12. Festival Expenses

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In general, the Sages encourage everyone to minimize expenses and to save money. People can use their savings to help their children train in a profession and start a family as well as to support themselves in their old age. Nevertheless, the Sages do not recommend minimizing expenses when it comes to the festivals. Rather, people should make appropriate purchases, in accordance with their means (Ḥullin 84a; Beit Yosef 529:1). Some people waste their money on luxuries, remembering to be frugal and save only when it comes to mitzva-related expenses. What they should be doing, however, is being frugal when it comes to luxuries, and generous when it comes to mitzva expenses. They should not worry that they might suddenly face unanticipated expenses that they will be unable to meet as a result of spending too much on Shabbat, festivals, and other mitzvot. The Sages assert that even though a person’s yearly income is determined on Rosh Ha-shana, this allotment does not take into account Shabbat and Yom Tov expenses, or tuition for children’s Torah education (Beitza 16a). If people spend less on the festivals, the money they save is deducted from their allotment; if they spend more, their allotment is increased. Thus, if people spend appropriately for mitzva needs and are also frugal during the week, they will not suffer for it; rather, they will succeed in living and saving properly.

If one finds himself with a temporary shortfall before a festival, it is appropriate for him to go into overdraft at the bank or to take out a loan, in order to enjoy the festival. He should not worry that something might go wrong and prevent him from repaying his debt. After all, God assured the Jews: “My children, borrow money on My behalf and sanctify the day; and believe in Me and I will repay” (Beitza 16b). This is on condition that one does not rely on a miracle, but rather has a stable business, regular income, or savings upon which he can draw. It is in such cases that the Sages say that one should not worry lest he be unable to repay the loan. As long as he works diligently and does not waste his money on luxuries, God will bless his efforts and help him pay off his debt. In contrast, one who does not know how he will repay a loan should not take one out to cover festival expenses, as people who borrow money and do not repay it are deemed wicked. He should not ask for charity either. Rather, he should eat simple foods on the festival, following R. Akiva’s dictum: “Turn Shabbat into a weekday rather than accepting charity” (Pesaḥim 112a). As a reward for not taking charity, he will become wealthy (m. Pe’a 8:9). In contrast, if one is already poor and must accept charity in any case, he should accept charity to cover festival expenses as well (MB 242:1).

Some make the mistake of thinking that in order to fulfill the mitzva of simḥa on the festival they must buy the most expensive food and clothing available, just like rich people do, even though this is entirely beyond their means. In fact, the mitzva is for each person to spend in accordance with his means. One who has an average salary should buy meat and wine and other tasty foods in the way that people of average means prepare for an important meal. The simḥa of the meal depends on drinking wine and having more tasty foods than one’s normal weekday menu. It does not depend on how it compares with the meals of the wealthy. (See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:3.)

The same is true for buying clothes and jewelry for the festival – there is no mitzva for people of average means to buy items that are appropriate for the wealthy. The primary expression of simḥa is in the additions made for the festival when compared with the weekday – not in successfully competing with the rich. One who thinks that she can be happy only if her clothes are more expensive and more beautiful than anyone else’s will never be happy. She will always be jealous of others, and the desire for even more special clothing will stain her spirit.

Rather, the main thing is that a person be happy with his lot, and be frugal with his weekday expenditures in order to have more to spend on mitzvot, in accordance with his income. As a result, he will merit blessing. Indeed, the Sages tell us: “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot, as we read: ‘When you enjoy the fruit of your labors, you will be happy and prosper’ (Tehilim 128:2). You will be happy in this world and prosper in the world to come” (Avot 4:1).

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