Rav’s Blog

The Means Defines the Ends

Summer time! A time for vacation and other “fun” activities, whether indoors or out. Local papers are packed with page after page of glittery advertisements which promise “entertainment fit for the whole family”, at seemingly reasonable costs.

In secular society, the assumption is that the head of the household would search through the advertisements and decide what was appropriate for his family by looking at his bank account to see if there were sufficient funds to cover the expense.

Is this the Torah approach? How should a Jew decide how to spend his money for family entertainment? Does the Torah tell us about the “extras” in life? Is there a right and wrong there too?

The story is told of Beryl the Jew who lived in Vilna and borrowed money with a written contract. For the payment date he quoted the pasuk in this week’s Parsha: “When Hashem will broaden your boundaries” (Devarim 12:20). The pasuk refers to someone to whom Hashem will give greater wealth, enabling him to have greater access to more things in life (in the case of the pasuk: To eat meat). (In Beryl’s mind, this meant that he would be obligated to pay back the loan when his financial position would be broadened). As time passed, indeed Beryl’s situation improved, and the lender demanded payment for the loan. Beryl countered “This is not called a ‘broader financial position’.” The Vilna Beis Din had to decide if Beryl passed the threshold into a new level of wealth. Unable to answer the question, they asked the Vilna Gaon for a ruling. The Gaon quoted the Gemora in Chullin 84, which gives an exact financial value to this: ”חמשים מנה – יקח לפסו ליטרא בשר“ (a person who has 5000 zuz can purchase a liter of meat—meat is considered a delicacy—for his plate). Meaning, a person who wants to partake of meat must have an exact income or net worth. This is what is called a “broadened boundaries.” The Gaon then instructed the Beis Din “Calculate his wealth to determine if he has reached the value set in the gemora. If so, then he has reached the level of a ‘broadened financial base’ and must pay back the loan.”

We see in this story that the gemora holds that a person should not even desire something which is above his means. It is not derech eretz. A secular man would say “I can’t afford this event, so I will not participate” whereas this story shows us that we Jews should instead say “Because I am not holding at this particular financial level, it would be improper conduct for me to partake of this”.

As you read the advertisements, trying to find one more activity before the summer ends, remember that the Torah guides us even on how to evaluate these different offers. Activities which are “Appropriate for the whole Torah Family” might not be “derech eretz” if they are priced beyond your finances.

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