I have a confession to make – I bought a lottery ticket for the New York Mega Millions. After all, you’ve got to be in it to win it and Friday night, winning it means winning more than half a billion dollars. True, the lump sum payout after taxes comes to only $257,000,000 but I think my family can make do with that amount.
Now, I am not foolish, I know that I am not going to win. After all, the odds of winning the lottery is 1 in 175,711,536. 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 halachicly appropriate 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, faith, for if God wants you to win, you can win with the one ticket.
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 too theoretical to be contemplated seriously and so the way I see it, a dollar is a small amount to pay for the license to dream. However, since the likelihood is that the license to dream is all the dollar will get you, buying more tickets won’t expand your license and won’t meaningfully increase your chances and therefore, would be a waste of money.
So far my dollar has been well spent as Yocheved and I are having fun figuring out the answers to those questions. But, don’t get me wrong, we haven’t given up hope that our dreams can become a reality.