Henny Elishevitz, Beis Moshiach
Parents sometimes deliberate among themselves: If Bubby and Zeidy give a sum of money to their child as a birthday gift or for Chanukah gelt – should we just let him have the money? Isn’t it important to educate the child first in proper economic planning by giving him pocket money? What about giving a sum of money as a gift for good behavior or outstanding Torah learning or perhaps, we can make the pocket money conditional upon doing household chores? At what age can a child be given pocket money, how much, and with what restrictions?
Before we get into a discussion on giving money to children, we will begin with some stories on this subject:
Story #1 – Pocket Money For Free
This story took place when the Rebbe Rashab was a boy about five years old:
The Tzemach Tzedek customarily gave his grandchildren five kopeks every weekday as pocket money. One Sunday, he gave them the amount for the whole week, adding that they could also come each day. In fact, only the Rebbe Rashab and his older brother, R’ Zalman Aharon (the “Raza’) came each day.
On one of these days, the Raza remembered late to go to his grandfather, and on his way, he met his brother returning from there. At his request, the Rebbe Rashab accompanied him as he walked back to his grandfather’s house. However, when they got there, they discovered that the Tzemach Tzedek had passed away.
Later, when the Raza told his father, the Rebbe Maharash, what had happened, the Rebbe replied with deep emotion:
“What did you do, my son? He gave everything to your brother.”
This story apparently shows that the Tzemach Tzedek regularly gave pocket money to his younger grandchildren each day, not due to some special reason or a certain condition for getting their daily allowance. However, we also see that the children didn’t know how to appreciate this money enough for some unknown reason, and they didn’t make any effort to double the amount they received.
Story #2 – Pocket Money For Mishnayos
On the other hand, the Rebbe Rayatz related about his childhood, that his father gave him a certain amount of money for reviewing Mishnayos by heart and thereby encouraging him to learn more. At the age of eleven, he had accumulated a sum of thirty rubles, and his father urged him to open a Gemach fund.
As a result of the loans he gave, there was the story of his first imprisonment, when the Rebbe Rayatz learned Mishnayos by heart in a jail cell together with a stolen calf. His father taught him that since he knew Mishnayos by heart, he could review them in prison and be different than the calf.
At this same opportunity, the Rebbe Rashab gave him ten rubles to replenish the money in his loan fund.
In another narrative, the Rebbe Rayatz tells about his hesitation over the proper use of money, with a variety of arguments on the matter.
In his commentary on the Mishna, the Rambam explains that a small child doesn’t understand the importance of Torah study, “and it is therefore inevitably necessary for the teacher…to encourage the study with things that are beloved to him due to the smallness of his years. And [so] he says to him, ‘Study and I will give you nuts or figs; and I will give you a little honey.’”
When the child grows up a little, and this prize proves insufficient, the Rambam says that you should offer him nice clothes. Then, when he grows older, you tell him: “Learn this section or this chapter and I will give you a dinar or two dinars.” (By the way, as he reaches the age of maturity, offer him a title of honor for his Torah study…).
Each person will usually connect to one noteworthy matter or another, drawing the appropriate conclusions. However, it remains most important to emphasize: From a certain age (depending on his level of understanding), a Chassidishe child needs his own money! He needs to use his money to buy sefarim for “Didan Notzach”, he has to give tzedaka himself, even maamad money if he can – at least in some token fashion. Needless to say, at a much later age, he accumulates a larger sum of money for buying an airline ticket to travel to the Rebbe MH”M.
Does this require giving pocket money or letting the child hold sums of cash on his own?
Not necessarily (in my humble opinion). A young child needs direction and guidance in all matters, including the subject of money that can understandably lead to very undesirable things. The money can be kept with the parents, even when it belongs to the child, through an orderly management of his funds. In this manner, every expense requires parental approval, which helps and directs the child. However, we obviously have to remember that the money is his money, as much as we can possibly say this about a young child.
Even when the child grows older, the parents can still exercise their veto power. Yet, it would be appropriate to speak about this with the children, explaining to them our principles and teaching them both directly and indirectly about the proper way of relating to money. While we should provide some direction in proper financial planning, our main focus should be from the aspect of emuna and Chassidus: teaching about giving maaser with the precise knowledge and understanding that money is simply a means for doing Hashem’s Will in the world. Furthermore, even when we use money to fulfill our more material desires (and we can occasionally allow our child to do this as well – in any case, everything depends upon the depth of the child’s knowledge and we too sometimes buy various kinds of “taavos”), we must tie this to the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos.
There is not a shadow of a doubt that a parent’s personal conduct in this matter represents a living example in the eyes of his children. We can have a very difficult time educating them in adhering to values they don’t see us honoring, and therefore, it’s most important to reveal our children to the concept of giving maaser, maamad, and the overall significance attached to money.
The Rebbe about Money
We will conclude with three stories of the Rebbe MH”M, which can help us in developing within the child’s soul a proper approach to money matters and their essential meaning, telling them at the right times and in the right ways to draw the proper conclusions.
In 5746, a wealthy contributor bought a new car for the Rebbe. The plan was for the car to be waiting for the Rebbe in front of 770, and the Rebbe would then use it to go home or to the Ohel. When the Rebbe became aware of this, he remarked that “he who hates gifts shall live”, and then requested that they bring the old car back. The Rebbe waited for a few minutes until they returned with the old car. In the meantime, those assembled sang, although the Rebbe did not encourage the singing…
On Shavuos 5712, the Rebbe said: “When other institution heads speak with a wealthy supporter, they suggest that he increase in his commercial affairs, earn more, and donate more… In our circles, however, we first ask that the ‘gvir’ not run to his store immediately after davening, rather he should first say the daily Tehillim, learn Tanya, and the like… And even if he will apparently earn less money through this conduct, and thereby his support to the yeshiva will be reduced, we are not worried by this!…”
At the farbrengen of Yud-Tes Kislev 5718, the Rebbe made an appeal for the construction of a new neighborhood in Kfar Chabad. He asked each person to write on a slip of paper how much he will contribute, adding that if he considers the amount insufficient, he would order an increase as he saw fit. Those present at the farbrengen wrote down their pledges, and the Rebbe reviewed each of them. When he saw the note written by R’ Dovid Deitsch, he told him to double the amount. Practically speaking, R’ Dovid had pledged to contribute fifteen thousand dollars (the value of a private home…), and even that he didn’t have. Yet, the next morning, he went to the bank, mortgaged his home and business, and quickly brought the loan check for thirty thousand dollars to the Rebbe before sundown Friday.
Shortly thereafter, a surprising business deal came his way – literally at no cost – earning him ninety thousand dollars. R’ Dovid quickly paid back the bank loan, and he wrote out a check for the rest of the amount and gave it to the Rebbe in yechidus, since the whole deal had occurred with the Rebbe’s bracha. The Rebbe received the check and then asked: “R’ Dovid, dos iz far mir?” [= Is this for me?] After R’ Dovid replied in the affirmative, the Rebbe told him: “Take the check, put this amount in your bank account, and Hashem will grant you success in your endeavors!” It goes without saying that from then on, R’ Dovid’s success in the world of commerce grew rapidly, until he became a very wealthy philanthropist.
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