With COVID lockdowns and unemployment, many people are having a rough time. They can barely afford the the weekly food bill, much less the electric bill and the mortgage. One would think that Chanukah would fill everyone's heart with joy, but many ask, “How can we afford Chanukah gifts?”
Let's set the record straight: “Gifts”, from a Jewish standpoint, is part of Purim, not Chanukah. Even then, the gifts consist of food baskets to friends and money to the poor. Gifts on Chanukah are an imitation of the non-Jewish custom at this time of the year. The real celebration of Chanukah is lighting candles and singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem. So, it's definitely not a mitzva to go into more credit-card debts by buying gifts for Chanukah.
A couple I knew suffered from acute financial difficulties. Neither husband nor wife lived on a budget or knew how to plan one. They were buying Chanukah 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.
To help folks with money problems to sleep more peacefully at night, I made a list of some important pointers for avoiding financial trouble, not only during Chanukah, but all year long:
- Sit down with your spouse and make a list of all your monthly income and expenses.
- Arrange your expenses in order of priority, highest to lowest.
- If your expenses exceed the income, start deleting the lowest priority expenses until you balance the budget. That includes the Chanukah gifts you can't afford.
- Don't use charge cards and don't buy on credit unless you have money in the bank to back up your purchases. Credit cards should be used only as a means for not having to carry around a lot of cash. What's more, credit purchases are questionable according to religious law, because of interest payments.
- Avoid impulse buying; 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't save on Jewish education - the Talmud promises that you'll be refunded to the last cent. The message of Chanukah is to shun Hellenism and to educate our children in the way of our holy forefathers.
- Give at least 10% of your net income to charity. The Almighty is more than happy to give you $1,000,000 when He knows that you'll give $100,000 to charity.
- Eat naturally; by cutting out fast food, convenience food and manufactured food you;ll save tons of money and better your health.
- 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.
- Husbands – honor and respect your wives! This Gemara promises that this will will make you rich.
- Never lose your temper, especially on Chanukah. 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.
May you be blessed with a wonderful income and a continued Happy Chanukah!