Wants Versus Needs

I would like to respond to Professor Twerski’s article titled “Silence Is Not an Option.” Professor Twerski states, “Families, bli ayin hara, of five to 10 children, yeshivah tuition, kosher food and cost of housing at astronomical levels. Something has to give. We can’t have it all.” Later in the article, he sharpens the focus and bemoans the fact that unaffordable luxuries, such as a summer home, have become the societal “norm.”

Professor Twerski’s article says it all. Maintaining a frum home carries with it very real financial challenges. Why add unnecessary stress to these challenges by pursuing an unhealthy level of materialism and bringing up a generation with unrealistic expectations? Today, many of our children take unlimited credit card access for granted, seeing it as the key to ultimate pleasure — and so do many adults.

I have dedicated my life to aniyim, via my work in Tomche Shabbos. I’ve learned that there are two kinds of aniyus: There are the heartbreaking cases of honest, hardworking individuals who, despite their best efforts, live in a constant state of dire poverty. On the other hand, there is the self-inflicted aniyus created by unbridled spending and overindulging.

That is why I chose to temper my work at Tomche Shabbos with active involvement in Mesila. On the one hand, Mesila emphasizes that true happiness does not lie in limitless spending and an unsustainable lifestyle; it comes from enjoying our gifts from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, taking pleasure in our families, fostering realistic expectations, and living a balanced life. On the other hand, Mesila provides families with the practical tools necessary to meet our financial challenges. These tools were modeled to me by my grandmother and parents, but in more recent times, some of them seem to have been swept away by the undercurrent of materialistic competition.

I would like to cite one example of a Mesila lesson: How do we distinguish “wants” from “needs”? Wants, when denied, dissipate with the passage of time. Needs that are denied, merely become more intense. For example: You see the latest Buick model in the car showroom. “Wow! It’s beautiful!” you think. “I must have one!” Imagine that you hold back for a few months, due to distractions, financial constraints, whatever. The vivid picture of that Buick gradually fades, and you find yourself managing quite well with your perfectly good older model. … With the passage of time, the Buick has clearly demonstrated that it was a “want,” as the desire for it has dissipated.

Now, contrast that example with food. A person wants to eat breakfast but is distracted and doesn’t eat all day. By the second day, he’s feeling faint and can barely function. Clearly, food must be a “need,” for when it was denied, the need grew.

This is just one tool Mesila offers to enable us to spend mindfully, to resist environmental pressures, and to delay gratification, so that we can have everything we need and some of what we want, without driving ourselves into poverty. Mesila also offers simple tools that enable families to enhance their income so as to more comfortably provide for the real needs every frum family has. I’ve seen that a little guidance goes a long way. Each of us must learn to make more careful decisions by employing these solutions on a daily basis and by having realistic conversations with our children — and with ourselves.

Rabbi Twerski continues: “We must inculcate into our children that simchas hachaim from Torah is all that counts. It must be tangible in the home.” Once again I fully agree.

I personally know many families with limited resources who enjoy life and do not regard living within their financial means as a deprivation. We as parents are being challenged as never before to develop that simchas hachaim from Torah in ourselves and to bring it into our homes, regardless of our financial situation.

Let’s celebrate life. Let’s learn to enjoy living within our means. Let’s teach that to our children. But first, let’s bring that message home to ourselves.

Alan Rosenstock