Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Neighbors and Partners
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

A Lot of Lottery


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Elul 12 5779
Moshe leaned further back in his recliner, as he continued turning the pages of the newspaper lying across his lap. The writing wasn’t of the highest quality, but, frankly, he was less interested in the content of the articles than in their soporific effects. His late night reading seemed to be having the effect he intended. Moshe was about to close the newspaper, and head for bed, when an advertisement caught his eye. 50 million shekel! Could it be? The local lottery was usually for much smaller amounts, and Moshe had bought a ticket here and there, but hadn’t taken much interest in the past. But 50 million shekel? Now that was a lottery worthy of his attention!
Moshe’s eyelids, formerly at half mast, were now fully open, as he grabbed his phone out of his pocket. "Yossi!" Moshe exclaimed. "I need your help with something!"
"Of course, Moshe. Anything to help a friend. Is everything OK?" Yossi responded
"It’s more than OK!" Moshe gushed. "There’s going to be a 50 million shekel lottery drawing. Just think what I could do with the kind of money!"
"Uh, that’s great Moshe. But what does that have to do with me?" Yossi inquired.
"Yossi, my friend." Moshe paused. "We both know that you’re a Torah scholar. With the merit that you have, you can pray for me to win the lottery! You know what, and if I win, I’ll give you a percentage."
"OK, Moshe. It’s a deal."
With Yossi’s prayer behind him, Moshe went and bought the ticket. A week later his phone rang.
"We’re pleased to let you know that you’ve won 5 million shekel!"
"What?" Moshe yelled into the phone. "But this was a 50 million shekel lottery!"
"The sum total of prizes being awarded is 50 million shekel. You are one of the lucky winners!"
Moshe wasn’t sure what to think. Yes he’d won, but 5 million shekel was hardly the lottery winning of his dreams. Soon he had Yossi on the phone.
"Yossi, I won 5 million shekel in the lottery. I thought that I could win 50 million, but the truth is that the prize is being divided among a few different winners." Moshe took a deep breath. "Yossi, this means that I don’t have to give you a percentage."
"I don’t understand you, Moshe. You asked me to pray for you to win the lottery, and you won!"
"Yossi, I wouldn’t have entered the lottery if I had known that it was for such a small amount. There’s a weekly lottery for that amount, and I never asked you to pray for me for that. I only asked you to pray for me, because I thought I could win 50 million, so I don’t owe you anything!"
Who is correct? Does Moshe have to share his earnings with Yossi or not?

Answer of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt"l:
The matter is very straightforward. If Moshe knew that the prayers of a Torah scholar would win him 4.5 million shekel, he would agree to give the Torah scholar a tenth of his earnings. Moshe’s argument, that he can prove that he wouldn’t have made a deal with Yossi for only 5 million shekel, because Moshe doesn’t make that deal for the weekly lotteries for smaller amounts, is just a lie! If Moshe insists on his contention, he should swear that his words are true. If Moshe refuses to swear, his words cannot be relied upon. The fact that Moshe never asked Yossi in the past, is only because the idea never entered Moshe’s mind before. When the prize was listed as 50 million shekel, the idea of praying for success occurred to him.

In summary:Moshe is obligated to honor his commitment to Yossi, and pay him a percentage of his earnings
(based on the book Kav V’naki, siman 314, page 287)

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