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Dear Rabbi,

Financially, things are a bit tight right now. So, with Hanukah approaching
my husband wants to borrow money from one of our relatives in order to
buy toys and presents for our children for Hanukah. 

I have nothing against buying Hanukah gifts for our children, but I believe we need to stay within our means and do the best with what we have.

My husband is a strong believer in making Judaism fun. He feels that all Holidays – especially Hanukah - should be joyous and exciting for the kids. He feels it is important to show our children that although being Jewish can at times seem restrictive – it is also a lot of fun. And so, he thinks if we give our kids presents that are not up to par with what everyone is getting – or if it is not what they want – the kids will not only be disappointed but will lose interest in Judaism as well.

Icompletely understand his point of view – however, I don’t think we should be borrowing money that will take months to pay back. What is wrong with teaching our children that sometimes in life you do struggle a bit – and you can’t always get what you want?

My husband and I would like to hear your advice and we agreed to abide by your suggestions.

Happy for Hanukah

Dear Happy for Hanukah,

There is no doubt that you both have valid points. Indeed, it is extremely important to make Judaism enjoyable for the children in an age appropriate way. The benefits of infusing our homes with love and joy of Judaism are far reaching. We all want our children to retain the precious values of our heritage, especially in a generation like ours, where many people have tossed aside authentic and priceless Jewish values.

On the other hand, one must also be careful not to use money which he does not have, and put himself into debt. Our sages teach us (Beissa16a) that Hashem determines each person’s financial allotment for the upcoming year in the beginning of the year. None of us knows just what that allotment will be. However, if someone decides to spend more than he can afford, then he is getting himself into a problematic situation. He cannot depend on a miraculous solution. Just as it is unwise for a person to dive into a vast body of water without a plan to safely get to land, or to cut a deal when he knows he will be unable to keep his part, similarly one should refrain from putting himself into debt when he cannot see how he will be able to comfortably pay the
debt off. 

As you mentioned, it is definitely advantageous to introduce our children the concept of having to face struggles. Most people will inevitably encounter various struggles throughout their lives, and some preparation will no doubt make things less difficult when the challenges actually arise. Still, we need not take away from the enjoyable experiences by imparting less enjoyable lessons at the same time. We should not use Hanukah as a time to get across the idea that life presents challenges which must be dealt with. This idea can be imparted to our children in the proper setting and at a proper time.

I agree that the magnitude of the Hanukah gifts will surely add spice to the holiday for the children. Yet one must know that the parents’ role is to not only bring about good feelings for Hanukah with nice gifts. Most importantly the parents can focus on the spirit of Hanukah, our feelings of hakarat ha-tov, gratitude, to Hashem for the miracles associated with Hanukah, and the blessings he continues to shower upon us every day. We can interweave these positive messages of when we light the candles and participate in Hanukah get-togethers.

As our children see the enthusiasm and joy which their parents experience in the holiday preparations and celebrations, and the mitzvotin general, they themselves will absorb those feelings and will carry them with themfor life. It’s quite safe to say that the spirit created by the parents will touch the hearts of their children far more than the spontaneous thrill of the costly gifts. And if the choice is between going into debt or buying less extravagant gifts, I think it’s healthier for all to buy the children the highest level gifts within your family budget. At the same time parents should focus on the family’s spirit and warmth, and should attempt to help the children, in an age appropriate way, to appreciate this most special Holiday.

Wishing us all
a meaningful and
joyous Hanukah,
Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz