July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

One thing that never sat well with me was the idea of bribing children to do good things. Prizes for brushing your teeth, mitzvah notes for not hitting your sister, and cash awards for cleaning your room. You’re supposed to be good for nothing—I mean, without pay!

The truth is, though, that it’s not only OK, but recommended to bribe kids to do the right thing. It gets them into the habit of doing them and someday, hopefully, they’ll be so accustomed to doing them that they will continue on their own and see the benefits of doing so.

One popular mode of enticement is a raffle. Give kids tickets for doing something good and then pull a ticket out of a hat or box and give the winner a prize. It works for adults too, as can be seen by the myriad raffles and Chinese auctions that are held all the time.

But what happens when you lose? Well, if we’ve given money to a tzedakah we care about, or even one we don’t care about if the potential prize was big enough, then we’re usually OK. Kids may have a more challenging time. I recall one Bnos event where my then 4-year-old daughter was really hoping to win the raffle. When she didn’t, she began to bawl. I tried to console her to no avail. Finally, my neighbor pretended to pull a ticket out of his shirt pocket and called my daughter’s name aloud. “You win a free Slurpee!” he said. She was so excited that she’d won that she stopped crying. I gladly bought her the frozen treat and thanked my friend for his quick thinking.

But you can’t always get a prize. It’s not healthy and it’s not realistic. I took note of an interesting phenomenon related to this as I entered my shul on a few Sunday mornings over the past couple of months. Quite often I’d see the floor of the shul littered with small bits of gray cardboard.

In a previous incarnation, these had been raffle tickets given to the boys who came to learn in the shul on Motzei Shabbos. Before the raffle they held these tickets tightly and hopefully, looking forward to the prizes they knew they would win. And then the drawing took place.

In life, not everybody wins. There could be a number of prizes, but usually not enough for everyone to win one. When these boys stood in rapt attention as the winning ticket numbers were called out, they had dreams of winning. When they lost, something happened and those tickets not only lost all their value, but became objects of distaste and dissatisfaction. Simply having these worthless tickets in hand became annoying, so they shredded the tickets and tossed them to the ground. (No word on why their parents didn’t point out the inappropriateness of this action.)

Instead of realizing that these tickets meant they did something good, and that they deserved a chance to be rewarded, they see them as a waste of time, though hopefully that’s not how they look at the time they spent learning. But it’s not only the tickets that get torn up.

When someone doesn’t know how to take disappointment, he himself gets torn up. He is conflicted and pulled in opposite directions by the forces of what he wants and what he gets. When a person has lost his senses and become mentally unstable, the Gemara calls it “meturaf daato,” his mind is torn. We’re not talking merely about someone with mental illness, but about someone who simply can’t reconcile the things that happen to him with the plans he had in mind.

He, like the little kids staring at their losing raffle tickets, starts to feel that his life is worthless in its current state. He gives in to despair simply because he doesn’t get what he thought was very important to him. It may be more than a toy or game. It may be a job, or a spouse, or a certain honor he coveted. People have even come to blows over who gets maftir for a yahrtzeit, Rachmana litzlan!

When we feel ourselves being all torn up over things we need to pull ourselves together and remember that nothing happens by chance—not even a raffle drawing. Just as the Land of Israel was divided by a lottery system yet each tribe and family got the land best suited for its size and needs, so does Hashem decide what our lots in life will be and make sure that’s what comes up in our hands.

If we can keep in mind that though right now it seems the only important thing in the world is winning that prize, someday we may understand that it was not meant for us, or that it was an important lesson for us to be disappointed here, or even that we were saved from a sorry fate by not getting what we wanted. When we can accept that all that happens to us is exactly what we would choose for ourselves if we knew all the variables, we will be able to feel like winners, no matter what odds we seem to be up against.


Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. Email [email protected] and put Subscribe in the subject.

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