Several years ago, we received a gorgeous glossy envelope in the mail. While I consider myself a no-nonsense mail sorter, this envelope was so tantalizing I could not resist but open it. Its innards did not disappoint. My youngest son, 9 or 10 at the time, was sitting next to me, with his eyes about to pop out of his head. What appeared to be a simple 8”x8” magazine page, unfolded cleverly until we were holding a humongous poster sized fundraising promotional for a Jewish cause in the New York area.
While I was still gazing with amazement at the graphical masterpiece, my son had honed in on the incredible prizes being auctioned. I am talking about things like an all-expense-paid-vacation week in Hawaii, a brand-new car, a $1,000 shopping spree, box seat tickets to major sports games, and the list went on and on.
The fundraising strategy was ingenious. They based the concept on a lottery system. Just $18.00 dollars would buy the bidder a single ticket to be considered for one of the prizes. The larger the donation (in small increments), the more prizes the bidder was eligible for. The benefits were exponentially promising — likely requiring the application of some sophisticated game theory to determine the best ticket number to prizes ratio.
I knew where this was going with my son — think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the search for the Golden Ticket. I quickly assessed the situation. First and foremost — this was a worthy charitable cause. Second — there were many learning opportunities to be gained by entering. I decided we could buy 10 tickets and that he could choose how he wanted to delegate them. This was most definitely an atypical event in our house. Entries were due within three days and the winners would be announced a month later at a gala event in New York.
With approximately 100 prizes available, and 10 tickets, my son had a lot of thinking to do. He carefully read and researched each prize, followed by serious consultation with his siblings. He chose prizes for each family member individually, some for the family as a whole, and, of course, a prize or two for himself that he really wanted.
We hung the poster up as our countdown reminder to the big day. For two weeks straight, my son was walking on air brimming with excitement and hopefulness that he would win his dream prize. Around week 3, he came home looking distressed.
“Mom”, he confided in me, “I have been praying every morning at school that I will win my prize, but what if I don’t?”
I then told him the advice I recently heard relayed in one of Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s famous stories. This particular story was true — the rabbi had been invited to conduct a bris at a woman’s home. After the ceremony he went into the kitchen to get a coffee. He found another woman crying there. At first, she did not want to say what was bothering her, but after a little encouragement she told the rabbi that this was the third bris she had attended for her friend and that through all those years she had been praying for a child of her own, but G-d had not heard her prayers. She began to sob and ask the rabbi why G-d was not answering her. The rabbi said that while he could not know G-d’s reasons, he could share Judaism’s prescription for dealing with pain and personal struggles. He advised her to seek out another person suffering in an even more severe way than she was from the same issue, and to pray for that person and help her with all her heart in a committed manner. He assured her that from his years of experience good would come from it. She had heeded his advice. A year later the woman called the rabbi to thank him because she had given birth to a baby boy.
So…I suggested to my son that perhaps he should think deeply about another child who might really need one of those prizes and pray that he or she receive what they really need. Very satisfied with that advice, he went on his way and that final week he walked with intensity and intention.
The night of the gala was uneventful. Those were the days before live streaming, so we had a regular evening. The day after was also quiet. But then we got a phone call — and it wasn’t what you might expect. My daughter had won (from a ticket and prize my son selected for her) the $1,000 shopping spree at a girl’s clothing store in New York!
Somewhere between flabbergasted and dumbfounded, my son was a whirlwind of emotions. The thrill of winning — even though not for himself, disappointment in losing because he did not get any of the prizes he personally wanted, awe and recognition of the power of prayer, joy in making his sister so happy, and profound gratitude that he had been able to have the experience altogether.
By praying for or helping another in need, Jewish tradition does not predict the outcome, but does assure that something good will come of it.
With this idea in mind, a few years ago, I joined the Board of Jeremy’s Circle. Now is the time of year we hold our annual Jeremy’s Circle’s Rosh Hashana Card competition. This year’s theme is “What Fills Your Cup?” While acknowledging the “half-empty” we may feel in our lives, we hope by articulating, through artistic expression, what makes us “half-full,” we will experience a sense of gratitude for the goodness in our lives.
As we enter the high holiday season, may each of your cups runneth over with good health, happiness, and success. Don’t forget to ask yourself “What Fills your Cup?” Shanah Tova!