Here in California, the week before Purim, we've had an outbreak of "Lotto Fever." No one had won the lottery in California 11 straight times. As a result, the 12th lottery had swelled to a new jackpot record of almost $200 million. In the final days, people were grabbing up tickets at almost $100,000 dollars a minute.
At the end of Shabbat there was less than an hour to purchase lottery tickets, and people at our local synagogue speculated and dreamed about what they would do with that much money:
"Think of all the good you could do." "Think of all the sins you could do!"
Personally, I've never been into the lottery and didn't buy a ticket. I'm Mr. Logical, figuring out that for every dollar I put into the lottery, I would only get back about 53 cents. My wife, however, has a different attitude -- she did buy a California lottery ticket, once.
Do you feel lucky?
Before you buy a lottery ticket, let me ask you: "In general, do you feel lucky?" Think about the odds of your unique existence. Given all the people in the universe, the odds of your mother and father meeting and producing you are so infinitesimal that you would be just as likely to have won the $200 million lottery three billion times in a row, give or take a little.
And that's just counting the people alive today. Had anything turned out differently for any of our ancestors, we wouldn't be ourselves. The odds were amazingly against us, and yet we specifically were born.
Were we just lucky? Yes, and no. Had you won the lottery once, you might say you were lucky. But had you won the lottery three times in a row, let alone three billion times, that can't be just luck -- it must be a setup!
And indeed you were setup. While it may seem like Life is random, and that things happen for no reason, this is antithetical to Judaism and a meaningful life. In reality, all that happens is directed and controlled by God Himself.
The story of Purim is a revelation of how, even when it appeared as if God was ignoring the Jewish people, He was, in fact, orchestrating their dramatic redemption.
In the story, the wicked Prime Minister Haman wanted to kill all the Jews on a day chosen by lottery. By the casting of lots ("Purim" in Hebrew), Haman makes clear to the world that there is no coincidence! The unexpected jackpot in Haman's lottery was to dramatically demonstrate God's will in saving the Jewish People, and in turn giving each one of us life.
Give to Receive
It is no coincidence then that at the end of the whole Megillah (Book of Esther) it says that on Purim we should give gifts to the poor. Why is this a mitzvah on Purim? I have a theory.
I've heard it said that the only money you really have is the charity you've given. Everything else can disappear. Your house can be foreclosed, your job with the paycheck can disappear, and your retirement portfolio can tank. But the charity you gave away, no one can take away.
By giving, you have a real and positive effect on the world. You've allowed those homeless to have shelter, those hungry to eat, those without clothes to be warm, and those wrongly imprisoned to be free. You have had power and influence over others, for their good. You were created in God's image, and you took some of your resources and acted like God.
Purim reminds us that -- yes -- we were given a great opportunity, against all odds, in being alive. But that opportunity is only justified when we do the right thing, by remembering those less fortunate, and open up our purses.
Which takes me back to my wife. Yes, she did buy a California lottery ticket, once. But that was five years ago. She still carries it with her in her purse. None of the numbers are scratched off.
She doesn't need the State of California to tell her that she has won. She already knows that. It's just nice to be reminded, whenever she opens her purse.