DIVREI TORAH

Inconspicuous Consumption

Our parsha tells us that Yaakov’s family immigrated to Egypt during a terrible time, a time when “there was no bread… because the hunger was severe.”[1]

Our parsha also tells us that Yosef shielded his family from such suffering by providing for his family “bread according to the number of children.”[2]

Yes, Yosef provided for his family. But only in a limited way. Only with bread. And only “according to the number of children.”[3]

As an Egyptian viceroy, Yosef certainly could have provided more than basic bread. Why, then, did he limit his largesse? Why only basic bread? And why only “according to the number of children?”[4]

To understand these limitations, we must remember when these limitations were put in place.

It was when, as noted, “there was no bread … because the hunger was severe.”[5] It was when a severe hunger compelled people to “let us be slaves…and give us grain.”[6]

At a time like that, starving Egyptians would have felt that anything more than basic bread was a wasteful indulgence. And such feelings would have caused terrible resentment.[7]

Which is Yosef’s family was afforded only “bread according to the number of children”[8]

Yosef’s circumspection reflects the following rabbinic dictum: “When the community suffers, don’t say, I will eat and drink and peace be on my soul.”[9] That dictum teaches us not to arouse other people’s ire by flaunting our good fortune.

This dictum, as we just demonstrated, applies vis a vis the starving. This dictum, though, interestingly enough, also applies vis a vis the affluent.

And that’s because even affluent people contend with the sociological phenomena of “relative deprivation”

Those are the feelings of dissatisfaction that arise when we feel that others seem to be more blessed than us. Such feelings arise in the hearts of parents – even affluent parents – who can’t offer their children what wealthier parents offer their children. Such feelings arise in the souls of those who can’t afford their wives what other husbands afford their wives.

Our rabbis recognized that such feelings exist. And that is why they enacted the following: “All foods brought to mourners’ homes are brought in simple wicker baskets, even if the mourners are rich. All drinks brought to mourners’ homes are brought in simple glasses, even if the mourners are rich. All dead are buried in plain flaxen shrouds and are carried on simple biers, even if the dead were rich. All of this, so as not to shame or to place pressures on poor families.”[10]

These rules were not put in place because people were starving. They were put in place because the less affluent felt “relatively deprived” when they saw more affluent people's better circumstances.

Such feelings of “relative deprivation” are, poignantly enough, especially pronounced in the frum community. And that’s because the frum community - more than other communities – mingles people from different economic levels. That happens because frum people have just their few frum neighborhoods. That forces wealthy, middle-class, and poor frum people to live together. Frum people just have their few frum schools. That forces wealthy, middle-class, and poor frum children to be educated together. And because frum people from different economic classes mingle they compare themselves to one another.

And that causes feelings of “relative deprivation.”

And such feelings of “relative deprivation” aren’t restricted to the financial arena. They also exhibit themselves in the social arena. They arise, for example, when people sense that others have better familial relationships and stronger nachas.

Also in this arena, feelings of relative deprivation are more pronounced in the frum community. And that’s because frum people place a great premium on family and nachas. And that premium makes feelings of relative deprivation in these areas especially painful.

And it’s such a shame.

And because much this pain aren’t hard to avoid.

Allow me to share two examples of pain that isn’t hard to avoid.

One would involve a mother who balances a full-time job, a brood of children, and the attendant housework. Her limited budget allows her no household help. This mother attends a wedding. At that wedding, she strikes up a conversation with an expensively dressed woman, who is doing well. The expensively dressed woman innocently mentions that she is a stay-at-home mother with full-time help.to be a bit more

Another would involves a young woman with a wonderful name whose family has strong economic and social standing. This young woman has endless shidduch options. In shul, her father complains about having to sort through his daughter’s shidduch resumes. Little does he know that the man to whom he complained also has a daughter in shidduchim. Her situation, though, is quite different. Her name is not that good and her family situation is not ideal. Her father has no shidduch resumes through which to sort.

It wouldn’t have been hard for the wealthier woman and for the fortunate father to avoid such triggering conversations.

The wealthy woman and the fortunate father were simply making conversation. But when making conversation, they overlooked other people’s relative deprivation. And by doing that they “ate and drank and said peace be on my soul” while the “community is suffering.”

No, other people’s deprivation isn’t reason enough for us to neglect our needs.

We’re meant to address our needs.

And we’re even meant to enjoy the good things that Hashem gave us.

We should just enjoy them with discretion.

[1] Bereishis 47:13

[2] Bereishis 47:12

[3] Loc. cit.

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] Bereishis 47:13

[6] Bereishis 47:19

[7] Sforno, Ad loc.

[8] Bereishis 47:12

[9] Ta'anis 11a

[10] Moed Katan 27a-27b

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