Advice from the Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur was this weekend, so I fasted and went to temple with Chad and his family.  Part of the service were in Hebrew, which I don’t understand, so I amused myself by reading in one of the books they handed out. In addition to the prayers for the service, there were sections full of quotes from the Torah/Bible and some other musings and parables.  One story resonated, so I thought I’d share with my readers.

A rich man once came to the Maggid of Koznitz for blessing. ‘What are you in the habit of eating?’ asked the Maggid.

The man replied: ‘I am modest in my demands. Bread and salt, a drink of water, I need no more.’

‘What are you thinking of! You must eat roast meat and drink mead, like all the rich.’ And the rabbi did not let him go until he had promised to change his ways. 

Later, to his puzzled chasidim, the Maggid explained: ‘Not until he eats meat will he realize that the poor need bread.  As long as he himself eats only bread, he will think the poor can live on stones.’

Chasidic, 18th century

If you’ve given up your TV or are managing with public transportation, it’s common to feel outraged when you see statistics about how 97% of those living under the poverty line have a color TV and 75% own cars.  After all, these are always included on lists for Top Ten Ways to Trim Your Budget. 

The poor shouldn’t own what we have so easily given up. The poor shouldn’t have a better standard of living than us.  It’s even easier to point out that the poor in America have it much easier than the poor in, say, Somalia. 

So we allow the chasm between the rich and the poor to grow deeper.  We expect the poor to be happy with their bread, because they’re not living on stones and that should be good enough.

What do you think?  Is this a new view on frugal/simple living that you’d never thought of?  Do you think your charitable giving would be the same if you had a shiny Bentley or a rusty old Yugo? Want to know how my fast went? (Spoiler: it sucked and I had caffeine withdrawal headache all day.)


4 Responses

  1. Wow.

    “We expect the poor to be happy with their bread, because they’re not living on stones and that should be good enough.” This line really resonated with me.

    Thank you for sharing that. 🙂

  2. Great post!

    I am not sure how I feel about it (for me personally).

    I see the point of the story, but for me… I don’t need to drive a fancy car to know that someone who is poor also needs a car to get to the office in the middle of nowhere or face having to take 4 hours of public transportation a day. I’ve been there and done that (when I didn’t have a license that is..). I’m just very happy to have my old beater car and not have to take public transportation.

    Just the other day, I walked to a store just to see what it was like to not have my car, and I felt the pinch of having to walk 4km there and 4km back, carrying groceries. I very much appreciate having a car that works beautifully every time I drive it.

    As for the food thing, I’ve eaten very richly and very poorly, and I much prefer the median in between, however that doesn’t mean I can’t see the basics of what people need.

    Just because I don’t own a TV doesn’t mean that I think everyone doesn’t need one. Sometimes the only form of entertainment you have IS a TV because you don’t have the internet, or you can’t afford other hobbies. To each their own, I say 🙂

  3. This is really interesting – we hear a lot of outrage about the poor and everything they have

  4. Huh. I never thought of it that way… I’ve never really considered what I had as the limiting factor in what the poor should or shouldn’t have.

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