Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

Lucky at Cards

Cohen women lighting candles

I have been playing a lot of bridge lately.  Not in person, of course, but with friends of my, online, with each of us safely in our own homes, three of us in Denver, and one in New York.  The wonders of the intimacy of the internet.  This past Sunday, out of the first eight hands, four of my hands had fewer than 6 points. That is remarkably bad luck.  Last week, I had a run of 5 hands out six, also with fewer than 6 points.  I am starting to wonder if Gd intervenes in card game, and to what end?  Is there a message for me here?

But I davened this morning and everything, I protested to my friends.  They laughed.  Perhaps I have appeased Gd, but angered the bridge gods instead.

Of course, I don’t believe among all things that Ribono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe is taking care of, that my bridge game is top on Gd’s mind.  There are surely more pressing issues: the pandemic, the economy, wild fires here in Colorado, people without enough money for rent or food, racial justice. . .  And weird distributions happen in bridge games, in any card games, all the times.  It is easy to see patterns where there are none.

There are bridge superstitions – luck is with those who sit with the tub – that is, when you are playing bridge in someone’s home, you get better cards if you are parallel with the bathtub in the house.  But what if there is more than one bathtub and they are cross-wise with one another?  Sex on the same day as bridge brings one bad lucky: lucky in love, not so much in cards.  Perhaps if one’s relationship is going well, she will not mind not “scoring” at bridge.  I would not presume to say one way or the other.

I don’t really believe any of those fantasies either, just as I certainly don’t believe in the idea that I have somehow upset the “bridge gods,” or that “bridge gods” indeed exist at all.

So why do we speak of things like this?

It seems that even here, in small things like playing cards, we humans are meaning-makers.  There has to be reason my cards are turning up without points.  The idea that my rotten bridge hands (over and over again) could be random irks us, even frightens us.  If we can find a pattern here, a  cause, an explanation – luck, gods, the Master of the Universe – even if that rationale is one that is upsetting (Gd is punishing me), that comforts us.  Gd is in charge, even of bridge hands.  And, thus, the reasoning might go, if I pray enough, if I do Gd’s will, eventually, Gd will send me better cards.

But what if that isn’t true – and not just with cards?  The idea of Divine Providence, of Hashgacha Pratit, that Gd takes care of each of us, on an individual basis, is a difficult one:  we all know good people who are suffering, of people who seem to prosper without reason.  None of us can crack the problem of theodicy (why bad things happen to good people, and vice versa), certainly not in one short blog post.  I just don’t want my faith shaken because of a run of bad hands at bridge.

It is scary, to believe that no one is charge, that bridge hands and cancer alike, happen for no reason, that mild bad luck and/or devastation can strike us and there is, ultimately, without it being our fault – or within our control.

Of course, there are things we can do. We take care of our health, to prevent disease, just as we take care to have reasonable shelter from storms and the like.  We supervise our children, but also give them freedom.  It is a balancing act – shuffling the cards we have, and then working to have the resources to play those hands that we are dealt.  And at times – once in a while, or even for a run of hands – those hands will be bad ones, devoid of points.

Where is Gd?  Present with us, I hope.  The Shechinah, Gd’s Divine Indwelling, is no less with us just because our luck, as it were, is bad, or because we are suffering.  It is then that we need to do reach out to Gd the most. “ םן המצר קראתי ה׳ From the depths I called out to  Gd.”

And as for Divine Providence, or more specifically, the idea that Gd is watching out for me, in particular (for each one of us, individually)?  Hashgacha pratit is lived out not in getting a better hand at bridge but in the joy I had in the playing of the game, with friends, laughing over my run of bad cards.  Sure, I didn’t get to bid with my hand, but I still had fun, complaining, mocking myself, being teased by my friends.  And, every once in a while, I even unexpectedly took a trick – hashgacha pratit indeed.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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