July 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Check your pockets; if you purchased a lottery ticket a few weeks ago, you may have the winning ticket. As of this writing, the $1.5 billion mega millions jackpot has still not been claimed.

The winner, who beat the odds of 1 in 302 million, has 180 days to collect before the ticket expires. In 2015, a California Powerball winner lost his ticket and his $1 million prize. Despite the fact that surveillance footage showed him making the purchase, because he lost the actual ticket he couldn’t collect his winnings. Last year, Jimmie Smith of East Orange, New Jersey, found a lottery ticket worth $24 million in an old shirt hanging in his closet just before the one-year deadline.

A few weeks ago everyone was buzzing about the lottery. It was the one question everyone seemed to be asking—“Did you buy a lottery ticket?” Many of my students in both yeshivos I work in asked me the question. They were surprised when I told them that even if I bought lottery tickets, I wouldn’t have now because it’s too much money to win.

Many people feel that they would know exactly what to do if they won the lottery. The many stories of lives destroyed by sudden windfalls notwithstanding, they feel that they would know how to proceed.

In a 2010 article, CNN reported that a British privacy protection firm reported that only one in five Londoners would try to track down the owner of a lost wallet they found on the street. When asked, three-fifths of people said they would do so, but when researches dropped wallets in different areas, they found that the overwhelming majority of people did not do so. Only 20 percent of wallets were returned, and only 55 percent of those returned contained the original sum of money.

The great chasidic rebbe Rav Chaim Sanzer once turned to three of his chasidim who were sitting together. He asked the first one what he would do if he found a wallet that had in it a tremendous amount of money. The chasid immediately replied that he would return it without hesitation. The rebbe waved him off, “Fool!” He then turned to the second chasid and repeated the question. Seeing the rebbe’s response to his friend, the second chasid replied that he would keep the money. The rebbe’s voice thundered, “Thief!” Then he turned to the third chasid and repeated the question. The chasid nervously replied, “Rebbe, I would hope that I would have the inner strength to return the money!” The rebbe nodded approvingly. That was the correct response.

We are very confident and perhaps even cocky that, placed in a challenging situation, we would unquestionably maintain our integrity and respond according to our convictions. But a person needs to always be aware of his inclinations. One must constantly worry that perhaps he has not sufficiently developed his sense of integrity and his moral compass to ensure that he would follow his own values even in a compromising situation.

The truth is that it’s not just about money and winning the lottery. In the July 2017 edition of the Atlantic there was an article published titled “Power Causes Brain Damage.” The article quotes recent research that demonstrates how the brains of people put into powerful positions actually change. Most significantly, they become less empathetic and tend to treat their subordinates with more disregard.

That only further demonstrates to us the incredible greatness of our Torah leaders. It’s not just that they are humble and the epitome of love, empathy, and caring. It’s also that they reach such levels despite the fact that they are accorded so much honor and deference. That humility is what makes them into a gadol.

For all of us it is a humbling message that we must always be wary of the effect that all promotions and growth can have on us if we aren’t careful. There are indeed individuals who have become rich and famous who have not allowed their newfound wealth and position to severely alter their personalities. But unfortunately, there are many who did.

Mesillas Yesharim cautions us that everything in life is a test—poverty and wealth. The question always is: what did you do with it?

By Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking for “Instant Inspiration” on the parsha in under five minutes? Follow him on Torahanytime.com.

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