Yakov Saacks

POWERBALL LOTTERY: The good, bad & the ugly



The Powerball lottery is up to the staggering number of $1.5 billion dollars. This is a boatload of money. While it is true this amount can be paid over a few decades, if you choose to take it all in one lump sum, $700 million is pretty darn good.

I remember writing an article about a fellow from Michigan who won a $2 million lottery jackpot in 2010 and was found dead a decade later. The body of Mr. Leroy Fick was found floating in a Michigan river.

The reporter continued that Mr. Fick, from Auburn, won the jackpot in 2010, and after about two years, the money was gone. Fick spent $200,000 on the construction of a new home and about $200,000 in annuities, in addition to losing money in investments and fireworks.


It is mind boggling to me that a person receives a gift straight from heaven and then squanders it. Not only was $2 million lost, it happened in only 24 months. There must be some reasonable explanation to clarify how someone goes from rags to riches in a quick decline.


Of course, the most obvious explanation is that there were bad actors involved who made themselves available to “take care” of the newbie’s newfound wealth and then proceeded to wreak havoc on his bank account.


One explanation is that when a person not only goes from rags to riches, but also goes from rags to riches to rags again, it is usually because the newly wealthy person may be so overwhelmed with so much money so quickly that the individual is not comfortable with their new station. It is not unlike a prisoner being released from incarceration after 20 years, feeling uncomfortable on the outside and having a very difficult time acclimating to their new reality. Someone told me recently that ironically, they are more content being depressed, as it is so familiar and comfortable.


I once read that actor Nicholas Cage, who was a top earner worth $150 million, could not hold on to his money and squandered it on some strange and eccentric purchases, eventually facing foreclosure on several properties and owing the IRS $6.3 million in property taxes. To give you an idea of the eccentricity involved, he owned not one, two, or three homes, but fifteen residences, including two castles, islands and a pet octopus. This is another case of money overload.


There is another explanation gleaned from the Kabbalah that is fascinating as well as practical. As you may know, Adam & Eve were introduced to the Garden of Eden and told, “You may eat from every tree, except this one in the middle.” Can you imagine being Adam & Eve? They had every available fruit and veggie at their whim. They had grapes, dates, oranges, mangos, papaya, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, etc. They could eat whatever and whenever they wanted as a gift from God at no charge. There was one expectation that they should not eat fruit from a particular tree. Everything else was free game and allowed except one single solitary tree. What did they do? They ate from the forbidden fruit and were promptly punished. They were booted out of the Garden of Eden. Now all of a sudden, they had to grow their own produce, by the sweat of their brow.

The Kabbalah explains what happened here with an interesting analysis. The Kabbalah calls this “Bread of Shame.” Bread of Shame is what Adam & Eve felt when every single one of their needs and whims were met without earning it, without working for it. They felt unworthy and embarrassed that they were on God’s welfare program. This feeling of unworthiness eventually led to resentment, which eventually led them to an attitude of not caring anymore about what God says because they lacked nothing. In other words, spoiled children whose parents do everything for them rebel against the very same people who take care of them. This is truly a case of biting the hand that feeds you.


It is fascinating to read the punishments that Adam & Eve received. They had to now work, and work hard for their sustenance. No more freebies being thrown their way. God took them off the payroll because He was not appreciated and was completely taken for granted. Their new life entailed having to work for their supper, which enhanced their self-esteem. They earned it and therefore it felt so much better.

Secondly, God introduced mortality. Living forever will allow people to rest on their laurels. I have all the time in the world, why do this today when I can do it tomorrow. This is also a form of “Bread of Shame.” Not appreciating that every moment counts. The timer on the clock is counting down, etc.

Thirdly, God promised that not only childbirth will be difficult, but also child rearing. If our children sail through their upbringing with no issues whatsoever — no calls from the teacher or principals, no drama with the neighbor’s kids and no hospital visits to cast yet another broken bone — then the child will become invisible or at the very least very low profile. God wants us to appreciate our kids by creating them with instructions, “Don’t let your parents rest, kid. Give them a run for their money.” This way, the hard work we put into their upbringing will allow us to appreciate them even more.

The bottom line is this. Being born with a silver spoon can be a blessing or a curse as money can be a blessing or a curse. I think Philo, a Greco-Jewish philosopher in first century Alexandria said, “The family, the land and all of humankind can ultimately be destroyed as a result of failure to suppress desires for various pleasures.” My Hebrew teachers (who were probably poor) were fond of saying, “Being wealthy is a bigger test than being poor.”

Having said the above, I still pray to win the lottery. As my friend’s father was oft to say, “I have been poor and I have been rich, and it is much better to be rich.”

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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