘museum pass’ program where you can ‘check out’ a week long pass to the major museums in the city. There’s even a free trolley system downtown that you can take all over. The fact that we can do a variety of things on any given Sunday that cost next to nothing is truly amazing. It keeps our entertainment cost very small.

  11. SephardiLady

    We have tons of free activities and programs here too. We basically think twice before laying out money for anything.

    This summer alone, we spend 2 days a week doing music, film, and story programs at the library, paid for by our tax dollars. Next summer, we are planning to take advantage of some of the free kids programs in local museums too.

    Since many big cities have great free activities, it makes a lot of sense to list all of those activities before spending on other activities.

    But, there was one activity we went to that cost us $15 (3 hours)that was well worth it. And, I wouldn’t recommend cutting out ALL entertainment for that reason. Like I said before, I can’t remember a time where we have spent more than $100 on “entertainment” in a year.

  12. yitz

    Reb Neil,[if anyone’s still reading these comments],
    you should mention that “holy sister Yitta” is also the author of “Holy Brother” in addition to the “Small Miracles” series. And a wonderful woman to boot!


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