middot frugality daily living frugality as responsibility

frugality as responsibility

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-groceriesI met someone recently who told me that she only spends $100 a month on food for herself. I was shocked. She explained that most people don’t believe her when she tells them, but the truth is that she was taught by her family how to buy food in such a way that it lasts quite a long time.

Then, without batting an eye, she explained that it obviously changes if she’s having guests: “obviously I spend more then.” It later occurred to me that she often has guests and makes a real effort to offer food and drink to others. I do not know how conscious a decision this is for her, but I realize now that my friend’s food budget does more than save her money, it enables her to provide for others. This syncs up beautifully with one of the key Torah principles found in parashat Re’eh.


    “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’

    Deuteronomy 15:7─11, NKJV, emphasis mine

I admit there is a difference between relatively wealthy people feeding each other once in a while and the mitzvah expressed here in the parasha. Nevertheless, I find that my friend’s generosity is admirable in its own right and gives a practical piece of advice to all of those who want to responsibly give to those who are suffering: Be mindful about what you spend and how you invest so that you can have enough when another’s need comes to your attention. Frugality is not about hoarding for oneself. Rather, it is about being responsible so that as many people as possible can live well.

It is specifically in the act of being generous with those in need that we can be certain of our own needs being met (see the bolded portion of the above quote). On the surface, this may not seem to be such an altruistic reason to provide for another.  I would never tell someone, “Yeah, I need to make sure I can get my own, so I’m going to give as much tzedakah as possible,” and it would be problematic to interpret the passage too heavily in such a direction. However, the Torah does say that our well-being  is inextricably linked to that of others, and we would be wrong to think that God’s way supports an “every man for himself” mentality. This is a vital component to understanding the role of generosity. We have a responsibility with what we are given. Everyone suffers eventually without generosity. God does not give us permission to do whatever we want with whatever we get. Free will requires us to be responsible stewards of the blessings that come our way.

Frugality enables us to be responsible with our resources, and the Torah reveals to us what that responsibility looks like. May we use this season to tithe the fruit of our frugality so that we can eat thereof, and give abundantly to all who have need.

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