Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ahavas chessed and hatzneya leches

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).


  1. Garnel Ironheart7:44 PM

    First of all, I didn't sense any harshness and frankly, kol hakavod to your daughter for having the maturity to reject gross materialism even when presented in the guise of chesed.
    On Purim there are two "ben adam l'chevero" mitzvos - matanos l'evyonim and giving gifts one to another. But the gifts are basic, a couple of items of food. Does this not suggest that while one can enjoy one's earnings a bit, one must still keep the poor and needy in mind and not use them as an excuse to lord it up?

  2. I'm glad I managed to tone it down - I didn't want to be a ba'al lashon ha'ra even without naming the school.

  3. Michael Mirsky9:36 PM

    Similar to the glitsy Chinese auctions a well-known kiruv organization runs.

    Unfortunately, the mosdot are desperate, and it seems only these materialistic enticements will bring in the big bucks.

  4. Tal Benschar9:58 PM

    Correct me if I am wrong, but usually the prizes in such events are DONATED by someone (usually a commerical entity looking for some good will). So perhaps your daughter should re-check the facts.

    As for appealing to materialism to elicit tseddakah, yes it very unfortunate. But there are other appeals to the yetzer harah done for the same purpose. How about auctioning off aliyos to the highest bidder -- including pesichah by neilah. Or naming institutions (or subparts thereof) after a donor? Not an appeal to kavod?

  5. In December of '05, the BMG Ladies Auxiliary sent out a Chinese Auction booklet that offered prizes thatwere, by Lakewood standards, extravagant. Rabbi Kotler soon retracted the booklet and issued an apology. Chaim, you have the sensibilities of a Lakewood Yeshiva person. For the rest of us, the reality is that this is a good and efficient way to raise money.

  6. Then I too have the sensibilities of a Lakewood Yeshiva person also. . . .

  7. It just goes to show, you don't have to live in Lakewood to live a Lakewood style life. You can even pull it off in the 5 Towns. It's not the makom that is gorem, but the person.

    This is all a sign of the fact that nobody seems to know what to do with girls. For boys, the answer is always "learn Torah." For girls it is ... do chessed? think about tznius? Whatever, they don't have a clear direction, and this monstrous hybrids of chesed projects with materialistic consumption on top for the fun factor is the result.

    For the boys, there was an auction on Simchas Torah for a kibbud and winning a dance with the head of the yeshiva. They bid either hours or blatt learned. That wouldn't go over in the girls' school. They could have them bid extra hours of chesed, I suppose, but then you may have a problem of making a vow that will not be fulfilled.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. @Tal, Unlike in a Chinese auction, the prizes the girls bid on here are not donated. That's why the Shabbos in New Square price started at $100 per person. They have to cover the hotel and transportation costs.

  10. @Michael Mirsky I understand what you're saying, but this is the school that is meant to educate the girls into Torah true values. It should not descend into pushing them to bid on prizes to gain a few hundred $ more. That is where the excess money would go.

  11. >>>Unfortunately, the mosdot are desperate, and it seems only these materialistic enticements will bring in the big bucks.

    Well, if all that matters is getting the $ and the heck with our values, why not just steal the money?
    ..Oh, on second thought I think that one may have been tried by a few institutions as well ; )

    At least part of the reason why appeals to kavod or other nonsense works (aside from the fact that the yetzer ha'ra is very powerful) is because we are never taught that this is a bad thing -- the chinuch system perpetuates the problem. A child motivated by materialism becomes an adult who can only be motivated by greater appeals to materialism.

  12. I agree completely with Chaim B. I think it is high time we ask where is this type of chinuch taking us? I am one parent who thinks that the learning programs have too much excess, that too many teachers are using prizes as a crutch, and that the promotion of materialism is to our detriment.

    I also question whether or not the materialism (and all the man hours) are actually "efficient."