Leading up to Pesach, and over the holiday itself, I was inundated on social media with pictures from upscale Pesach programs. The pictures were of five-star hotels and resorts, an overabundance of food, exotic excursions, and world class entertainment. Some people likely spent six figures to take their family on one of these programs. Is it wrong for people to go on such lavish pesach programs? – Anonymous
Your question has multiple components, so let’s discuss each of them.
Is it in the spirit of the holiday? An important element that you seem to be questioning is whether the excesses you described are in the spirit of the holiday of Pesach itself. This is a fair question, but beyond my scope of expertise as a financial advisor. I’ll let the Rabbanim weigh in on the best way to celebrate Pesach and whether going on an exotic getaway is problematic.
Is it financially prudent? This aspect of your question is within my wheelhouse and is a topic about which I feel very strongly.
I don’t oppose lavish vacations. In fact, as long as someone is living within their means, saving for their future, and giving to tzedakah, they should be able to go on the most extravagant and over the top vacation that they want. If luxury travel is something that you thoroughly enjoy, then you should do it. Remember, money is not meant to be hoarded. It is meant to be used to help you achieve your goals and live the life that you want.
On the other side of the coin, borrowing money to go on one of these programs is imprudent, and may be financially devastating. One must either pay for the program in full, find a generous family member (e.g. parents or in-laws) that is willing to foot the bill, or stay home. Using credit card debt, a cash-out home refinance, a Home Equity Line of Credit, or other forms of borrowing in order to go on a vacation should never happen.
Differentiating between paid influencers and everybody else: Some of the attendees who share the most about their Pesach programs are “influencers.” For those who may not be familiar with the term, an “influencer” is a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the item on social media. Influencers are marketers and they are just doing their job. In lieu of a traditional salary, some influencers are compensated by being able to bring their family along for Pesach.
If you are getting tired of the content and can’t stand to see another video clip of a buffet lunch, 24 hour tea room, or pictures of their kids in matching swimsuits at sunset by the pool with palm trees in the background, then simply unfollow or block the influencer from your social media feed. There is no need to get worked up about it. This is how these folks make a parnassah and anything they post should be treated as a sales pitch.
The regular program attendees, folks who are not influencers, who are continuously sharing pictures is a different discussion. This leads me to my next point…
Being tznius about money: The essence of your question, whether you intended it or not, is about tznius. Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, addressed this topic during his interview on the “Kosher Money” podcast a few weeks ago. He eloquently described the concept of tznius, modesty or privacy, as it relates to money. Typically, this construct is solely discussed in the context of how men and women dress. However, as he describes, it applies equally to other areas of life noting that, according to Chazal, everything should be private unless there is a reason for it to be public. The concept is particularly relevant when it comes to vacation.
The biggest issue with Pesach programs is not the luxury, it’s broadcasting your vacation to the world via social media. For many people, half the fun of going away is letting everyone know that they went away. This may sound innocent enough, but this lack of tznius exacerbates the already prevalent issue in the frum community of trying to keep up with the Goldsteins. Aside from causing general unhappiness, this may also unintentionally pressure people to overextend themselves financially. This is true regardless of your level of wealth but is especially problematic for the many people who are struggling financially.
The issue of tznius is not limited to going away for Pesach. It is equally applicable to Yeshiva Break plans, summer trips, home remodeling, and other aspects of life. Leading up to winter break, I had a myriad of business meetings with frum families in different parts of the country. At some point during many of these conversations a discussion of “Where I am going for Yeshiva Break” came up. (Apparently, Panama was the popular locale last year). This need and desire to share our vacation plans with the olam is far from ideal. Though it is not solely responsible, social media, for all its merits, is one of the primary drivers of this brazenness.
People work hard to be able to go away on holiday. They have every right to enjoy it to its fullest. At the same time, a helpful perspective is to remember that everything we have comes from Hashem. We are simply stewards of the money He has given us. It’s incumbent upon us to behave in a manner that is appropriate and dignified for a God-fearing Jew. Hopefully the lesson of tznius can extend past the way we dress and influence how we conduct all aspects of our lives, including how we vacation.
Readers are encouraged to ask their personal financial questions, which may be quoted from and addressed in a future column, by emailing Jonathan@shenkmanwealth.com.