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Powerball Mania

January 11, 2016 | by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Why I bought a ticket and why you should too.

I have a confession to make – I bought a lottery ticket for the Powerball. After all, you’ve got to be in it to win it and this Wednesday night, winning it means winning $1.3 billion. True, the lump sum payout comes to only $806,000,000 but I think we can find a way to make do with that amount.

Now, I am not foolish, I know that I am unlikely to win.  After all, the odds of winning the lottery is 1 in 292,200,000. There is a greater likelihood of being hit by lightning twice in the same day as there is of winning the lottery. So why play it at all? Moreover, is it appropriate according to Jewish law to play or is it tantamount to throwing out money?

Interestingly, some Rabbis have suggested that there is nothing wrong with playing the lottery, but one should not buy more than one ticket. You see, buying one ticket represents human initiative to have a chance at scoring millions. However, the likelihood of winning only grows at a negligible, statistically insignificant rate when buying more tickets. Therefore, say some Rabbis, if you buy more than one ticket you lack emunah, genuine belief in God, for if God wants you to win, one ticket will suffice.

I agree that only one ticket should be purchased, but for an altogether different reason. The hope of winning is only a small fraction of why I bought a ticket. The real reason to play is because that ticket gives me license to dream, to ask myself important questions and to reflect in a meaningful way. If you are playing the lottery, you cannot avoid asking yourself what you would do if you won. Would you continue to work? Would you move to Israel? Would you give a meaningful amount to charity and if so where would you direct your philanthropic dollars? How would you spend your newfound time? What luxuries, if any, would you indulge in? What would you change about your life?

These questions are not easy to answer and require some serious soul searching. If you won the lottery and you stopped working immediately, what does that say about what you do? Is it a profession or a calling, just for the money or also for the contribution to society?

If you won the lottery and remain living outside of Israel, is money the real reason you aren’t making aliyah right now? If winning the lottery meant quitting your job and having more time, how would you spend it – with your family, exercising, learning Torah, volunteering? What really matters to you and if it is truly important, why not find the time to do it now?

Without that ticket in your hand, these questions remain only theoretical.  The way I see it, two dollars is a small amount to pay for the license to dream. However, since the likelihood is that the license to dream is all those two dollars will get you, buying more tickets won’t expand your license and won’t meaningfully increase your chances and would therefore be a waste of money.

So go buy a ticket and spend this Shabbos discussing with your family and friends how you would spend the rest of your life and the difference you would make if you won.

Two dollars is an absolute bargain for what you will learn.


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