One of my daughters called home from her school the night before last with an interesting shayla. Her school (I should say in advance that I do think she gets a pretty good education there, despite my little criticism here) was running a program billed as a "chessed dinner," consisting of a banquet and auction where girls got to bid on prizes, ostensibly for the purpose of raising funds for various causes. My daughter planned to use ma'aser from money she earned as a camp counselor and babysitter to participate in the auction bidding, but when she got there and saw the prizes and what the money was going for, she had a change of heart. She realized that most of the money was not going to charity or chessed, but was being used simply to cover the cost of the prizes or to go back to her own school. What types of prizes are we talking about? Example: A Shopping trip to Woodbury Common (for those not from NY, it's a collection of stores which bill themselves as outlets about an hour outside the city -- think of an entire village that is one big shopping mall). Another example: A manicure. Enough said.
I don't want to discuss hilchos nedarim and whether her intent to pledge meant anything. The far more important point is that even a thirteen year old (one who happens to love shopping herself) can recognize the difference between true chessed and using chessed as an excuse to throw away hundreds of dollars on indulgences and materialistic pursuits. My daughter made me realize that when the pasuk speaks of "...Ahavas chessed v'hatzenya leches im Elokecha," it's perhaps not two different values the Navi is addressing, but one -- the way we do chessed ideally has to be b'tzeniyus.
I've rewritten this post from what I originally had in mind but still am wondering if it is too harsh -- it's not meant to be. It is just frustrating as a parent to realize just how much you are up against if you want to battle the commercialism and materialism that poisons our culture. I'll try to end on a positive note. Nechemya tells the Jews of his time to celebrate Rosh haShana by giving food and gifts to those who don't have anything -- chessed is a kiyum of the mitzvas hayom of R"H. Why? Because, "Olam chessed yibaneh." The creation of the world is the first and ultimate act of chessed, and so we celebrate the anniversary of the br'iah by participating in acts of chessed ourselves (see Pachad Yitzchok for a little deeper thought on this).