Why We Didn’t Win the Lottery

October 29, 2018

5 min read


And the remarkable true story about the stolen winning lottery ticket.

Lottery mania hit America last week. The mega million jackpot reached the astronomical number of $1.6 billion.

The odds of winning were 1 in 302,575,350. To put that in some kind of perspective, you are 300 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to win a multistate jackpot. If you’re expecting a newborn, your odds of naturally having quintuplets is one in 55 million, which is five times more likely than matching the winning numbers.

Yet we put down our money – and we hope. And yes, this time somebody is celebrating in South Carolina. There actually was a winner!

It wasn’t me. I confess that I too ignored the odds and chose to help God, if He so wished, to make me super rich by buying one ticket. More than one ticket, I said to myself, is foolish. But if God believes my good intentions about what I‘d do with the money I knew I had to buy one ticket and rely on God to perform a supernatural miracle.

We didn’t choose the right numbers because we weren’t supposed to win.

To the millions of us left holding a worthless piece of paper, the reason you and I didn’t win isn’t because we didn’t choose the right numbers. We didn’t choose the right numbers because we weren’t supposed to win.

The following remarkable story sheds light on this issue. It happened many years ago in a village in the vicinity of Dvinsk. A pious but almost penniless Jew found himself in dire need of a large sum of money to make possible the wedding of his eldest daughter. The man had always, throughout his life, put his trust in God. Yet he also knew that blessings require human endeavor and one ought never to rely on an overt miracle.

Almost by chance, but with what he took to be a divine omen, a man bumped into him and, after apologizing, said he was selling lottery tickets. Perhaps, he suggested, their meeting in unusual fashion had a purpose. The cost of the ticket was minor; the possible gain would solve all of the holy man’s problems. So he bought the ticket, took it home, and in synagogue prayed for a miracle.

Not far away from the home of this Jew was another Jew who was his exact opposite. He was a thief, an unscrupulous businessman who regularly swindled others, and deeply in debt, he also decided to buy a lottery ticket to help him overcome his financial difficulties.

Hearing the talk in town that the pious Jew bought a ticket, the thief had a daring idea. Since God would surely look with much more favor on the ticket of a holy man than his own, he decided to surreptitiously slip into the house of the pious Jew and substitute the ticket he had purchased for the one in the possession its righteous owner.

You can probably guess what happened. The pious Jew was stunned to learn that God answered his prayers. “His” ticket was the winning one. The thief was devastated. He had by his own illegal efforts lost his fortune. But he was not willing to concede defeat. With unbelievable chutzpah, he demanded a rabbinic judgment which would undo the consequence of his theft.

He admitted that he stole a ticket and for that ticket he would make repayment. But the winning ticket was his. Why should he be deprived of the winnings from something he himself purchased?

The rabbi was Rabbi Meir Simcha, (1843-1926) a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. The rabbi awarded the proceeds to the innocent holder of the ticket. He condemned the thief not only for his crime but for being foolish enough to believe that it was the ticket which had the mazel rather than the person. God destined the winner; it was not the combination of numbers.

And that’s why last week someone also got a remarkable “break” in the mega millions jackpot.

Earl Livingston, an 87-year-old resident of Blackwood in Camden County, tripped, fell and broke his hip while going to the store to buy a ticket to Tuesday night’s massive Mega Millions draw. When he got to Jefferson Stratford Hospital in Stratford, he told caregivers where he was going when he fell, so they invited him to join their pool of tickets.

He wound up being one of 141 players who nearly won the grand prize. One of their tickets drew the first five numbers but missed on the final Mega Ball which could have won them a share of $1.53 billion. Five numbers were good for $1 million, which will be split evenly.

Why did he win? Why not the whole pot? Why was the winner someone in South Carolina? And most important of all – why wasn’t I the winner?

It wasn’t because of the numbers on our tickets. It was because of the names on God’s heavenly ledger.

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