Special Note: The letter written by the woman experiencing a financial crisis has evoked a strong response. Many people identify with her plight and still others have come forth to share their own experiences in confronting painful challenges. I am pleased to publish one of these letters. Since the financial crunch has become a universal problem, many are suffering and unable to cope. Therefore, I invite those of our readers who have successfully dealt with their own challenges to share their trials and tribulations so that others may learn from them and be strengthened.
‘How Do I Cope?’
The Readers Respond
Please accept my thoughts on the painful letter regarding one family’s financial problems. My mother, ob”m, contracted breast cancer when I was 10 years old. My father, an engineer, worked full-time, which provided our family with sufficient funds. We were not wealthy or even “well off,” and my parents made sacrifices to ensure that my sister and I received proper training. The onslaught of sudden illness made a considerable impact on our situation to say nothing of the emotional devastation.
My parents, who had always taught us well about money management, dealt with the issue forthrightly. Yes, it was difficult for my father to speak of this with my sister and me, but I remember my father’s words well. He advised us that our family structure and basic needs of food and shelter would not be threatened, but that each of us was to have a role in dealing with the immediate and long-term situation, which would require hiring part-time help in our home plus additional expenses to keep the household running. These sums were far from insignificant for my father.
My sister and I were told that our part involved giving up our weekly allowances (these were very small sums indeed) and to think carefully before asking for any future purchases. If we truly needed something, and it was possible, the arrangements would be considered – not guaranteed but considered. I cannot describe the pain this caused my father, but neither can I adequately explain the level of elevated esteem to which he rose in my eyes. His example has followed me all my life.
While this dear lady’s situation is much more complex and likely more dire, the principle remains the same. Deal with situations with honesty and humility; express your pain and regret to family members and remind them and yourself that true family is not built on finances but is built and sustained on joint loving support.
If the family as a unit, and as individuals, calls upon Hashem with its whole heart, even drastic life changes can be borne. I believe my parents gave my sister and me great honor by trusting us to do our small part and certainly the younger and adult children of this situation will respond in the same manner if they are approached with honesty and love.
As to gifts for Purim, we can all rethink the issue of extended gift lists and perhaps develop alternative, even if not customary, gifts. Perhaps instead of fruits and nuts, we can give friends our time and abilities, even exchanging such mundane tasks as ironing, watching children for an hour or two so that parents can have some time to themselves, or simply giving each other the gift of a phone call on a regular basis. It may not be possible to be as generous as in previous times, but by closely examining our lists, appropriate choices can be made.
We should not overlook the impact of a sincerely written note rather than ordering traditional baskets. These are extraordinary times and we are being called upon to look deep within ourselves to find new methods of expression while continuing to affirm the goodness of Hashem in our daily lives.
Thank you for allowing me to express my opinion. May these difficult times pass by, and like the thunder which accompanies life-giving rain, remind us that we are always to trust Hashem’s plans. If you feel any of these words would comfort others, please feel free to share them at will.
My Dear Friend:
Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story. After what you have been through, it’s very kind of you to consider that our letter writer’s problem is more severe than yours was. G-d should not test any of us, but terminal illness, losing a mother when you were a child, was surely more devastating than any financial crisis, although you tasted that as well. Too often, when hearing of challenges experienced by others, people who have suffered tend to dismiss them as minor compared to theirs. But a sensitive, kind person will understand that to each person, his/her pain is the most acute.
In regard to your suggestion vis-à-vis mishloach manos, I would like to point out that while the acts of chesed you recommend are certainly very meaningful and worthwhile, they are not substitutes for the mitzvah of mishloach manos, which requires sending at least two ready-to-eat foods to a friend. Such a gift need not be expensive and is certainly within the reach of everyone. The problem is not the mishloach manos, but the extravagance and lavishness that too often accompany it and the desire of people to impress and outdo others.
Esther and Mordechai instituted this wonderful concept to build friendship, harmony and good will among our people. If someone wishes to go beyond the letter of the law and send to many people, it is praiseworthy to do so. But we should bear in mind that, even as we have been given the mitzvah of mishloach manos, we have also been given the mitzvah of matanos l’evyonim – gifts to the poor. If a choice must be made, it is more important to increase our gifts to the poor.
Having said all this, I am in total accord with you that we have to re-think our manner of giving mishloach manos nowadays, and I addressed this issue in my last column. Additionally, in our current financial climate, matanos l’evyonim should be a priority and replace the extravagant gift baskets. But again, I must emphasize that this does not mean that we should, chas v’shalom, do away with the beautiful, joyous mitzvah of mishloach manos.
Purim is an amazing, wonderful Yom Tov for the entire family, and children especially revel in the joy of the day, delivering little food baskets to friends and neighbors. But again, these need not be expensive – two different, ready-to-eat foods that are symbolic of love and good wishes are all that are required, and if we keep it simple and modest, we will be able to include many people on our lists. Your suggestions of chesed however, are well taken, and can be added to, but not substituted, for mishloach manos and matanos l’evyonim.
I invite all our readers to share their experiences. Please e-mail your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. May Hashem grant that this Purim brings true joy and redemption to all our families and to Klal Yisrael.