Ordinarily, my income is sufficient to cover my family’s needs. But when Pesach approaches, we experience a severe financial crunch. The money just seems to fly out the window. There’s extra cleaning help, babysitting or entertainment during all the days the children are off from school. And we eat out on the days before the chag. Then there are the costs of matzah, wine, meat and other Pesach products. And, of course, let’s not forget clothing and shoes for the whole family. On top of all that, I lose a great deal of time from work during Nisan, so my income is much lower during that month. I cannot help but dread this time of year, since I know that I will end up with an overdrawn bank account and a credit card bill that will take me months to repay. There are numerous organizations that distribute money, matzah and even clothing and shoes before Pesach. Some offer their assistance to anyone, not only to “charity cases.” I am strongly considering approaching these organizations for assistance this year, but I wanted to hear Mesila’s view on the matter.
When making Pesach, it is critical to maintain a clear perspective of what this time of year is all about. Pesach is a time of the collective rebirth of the Jewish people. It is a time of spiritual rejuvenation and renewal for every individual as well. If we view Pesach as a burden — financial or otherwise — then this season of freedom turns into the season of bondage. It’s true that Pesach involves a great deal of work and expense, but there are things we can do to prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed. You say you dread the Pesach season. Do you dread paying income tax? If you are an employee, your income tax is probably deducted from your monthly paycheck, without your ever having to take the money out of your pocket. So when tax season rolls around, you should have nothing to fear. If you approach Pesach expenses in the same way, you will not need to dread Pesach. You know when Pesach is coming. You know that your income is less during Nisan and that your expenses are high. Don’t just sit back passively and “dread” the terrible financial crunch. Be proactive! Make a yearly budget that includes your Pesach expenses, the same way it includes your tuition and medical insurance. Then put money aside every month for Nisan. This way, when Nisan rolls around, you will not have to panic. You may be able to make Pesach without going into debt. Some pre-Pesach expenses are avoidable. By keeping a record from year to year of the actual quantities you use during Pesach, you can ensure that you do not buy too much very expensive shemurah matzah or get stuck with boxes of macaroons that no one will touch after the chag. By preparing a comprehensive shopping list for the supermarket, you can save yourself the time and expense of multiple trips to the corner grocery. Making ‘Cents’ of Spending 81 And by taking inventory of everything in your freezer and pantry several weeks before Pesach, you can plan meals that will use up many items you might otherwise have to burn on Erev Pesach. This also reduces the need for expensive meals out. One of the keys to keeping Yom Tov costs to a minimum is ensuring that everyone in the family maintains their peace of mind. When people are frazzled, they tend to make impulse purchases and spend much more money than they would if they were not under stress. If, despite your best efforts, you still cannot cover your Pesach expenditures, then you have two options: The first, and much preferred, option is to simply scale back your Yom Tov. Making a more modest Yom Tov does not require you or your family to have a miserable Pesach. It does, however, require you to do without some of the things you maybe would have liked to have. If you are working with limited means, you should discuss with your Rav exactly how to fulfill the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov. Then, together with your wife and perhaps your children, you should create a Pesach budget and establish a list of priorities. What is more important to your wife — extra cleaning help or a new dress? Would the children prefer to get afikoman presents or go on a family Chol Hamoed outing? And so on. The second option is to accept the assistance of the tzedakah organizations you mentioned. Before you decide to do this, you have to ask yourself, and your Rav, if you qualify to be receiving tzedakah. And make no mistake about it — any distribution of money, food or clothing is tzedakah. Even if the distributors claim that they are offering their assistance to anyone, they are saying this to protect the dignity of their recipients.82 Your Money and Your Life When deciding whether to approach organizations for assistance, take into account that there is a limited amount of assistance available, and if you accept such assistance, another needy person may be denied it. That does not mean that you should not take the help, if you need it. All it means is that the decision to accept charity funds is not one that should be taken lightly. Note, however, that it is better to accept tzedakah than to borrow money that you have no way of repaying. Encouraging people who could be self-sufficient and manage on their own to accept contributions and rely on others is not true chessed. Mesila’s goal is to give people the tools to support themselves without having to resort to charity or loans. This way, they can release themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty and debt and achieve financial stability. May we all be zocheh to enjoy Pesach — and the Yamim Tovim — in the true spirit of freedom