As originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on December 13, 2017.
Hanukka gelt might just be the key to teaching about charitable giving.
So Hanukka has started, and I am feeling sick. After eating my fill of sufganiot and a huge holiday gift package of chocolate sent by my firm in Miami, I desperately need to go cold turkey from eating anything that has even a hint of sugar in it. While a certain aspect of Hanukka is about eating fried, super-high calorie foods, it’s another aspect that I want to focus on.
Due to its importance, I am going to repeat a theme that I write about every year, and that’s how we should use Hanukka to teach children about responsible money habits.
Three weeks ago, consumers around the world were blitzed with Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertisements. Israel clearly has taken to this as well, as everywhere you turned there were Black Friday sales. They were urged to whip out their plastic and start shopping because, well, everything is on sale. Do you need the item? Can you afford it? Hey it doesn’t matter; it’s a Black Friday door-buster, and you can always pay with debt! The proximity of this global shopping spree with Hanukka can serve as a reminder of how we must educate our children (maybe ourselves as well) with respect to money. After all, what kind of message does it send our children when the pinnacle of the year for their parents, when they display the most excitement and passion, is for shopping? Of course, it’s not just Black Friday. Children are confronted with some very negative messages regarding money. Spend money, buy things, and you will have happiness. We are continually sold the fantasy that more and more things bring bliss. But it just isn’t true. After all, how many of us have closets full of toys that our kids “needed to have” only to find them sitting covered in dust?
We need to fight against this prevailing culture of fiscal irresponsibility and teach our children the proper role of money.
I understand it’s not easy; after all, from the government on down, spending money that one doesn’t have has become a global pastime.
Start teaching by using the message found in Hanukka gelt! What does Hanukka gelt teach? There are many opinions as to the reason of Hanukka gelt.
According to the Magen Avram, the custom of giving Hanukka gelt enabled the poor to get the money needed to buy candles without feeling shame.
I have another answer. The concept of giving Hanukka gelt is conveyed in a passage in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch), where it states: “It is forbidden to derive any benefit from the lights of the Hanukka menorah… even to use the light to count your money.”
We may ask why the phrase “count your money” is used here specifically. The reason for this is found within the word Hanukka, which is the root of the Hebrew word chinuch, education.
Hanukka is a time when we celebrate the Jewish people prevailing over the Greek Hellenists, who sought the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people. Today, this culture is based on consumerism and instant physical gratification, and it is as much of a threat to our existence today as Hellenism was to the Jewish people then. The symbol of this culture is money.
A child needs to know where money comes from. To a child, it seems as if money is always available. When their parents run out of money, they simply go to a small machine in the wall, punch in a few numbers and take out even more money.
For this reason, the first thing to tell our children to do when they receive Hanukka gelt is to give charity. Then we should talk to them about saving. Ask your child what she would like to use her money for. If she wants to buy an X-box or a bicycle, explain that she should save her money. Children need to understand that money is earned through honest hard work. With older children, long-term savings can be discussed. Money earned from babysitting or waiting tables can be invested.
For this reason, we give Hanukka gelt to educate our children about the importance of giving charity and doing good deeds.
They need to learn that this money should be used for constructive purposes, and that the pursuit of money for its own sake is not the point of our existence. Rather, the reason why we have merited money is to use it for positive purposes that will benefit other people.
Teaching our children good money habits is a good way to beat back the forces of the modern-day Hellenists and internalize the message of Hanukka.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.
Aaron Katsman is author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing (McGraw-Hill), and is a licensed financial professional both in the United States and Israel and helps people who open investment accounts in the United States. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. (www.prginc.net). Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, FSI. For more information, call (02) 624-0995 visit www.gpsinvestor.com or email email@example.com.