Winning!

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Operation Inspiration By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz


One day I passed a lottery machine. It had a bunch of windows and clear plastic buttons highlighting the various scratch-off tickets that were for sale. My eyes were drawn to look at it and one caught my eye. It said, “Win $10,000 a week for Life!” I thought, “Wow, that could really change my life.”

I began to daydream, just a little, about how that money would change my life. No more worrying about bills, being able to buy an apartment in Eretz Yisrael, giving tzedaka, paying tuition, and the list goes on.

My thoughts flitted for a moment to the idea that when Hashem decreed that the primordial serpent eat dust its whole life it sounded like a great bracha for he would never go hungry. However, it also shows  that Hashem doesn’t want to be involved in his life. He gives the snake whatever it needs and says, “Don’t bother me.” Not so people, who are supposed to turn to Hashem and ask Him for things. That
would be one downside to winning the lottery.

Of course, that sort of doubt doesn’t linger very long and we happily go back to imagining what we  would do if money were no object. We think of the things we would buy and the things we would do.

But you know what we rarely think about? The question I asked myself next:
Would the money make me a better person? All the daydreams of what money can buy don’t think about what money can’t buy. It can’t buy friends, only hangers-on. It can’t buy you compassion, or empathy, or happiness. It can’t change who you are,
though perhaps it magnifies it.

If you are a person who is grateful for everything you have, then money would make you more grateful. It will give you more things to be thankful for and to praise Hashem for. If you are a selfish person, the  money helps you to focus on yourself; on what you like or want. What exacerbates that shortcoming is that people fawn over rich people and make them think they are the center of the universe.

People imagine how much money they will give to tzedaka if they become rich. The truth is, though, that if they were generous and charitable before, they will be generous with whatever they have later on.

However, the money won’t turn a stingy person into a giving one.

The Mishna says, “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.” That means that no matter how much  or how little you have, it’s your attitude that defines whether you are rich or not. If you’re not happy with what you have now, having more won’t make you happy.

The Torah in Parshas Metzora speaks of a person who cannot afford a particular animal sacrifice. It says  that if he is poor, and he can’t afford it, he brings a cheaper korban. In Tazria, regarding the korban of a woman who gives birth who doesn’t have enough for an expensive korban, it does not say, “if she is poor,” but only, “if her hand cannot reach” to pay for the level of the animal sacrifice. The Kotzker
Rebbe explains: This woman has just been blessed with a child. She may not have money but she cannot be called destitute. She has such a bracha that she simply cannot be called poor.

Over the years, people have come up with different ideas of what it means to be a “winner.” Those who are successful and wealthy are winners and those who struggle to pay the rent or mortgage or to buy new shoes for Yom Tov are losers. There used to be a bumper sticker that said, “He who dies with the most toys, wins!” As a youth I didn’t understand why grown-ups were talking about toys, but later I understood that they were referring to the expensive things people dream of that don’t make you happier but just entertain you for a little while. Whether it’s cars, trips, food, or fancy houses, these things have  nothing to do with who we are but only what we have.

It occurred to me that you can’t win a game until you understand the object of it. Life isn’t about  amassing wealth or experiencing exotic pleasures. It’s about refining yourself and becoming a kinder, humbler, and more spiritually-aware individual. It’s about thinking about others and wanting the best for them.

There’s no lottery that offers such a prize and most often that lottery would push us farther away from the goal. So the next time you see a lottery machine or you hear that the jackpot is half a billion dollars, ask yourself what you’d do with the money. That answer will help you see where you stand today and how far you are from where you ought to be. If you begin to scratch away at the things that are standing in the way of the real you, pretty soon you may find yourself the next big winner.

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