There is an organization in our community that collects money for orphans or children from broken families for the purpose of helping pay wedding costs. I don’t think anyone would deny that this is a good thing, but the weddings this organization provides for are, in my opinion, overly-lavish – often exceeding the weddings normally held in our community. I’m wondering whether this is right, whether one should be less generous in donating to this good cause, and whether the money might be spent better to afford more such weddings, or at least to give these underprivileged couples more tangible help after the wedding. Am I correct?
This is a very difficult and complex question.
There’s no doubt that the Torah places tremendous importance on caring for, and being especially sensitive to, the needs of widows and orphans. It also places great importance on the mitzvah of helping facilitate marriage, hachnasat kallah. Therefore, one would be hard-pressed to find a more important cause than this double mitzvah of aiding in the marriage of orphans or young people from broken homes.
I understand your reservations, and on a certain level they certainly make rational, monetary sense. But, at the end of the day, these unfortunate young people have been deprived in so many ways and have led lives so different than children from regular homes that it seems acceptable to go beyond what’s normal in order for these people to have a truly amazing and beautiful wedding.
I’m sure it is extremely touching and meaningful to these young people that, via this organization, the community embraces and rejoices in their union as much as, and in certain ways even more, than of their own children. What a wonderful way to start such a couple on their journey to building the family life they were deprived of!
Regarding the actual finances of the organization, you may not be aware of the actual details. It is probable that they have enough funding to aid all eligible candidates equally without needing to turn some away, and they probably also give couples a choice to have a simpler wedding in order to receive help in other ways. This would seem to be a common sense approach for those who obviously care for the needs of these orphans.
There was a great rabbi named Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasow. He was known as the rabbi of orphans since he spent great effort in collecting funds to marry off orphans, which he did in a grand fashion, providing the best food and music, and he made a point of attending each wedding and dancing personally with the groom to the great joy of the couple and the community.
During one wedding which was particularly joyous and overflowing with energy, at the pinnacle of which Rabbi Moshe Leib was dancing fervently with the groom to the point of ecstasy, the rabbi suddenly shouted out, “May it be the will of G-d that on my last day on earth I be buried to the tune of such music played for orphans’ joy”.
After some years, at the death of Rabbi Moshe Leib, while he was being escorted to the grave by communities far and wide, a horse-drawn wagon came rolling toward the funeral procession, seemingly out of control. When it suddenly stopped, the mourners saw it was manned by a group of travelling musicians, and the assembled mourners demanded to know what business they had barging into a cemetery in the middle of a burial.
The musicians explained that they had no idea about the funeral and had been on their way to a wedding in another town when the horses suddenly broke loose from the reins and led them off the road toward the cemetery. At that point, one of the disciples of Rabbi Moshe Leib recognized the musicians as the very band which had been playing at the wedding where the rabbi made his very peculiar exclamation.
At that point all realized that the band’s arrival at the burial of Rabbi Moshe Leib was orchestrated by G-d in order to fulfill the wishes of that great rabbi who sacrificed so much for the joy of poor orphans. After deliberating for some time as to whether the band should actually play the orphans’ wedding music at Rabbi Moshe Leib’s funeral, it was decided that his last earthy journey should be accompanied by the merit of that great mitzvah!