Hitting the Jackpot

As the estimated amount of the historic Powerball jackpot continues to rise, an ever growing number of people are purchasing lottery tickets, pushing the prize value still higher.

The fact that the chance of winning is minuscule didn’t dissuade tens of millions of Americans in 44 states from purchasing tickets for the drawing that took place on Motzoei Shabbos. Since — as in the previous 18 times lottery officials randomly chose winning numbers — no one had an exact match, the already historic prize total of $949.8 million has soared upwards. As of this writing, the estimated amount for Wednesday night’s drawing is at least $1.3 billion and very likely to rise even more by the time the numbers are picked. The jackpot is so big that many billboards have to advertise the prize as $999 million because they’re not built to show billions!

The enormous prize elicited worries that some consumers would be so blinded by their dreams that they would spend money they don’t have. Officials pointed out that it takes only one ticket to win, and with odds so tiny, even buying hundreds of tickets will hardly improve someone’s chances.

Many in our community have caught at least some form of lottery fever, and are purchasing tickets for what is said to be the biggest jackpot in the history of the world. Among them are some who wonder why, indeed, they would want to win such an astronomical sum of money. Their first thought is, naturally, that they would keep only a fraction of the money for themselves, their relatives and closest friends, and spend the rest on a host of worthwhile charitable causes. Yet they are aware that there are already individuals whose net worth is considerably more than they can spend on their own needs for the foreseeable future, and while they are presumably giving substantial sums of money to charity, most of their fortune is being used to earn more and more money.

There is no doubt that poverty is an extremely difficult test, but in some ways, great wealth — especially if it is acquired overnight — is a greater one. Even in the secular world, it is a well established fact that not only is wealth not synonymous with happiness, but all too often they are antonyms. As one fellow who won $16.2 million in a 1988 lottery later put it: “Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems.”

Torah Jews, whose life’s mission is all about serving Hashem, recognize that the spiritual challenges that come with great wealth are extremely daunting, and that often we have no idea what is really for our benefit.

The story is told about a fellow who, after struggling with parnassah for many years, decided to borrow money and buy a lottery ticket. As the date for the drawing approached, he poured out his heart in tefillah to the Ribbono shel Olam, saying Tehillim and shedding countless tears, pleading that he should be the winner. His tefillos were answered and he won a very considerable sum of money.

Almost immediately, he was approached by numerous individuals, all of them urging him to invest his winnings with them. Each promised fantastic and wholly unrealistic percentages of returns. He foolishly agreed, and within a short time lost all the money he had won. The shattered fellow soon discovered that not only was he left without the money he had so longed for, but he was struggling far more to meet his basic needs than before buying the lottery ticket.

Heartbroken, he made his way to Radin and poured out his heart to the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l. The Chofetz Chaim explained to him that the amount an individual earns in a lifetime is preordained. Because he had so beseeched the Heavens, he was given the entire amount he was set to receive in the coming years in a single lump sum. He had then proceeded to squander it in a series of foolish investments, and was left without anything.

It is not only the amount of money a person will earn that is preordained; so is the amount of enjoyment that a person will have. Inevitably, the enjoyment of winning a billion dollars comes at the cost of other, potentially much more important types of enjoyment.

So why, indeed, are so many people buying tickets for the Powerball?

The most probable answer is that in the back of their minds they know that the chances to win are about one in 292.2 million, and in their hearts they rely on the fact that it is almost certain they won’t win.

In essence, however, all of us have already won the jackpot, for every brachah we recite, every tefillah we utter, every mitzvah we perform, every daf Gemara we learn, every kapital Tehillim we say, and every moment we fortify ourselves with emunah and bitachon make us true billionaires, many times over.

Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, u’mah na’im goraleinu.