Let’s Place Our Bets Carefully

From the Rabbi’s Study


Let’s Place Our Bets Carefully

The man sitting on the park bench facing the synagogue was a picture of dejection. His shabby clothes looked as if he had slept in them, and his tired face was covered by a heavy growth. Overcome by pity for the unfortunate, the rabbi pressed a ten-dollar bill into his hand and whispered, “Godspeed,” and left.

The next morning the man burst into the rabbi’s study and, with obvious delight, threw a fistful of bills on the rabbi’s desk.

“Rabbi,” he exclaimed. “Godspeed paid fourteen to one!”

A suggestive truth leaps at us from this humorous anecdote. Like the charitable rabbi, we are all gamblers–whether we realize it or not. Even those of us who have strong objections to gambling with money gamble all the time with much more precious stakes.

● When we fall in love, we gamble.
● When we decide to have a child, we gamble.
● When we choose a career, we gamble.

We don’t usually think of scientists as gamblers, but in the laboratory the odds against the researcher are often monstrously high and the chips are long, hard sacrificial years–the very stuff of life.

On August 31, 1909, the German-Jewish chemist and bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich discover his “magic bullet,” the most effective cure for syphilis. He called the compound 606, because it had been preceded by 605 failures!

The following year he was honored by his colleagues. When he rose to acknowledge their lavish tributes, Ehrlich offered, “You say a great work of the mind, a wonderful scientific achievement! My dear colleagues, for seven years of misfortune I had one moment of good luck.”

His biographer writes of him: “At bottom Paul Ehrlich was a gambler, as who of the great line of microbe hunters has not been? Ehrlich bet on humanity, and his long shot paid off.

If we trace any blessing far enough back, we usually will find that we owe it to someone who gambled for it and won.

● Abraham left everything behind to gamble on a promise that he would become a founder of a great idea and a great people.
● Moses left the luxury and the security of palace life to gamble on the ideals of liberty and freedom.
● We Jews have gambled thousands upon thousands of lives and millions upon millions of dollars gambling on the idea of Zion as a solution to the perennial homelessness and powerlessness of the Jewish people.

More than we usually realize, we owe so much to those who risked so much.

When we decide to live moral and ethical lives, we gamble. We bet
● on honesty to win over dishonesty;
● on kindness to prevail over cruelty;
● on selflessness to overcome loneliness;
● on justice to defeat injustice;
● on peace to conquer war;
● on community to triumph over hatred;
● on faith in G!d to overcome despair.

We are as big as the things on which we bet our lives.

So let’s place our best carefully.

Kein y’hi ratzon. So may it be, for all of us.

Rabbi J.B. Sacks