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Gambling on the Game of Life

Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

If we require someone to attend driving school before he is allowed to drive, and flying school before he is allowed to fly, why don't we require every human being to attend a "school of life"?

The truth is however, that life is infinitely more complicated than even a jumbo jet. There are a myriad of life choices that confront us constantly. From choosing a career, to finding a spouse, and raising children - and everything in-between. Living is far from simple.

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Bicycles, cars, planes and ships can be insured, and even replaced. Unfortunately, there is no company where you can file a claim for the various pains of growing, depression or loneliness.

Life comes with no guarantees. There is no office to which we can complain, and no fund from which to claim back misspent years. We cannot plead ignorance of life's rules. Not knowing the rules will not stop the problems life brings. If we want to have a meaningful and happy life, we need to be prepared. We need to know the rules before we play the game.

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In a similar experience to flight school, this week's Parsha describes what can happen in life when things go wrong. To be fair, it also tells us what happens when things go right. Interestingly, there are only nine verses describing the good (26:4-12) and 23 verses describing the bad (26:16-38).

As Rav Yaacov Weinberg zt"l explains, this lack of equilibrium is reflective of a core principle of life. Life is not equal opportunity. The reality of existence is that more can always go wrong than can go right. In other words, the possibility of suffering is far greater than the possibility of peace and happiness. The only way to tilt the odds in your favor is to know how the game is played.

Judaism has always advocated the need for this education, in fact it's universally necessary. As essential as economics or biology might be, it's really communication, love, respect, peace of mind, to mention but a few subjects, that make life really work. It's the lack of proficiency of these issues that fill the pages of advice columns and therapy sessions. These are the things that keep us up at night, and their lack creates immense confusion and heartache in our lives.

These are the subjects that make up a Torah education, which is the life manual. Today Torah is readily available for everyone. We all can have access to its pearls of wisdom, and it's instructions are easily understood.

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Living life "hoping it will all work out" is a game none of us enjoy losing. If you have come to realize that losing in life is not an option, then you don't want to claim ignorance of the rules. This is as true for us as it is for our children. With the proliferation of drugs, crime, depression and delinquency, gambling with our children's lives is only for those who feel very, very lucky. If you have already been the recipient of misfortune through the results of not understanding how the game of life is played, then you can well appreciate how easy it is to not really know what is going on. Or more, what is coming down the road.

It's never too late to start and it's always too great a risk to fly blind. For those who learn, the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor.

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Question 1: A new school opens in town that teaches life lessons alongside geography. Would you send your children?

Question 2: What is the most important lesson you know about life?

Question 3: What piece of advice would you give your teenage daughter about dating? Your teenage son?

Question 4: If you were giving your 22-year-old child advice on choosing a spouse, what is the one thing you would tell him or her?

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