By S. Friedman, Matzav.com
If you’ve read articles decrying the unrestrained spending of money in increasingly flamboyant fashion, here is another one; and unapologetically so.
I once heard the following from Rav Yissochor Frand on a recorded shuir: Why would someone have a ten thousand dollar watch when any old watch can tell time just the same? Because for certain people, at times when they’re not in their opulent homes or driving their fancy cars, they need some way to convey to others that they are indeed very wealthy.
I believe that is the modus operandi for many of the “New Guard” of gevirim. When I was growing up, the comfortable people (as we were taught to politely refer to our monetarily blessed brethren) would drive nice cars, live in nice sized houses, and would take a family vacation to Miami and perhaps Eretz Yisroel once a year. If they made a simcha, it would be more upscale than others, as it was a matter of hosting an affair of what they felt was within their means and what was within the boundaries of good taste.
Some called for some restraint when making weddings, as it added to the already intense pressure of the financial challenges facing frum families in today’s day and age. This worked to some extent, helping alleviate pressure of keeping up with the Joneses. It seemed a matter of raising the sensitivities of people who didn’t realize that while they were just trying to be gracious hosts, they inadvertently raised the bar for others.
What I’m trying to say is that while ostentatious spending has long been an issue between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” I believe previous incarnations of the phenomenon resulted from much more innocent intentions. People who had more than enough money wanted to enjoy it somewhat, and didn’t realize that there were unspoken limitations to what can be considered appropriate as opposed to flaunting it. A common rejoinder was, “Well, he gives a lot of tzedakah.” Truth is, if driving an expensive car is synonymous with giving large donations, it just means a person wants to feel like a g’vir and almost all of us can swallow that.
But what happens when $50,000 weddings become $100,000 Bar Mitzvahs? The 6 bedroom home becomes a multi-million dollar mansion? When the leased Lexus becomes a new $75,000+ car? When the children are expecting vacations to ski resorts and designer clothing? Etc…
There isn’t a gray area for many people as to what is considered refined and elegant and what can only be thought of as showy, flashy, and plain old fashioned nauseating. They know good and well when they spend six figures on a ridiculous themed Bar Mitzvah that people will be talking about how wealthy the family is. The more extravagant and excessive, the longer the masses will talk.
It may be condemnation, but I won’t sugarcoat it. There is a conscious decision by people to bring attention to their wealth. By way of their home, dress, vehicles, simcha celebrations, etc… they are loudly declaring, “Look at me! Look at my Money!”
The “regular” people are most assuredly looking, and talking, but what the big spenders don’t realize is what the people are saying. After the initial delight of experiencing a novelty (“I got a ride in a Bentley!” or “They served everyone 16oz steaks – as an appetizer!”), the feeling of repulsion begins to set in. They “tsk tsk” and remark how out of touch some of these rich folks seem to be. People realize that in contrast, the well to-do that practice restraint in regards to showing off their wealth are the ones we really admire.
Lavishly spending money with seemingly no other purpose than to impress others and draw attention to one’s self is surely shallow and quite simply, it is embarrassing. It is uninhibited indulgence to taivos. I believe it is akin to seeing someone eating a stuffed hero sandwich while walking on the street with all the trimmings dripping all over them. They are a glutton who is a slave to their desires, and the mere fact that their addictions are open for all to see does not deter them. They know that everyone can see that they are seemingly powerless to exert self-control, and yet they continue to make public slobs of themselves.
They may be decked out in the fanciest and costliest attire, drive their pristine automobiles, and speak with the utmost sophistication, but make no mistake. Those that can’t help themselves but to abundantly spend in a public manner for all to see are the same out of control as any other addict. The fact that so many of us are currently suffering financial hardships just goes to show how callous they are, or conversely how overwhelming their craving to impress everyone is.
The spending of money in such frivolous unrestrained fashion most assuredly calls attention to those engaging in their ego fueled quest to be considered the best, richest, fanciest etc… However, instead of merely being looked at in response for their immense craving for attention, they are actually being looked down at.