“I know you usually don’t buy a lottery ticket, but this time, you have to buy! It’s at $1.3 billion!” my friend told me Sunday morning after davening.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “Usually, I don’t buy because the prize is so small—you know, just $150 million. Not worth the effort. But when it’s over a billion, that’s different,” I said with a laugh.
We spoke about the big “What If?” What would we do with the Powerball winnings? How would our lives change?
A third congregant joined the conversation. “I know very well how my life would change if I won,” he said. “I’d lose every meaningful relationship I ever had.” Seeing our surprised faces, he continued: “I wouldn’t be able to ever know if my friends really enjoyed my company and appreciated my corny jokes, or just appreciated the new size of my pockets. And when my nephew comes to us for the Passover seder, would it be because he loves his uncle, or because he’s planning to go to an Ivy League college and is looking for a sponsor?”
On the way home from services, I kept on debating whether or not I should buy a lottery ticket. Letting my imagination run wild, I envisioned the moment I would scan my ticket and the green neon text would flash: “You won $1,300,000,000.” (Is that how it works? And then everyone around you starts clapping with excitement? If you ever won the lottery, use the comment section to share the details.)
But then, after all the excitement and the phone calls and the news reports, you’re left to begin a new life. And there are so many risks associated with that—with becoming a millionaire overnight.
First, there is that relationship issue.
Then, there is a real fear that you might start to become something different, perhaps more arrogant, the money going to your head. All of a sudden, you feel better, smarter and more successful than everyone else. No one around you will dare to challenge that, and very quickly that can make you a pretty lousy person.
Maybe one of the greatest risks is the real possibility that you will simply squander all the money. Without proper knowledge, I’d be easily persuaded to buy some real estate on an obscure Caribbean island, just to find out that the investment was not worth much. And yes, it is true: Many lottery winners lost their entire fortunes due to bad decision-making.
I still don’t know if I’ll buy a ticket or not. But all of it makes me realize that those risks are something we all face.
Because if we are honest with ourselves, we all are already rich. We all have some unique gifts and talents. Most likely, we didn’t wake up one morning and realize that we had them; we worked hard to develop those G‑d-given gifts and formed them into something we could be proud of.
Every person is rich. Some of us know how to write; others know how to speak. Some have tremendous talent in working with children; others have love and empathy that can brighten an elderly person’s life. Some know how to play a musical instrument; others can drive heavy machinery with ease. And some of us were blessed with the gift of material abundance as well.
But then, are we perhaps a bit arrogant due to those gifts? Do we look down on people who don’t possess the same gifts that we have? And the most important questions of all: Are we investing our skills in the right places? Are we mindful of the One Who gave us those gifts, and are we using them to fulfill His desire that we use them to make the world a better, holier place?
Will I ever win the lottery? Will you? Most likely, the answer is no. But there is a lottery you’ve already won. Let’s use those assets wisely.