Food has become more extravagant than ever–at the same time, it’s also more expensive than ever and budgets are stretched. So, there’s the question: is there such a thing as too much to spend on Shabbos?
There’s a story in At Any Hour, the biography of Rav Shlomo Gissinger (p. 267):
The Steinbergs* had just moved back from Eretz Yisrael, and the list of items that they needed to purchase to set up their new home seemed endless! Slowly, matters were settling down, but there was one thing that they really, really wanted to still buy–a new set of dishes for Shabbos. They had always gone out of their way to elevate the precious gift of Shabbos. At this point in their lives, however, funds were a bit tight and they weren’t sure if they should go above their budget to buy a more expensive set.
Mr. Steinberg went over the Rav Gissinger, “We were just wondering–the Gemara says “Kol mezonosav shel adam kesuvim lo mei’Rosh Hashanah chutz mei’hotzaos Shabbos–a person’s entire livelihood is allocated to him during the period from Rosh Hashanah, except for expenditures for Shabbos (Beitzah 16a). Does this Gemara also apply to spending money on nice dishes for Shabbos?”
“If you spend up to one-third more than you would normally spend on a set of dishes,” the Rav paskened, “that amount would be included int he calculations of this Gemara.”
(The story concludes on page 268; in the end they found dishes they loved that also happened to be one-third above budget, and that one-third came back to them through money they didn’t expect to receive. Gemara sources point to hiddur mitzvah being equal to one-third more).
Our expectations have gotten higher. The kinds of foods we like–along with their price tags–keep getting more and more. Is there a limit to how fancy we should make our Shabbos meals? Is there a point where it becomes excessive?
I had asked the Bais Hor’aah this question at one point last year and was told, “If one has the money and this is how one chooses to spend it, and one actually has complete bitachon that they are being paid back when spending money on Shabbos, [then it is fine, and not excessive, to prepare fancy foods for Shabbos.”]
It’s not that simple, though. This is in regards to meat/food. Indeed, Yosef Mokir Shabbos–would use all his money to prepare the finest foods for Shabbos. But what about other Shabbos expenses? What’s included or not included?
Rabbi Yair Hoffman of the Five Towns Jewish Times cites the opinions of the poskim, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, and Rav Shmuel Kanievsky, shlita, and others on what exactly is included in the Shabbos exemption. He summarizes all these opinions over here: Accounting for Shabbos. They also discuss whether luxuries and other non-consumable items are included.
Using the Credit Card Without Means to Pay the Bill
We know that Yosef Mokir (prior to finding the gem in the fish) didn’t have a lot of money–but he did pay upfront for all his Shabbos needs. Now–with food being more expensive than ever–what does one do if they can’t afford Shabbos delicacies? Should they make a Shabbos that’s within their means? Or should they stretch themselves and use their credit card (i.e. go into debt) to make Shabbos–and have bitachon that they will be paid back?
Hacham Ovadia Yosef zt”l goes into detail about borrowing to pay for Shabbos needs. If you’d like to see all the sources, the information is very clear and available here: Borrowing Money for One’s Shabbos Needs. In short, one should not borrow more than they are able to repay and incur debts. One can make Shabbos special, even if the foods are not very expensive.
Of course, when it comes to any specific questions about your own personal situations or expenditures, ask your LOR.