Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Ultimate Summer Vacation

A Glatt vacation in Switzerland (Totally Jewish Travel)
Glatt Lemehadrin, Gormet Cuisine, Best Locations, Exceptional Excursions – Switzerland at the Villars Palace Hotel…

This is the gist of an ad I saw in Mishpacha Magazine last week. It is typical of the many ads one finds in magazines like this.  

It sure is fun being rich!

That comment made to me many decades ago has stuck with me to this day. It was made by a Hispanic fellow when we both worked at my brothers’ dental laboratory. He was responding to the brand new car another employee had just bought that had all the ‘bells and whistles’ available in that day.

I always think of this comment when I see the numerous ads like the one above. It amazes me how much wealth there must be among Charedi Orthodox Jews that are targeted by these ads.

The problem is that it isn’t only the wealthy that read these magazines. They entice us all wealthy or not. Perhaps even more-so those of us that are not wealthy. Who wouldn’t want a vacation like that? The thinking among some is where there is a will there is a way. They will find the money somehow.

I can understand the need to get away from the daily grind. A luxury vacation in the Switzerland like the one advertised is a very appealing and ‘kosher’ way to do that. But how ‘kosher’ is it really? Not the food. That is surely kosher enough. But is the actual vacation kosher? Ads like this one appear in great abundance prior to Pesach. But those ads talk mostly about spas and golf courses. Not so much about the actual event Pesach celebrates. 

But that isn’t even the problem I’m address here. It is the fact that people that can’t afford it are somehow enticed into doing it anyway. That may work out well for the organizers and vendors. They make a bundle. (Which they are entitled to do). And it surely works out well for the rich. But for the average individual with a large family to feed and tuition bills to pay, it may not work out so well.

This is in part what causes people to go into debt. Which is not so great for more important vendors in their lives, like the credit giving grocer, or the religious schools that their children attend. Already on scholarships, I suspect that a lot of people can’t even meet their reduced financial obligations. Because they have become victim to the Frum’ version of ‘Madison Avenue’ with ads that are clearly made to entice us all into buying what we can’t afford

Please do not misunderstand. This is not to deprive the wealthy from enjoying their wealth. I have no problem advertising to them. God bless them. But for the rest of us it creates a desire to pursue a materialism that we can’t afford. And worse - it sometimes causes the kind of debt which in some cases ends up in the inability to pay at all - those should be first in line to be paid. All because of a materialism fueled it part by those ads. 

So yes, it’s fun being rich. But that should not cause us to pretend that we are - when we’re not. There is absolutely no Mitzvah to keep up with the Katzes and Cohens.

I’m not sure what to do about those ads.  People can advertise a product they sell. Nothing unethical there. And magazines are entitled to sell ads to anyone they want. Nothing unethical there either. They are in the business of making money. Of which selling ads is the primary means of doing that.

In the meantime the problem is still there. It is human nature to respond to luxury ads with a desire to have what they offer. But I think its important to know what we can - and can’t afford. And not to try and figure out ways to somehow get those things anyway.

What to do about it.

In some ways the line ‘It sure is fun being rich’ speaks to that. It is the realization that indeed it is fun, but it is also true that we are not rich enough to afford it. One can dream – and hope that someday they will be able to - but to otherwise realize that we should appreciate what we do have and what we can afford. The sages say it best (Avos 4:1): Ezeh Hu Asher? HaSameach B’Chelko. Who is the rich man? The one that is happy with his portion.

Although this post speaks about a Charedi Magazine and its target audience, it is not meant specifically as a criticism of Charedim. I just that happened to see this ad in Mishpacha. The fact is that there are no decent MO weekly magazines. I therefore comment on what I read.  But the thoughts expressed here apply to people of all Hashkafos.