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The History of Silk Flower Rental and the Mitzvah of Being Chas All Mammon Yisroel

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

It was 1979, and they did it to save Klal Yisroel money – so as not to cause yiddishe gelt to be thrown out in a day.  In terms of this idealism they were truly – one of a kind, and that was also the name of the enterprise – One of a Kind Flowers.  The business originally opened up in Crown Heights and, after five years they moved it to Borough Park.  The store was an immediate success – both in their high end fresh creations of real flowers as well as their silk rental line.

They had seen a store in New Jersey called “Magic Silk”, where the owner had created a new process in making genuinely realistic looking flowers.  The owners, Shmuel Rendler and Menachen Rosenblum, decided to start renting out these silk flowers for a fraction of the cost. They received a bracha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the endeavor as well as from several Roshei Yeshiva.  When Menachem joined his wife’s business, Shmuel was on his own.  And for the past 45 years, One of a Kind Flowers has been saving Klal Yisroel money and simultaneously producing beautiful work.  Many say that they received bracha in all of their work precisely because they were looking out for the little guy.

So where did Reb Shmuel get his inspiration from?

Well, for one, the Gemorah in Moed Katan 27b tells us that when Jews were burying their dead in the finest clothing, Rabban Gamliel HaZakain arose and declared that enough was enough. The rising pressures, the “keeping up with the Joneses” in how to dress the deceased was causing enormous economic pressure on the living. “It must stop,” declared the rabbi, and the white tachrichim, burial shrouds, that we now use became the norm.

A second source may have been from the  great Tzemach Tzedek of 17th century Poland (not the 3rd Rebbe of Chabad = sorry Reb Shmuel) , cited by the Magen Avrohom in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos. He had once ruled (Responsa #28) that when local fishermen collude and raise the price of fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down.

We see, however, that it is not just great Torah leaders who have saved and are concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow Jews. It seems that this is what is expected by the Torah of everyone – michotev aitzecha ad sho’ev maimecha to mocher prachmecha. The Gemorah (Menachos 76a) tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to also feed the nation’s livestock from the water that He had caused to come from the rock at Mei Merivah. Also, Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 27a) points out that the Kohen first removes the vessels from the house before declaring a house impure. So we see examples of the Torah being concerned with the financial well-being of the Jewish nation.

For the Public and for Private Individuals

The difference between the two cases is that the former is for the entire nation, while the latter demonstrates that the Torah is concerned even for the individual’s finances.

Social Norm and Torah Obligation

The Chasam Sofer on Bava Basra (54b) states that, generally speaking, one can make the assumption that fellow Jews are concerned with the monetary well-being of their fellow man, and that this assumption has legal ramifications. So we see that it is the normal behavior expected of all Jews. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur, discusses (in the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter 35) a person who does not care about Jewish money, and he writes that such a person will, in the future, surely answer for it.

The Minchas Chinuch writes that one who is concerned about the preservation of his fellow Jew’s money fulfills the biblical commandment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, love thy neighbor as yourself (see his commentary on that mitzvah). The clear indication from all these sources is that demonstrating concern for the financial well-being of others is not just a mitzvah, it is an expected social norm with reward for those who do it and punishment for those who do not.

Practical Implementation

There are many areas in which we can fulfill this Torah mitzvah, and there are many businesses that can join in. Businesses ranging from retail establishments to service providers, to doctors and dentists can attempt to pass the savings along to consumers. When done lishmah, with the proper motivation, this would, in fact, be a fulfillment of a Torah commandment of loving thy neighbor as thyself.

The essence of such a program is simple: Look to implement various cost-cutting measures and strategies, and opt to pass the savings along to the customer base. This can be done by businesses, medical practices and even yeshiva administrators.

Often doctors already do it. How many times have we seen a doctor give a patient some sample medicine in order to save the patient the costs of filling a prescription? Or how many times do we see that a doctor will selflessly perform a procedure in his office just to save his patients the time and money involved in having to pursue it elsewhere? Many businesses offer a group health plan to their employees, but have stopped paying for it because of the expense involved. Still, trying to negotiate a better deal for them would be a fulfillment of this very noble Torah ideal—being concerned for the financial well-being of our brethren.

What is important to keep in mind is that the mitzvah is not just to benefit the poor; the mitzvah applies to everyone.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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