Hanukkah as an educational tool about money - opinion

Never spend your money before you have earned it. (Thomas Jefferson)

An exhibit of 11 photographs of Hasidim celebrating Hanukkah, all the work of Polish photographer Agnieszka Traczewska, will be on display at the 14th St. Y in Manhattan through late January (photo credit: AGNIESZKA TRACZEWSKA VIA JTA)
An exhibit of 11 photographs of Hasidim celebrating Hanukkah, all the work of Polish photographer Agnieszka Traczewska, will be on display at the 14th St. Y in Manhattan through late January
Hanukkah has begun. As if sitting at home during the lockdowns didn’t wreak enough havoc on our health, now we have cheesecake and sufganiyot to deal with. There are definitely more of them available then I can remember.
Walking in the center of Jerusalem on Jaffa Road, it seems as if not only bakeries are selling but cafes, and ice cream stores too. I think I even saw a hardware store selling the jelly filled delicacies (just kidding!). For those of us who really like sufganiyot, it’s almost like they are calling out to us to buy just one, as we walk by.
As has become customary, I am going to repeat a theme that I write about every year and that’s how we should use Hanukkah to teach children about responsible money habits.
It was just two weeks ago that consumers around the world were blitzed with Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertisements. We were urged to whip out our 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 doorbuster and you can always pay with debt!!! I think this year this has become even more extreme as, due to coronavirus, people are doing much more on-line shopping.
The proximity of this global shopping spree with Hanukkah, can serve as a reminder on how we must educate our children (maybe ourselves, too) with respect to money. 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. More ‘things’ doesn’t equal more happiness.
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 Hanukkah gelt!
What does it teach?
There are many opinions as to the reason of Hanukkah gelt. According to the Magen Avram the custom of giving Hanukkah gelt enabled the poor to get the money needed to buy candles without feeling shame.
I have another answer. The concept of giving Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah, which is the root of the Hebrew word chinuch, education. Hanukkah 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 our 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. It’s magic. It’s even worse when the child sits next to a parent deciding what to buy online. In such a case, forget about taking cash out of a wallet, even the credit-card doesn’t come out. It’s as if you are buying for free. There is no concept that it costs money.
For this reason, the first thing to tell our children to do when they receive Hanukkah gelt is to give to 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 cellphone, explain that she should save up 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.
We give Hanukkah gelt to educate our children in 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 others.
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 Hanukkah.
Now I need to get back to my wild-berry pavlova sufganiya with a berry chaser. Happy Hanukkah!
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.