Are You Feeling Lucky?
“Are you feeling lucky?” the dealer calls out as he rolls the dice.
We often ask ourselves this question in the casino of life, too. But luck may be very different from what we perceive.
In his book Eyes Wide Open, Isaac Lipsky shares a fascinating concept about luck and how we perceive it. Isaac became blind at the age of 13, but he believes it was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to him.
He describes a scene from a casino:
Imagine you are playing at the roulette table and you win big on your final spin! The casino’s owner watches you from above, cursing his loss. “How could I be so unlucky?” he shouts.
Such a scene is actually ridiculous. Your winnings, even if they are quite large, don’t have any true bearing on the casino’s financial success. The casino–aka the house–facilitates countless transactions every day. Added together, customers’ bets more than make up for the house’s losses. Therefore, the house wins not due to luck, but because the odds are rigged in its favor.
In life, you are already the house, and the game is rigged for you to win. Consider this: “400 million people do not have access to essential health services. 975 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle. Three billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. 1.1 billion people lack adequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.”
By simply having these things, you already have an edge in life. You are the house.
So, you may ask, why do I often feel unlucky?
We feel this way when looking at life in one particularly bad moment, or during a challenging time, rather than as a whole. When only considering present troubles, we misunderstand our real luck.
Below are three stories that further illustrate this concept.
FLAT TIRE AND FIRE
One morning my husband left early to run an errand before work. While parking, he felt a bump under his car and discovered an iron rod laying on the ground, giving his tire a flat.
He drove to the mechanic, expecting to pay for a simple tire change. But apparently, the tire and rim needed to be special ordered, and would take more time for repair. All of this came out to a whopping $2,500.
Although frustrated, my husband and I chalked it up to kapara. He came home, and would take my car to get to work.
Meanwhile, our teenager was also home sick that morning. While Josh prepared his breakfast, I was upstairs getting ready for the day.
I came downstairs twenty minutes later to see my husband and son wiping down a kitchen filled with ash, soot, and powder from the fire extinguisher.
They explained that while my son was heating a bagel in the microwave, it randomly combusted. My son had used the microwave as usual, but it randomly broke and a fire started.
Had my husband not gotten the flat tire, he would have never been home when the fire started. I didn’t hear any noise from the kitchen, and would not have realized something was happening below.
My husband was able to act quickly and extinguish the fire. I shudder to think what could have happened had he not been home. My son didn’t even know where the extinguisher was kept.
An unlucky event turned out to be our greatest blessing in preventing a fire–a kapara in the truest sense.
HAND OF FATE
Rabbi Yoel Gold shares the following incredible story.
Erez Shmulian was training to be a paratrooper in the Israeli army. Standing at the door of the airplane 25,000 feet in the air, Erez had no idea this jump would change his life’s trajectory forever.
During training, Erez had learned about a yellow cord called the static line, which connects to the plane and helps open the parachute bag in order for the paratrooper to land safely.
By fluke, when Erez jumped, the static cord became entangled with his hand. As Erez fell closer towards the ground, the cord pulled tighter at his hand, until it actually detached from his wrist.
Erez told Rabbi Gold, “The parachute opened. I raised my hand up and suddenly I see, wow. I don’t have a hand.”
He was brought to the hospital along with his hand, which they somehow found. Thanks to a 14-hour surgery they were able to reattach it, but he never regained full function of his hand.
Despite this traumatic event, Erez was able to move forward. He married and had a child, and lived in an area called Har Habracha. In 2001, during the height of the intifada, Erez was driving with his family on the highway.
“All of a sudden, three terrorists came out of nowhere and started shooting at us. They were wearing IDF uniforms. We were hit, and injured on our heads. The blood splattered all over the place.”
He recalled looking at his family, covered in blood. His wife was already reciting shema. Erez was screaming and crying, unsure of what to do. He wanted to speed away, but there was a car blocking the road. His only choice was to turn around, but the road seemed too narrow. A quick U-turn would save their lives, but turning sharply for any other car would have been an impossibility. Because of Erez’s hand, he had a tool installed on his steering wheel called a spinner knob that helped him maneuver the car.
“With Hashem’s help, I managed to make a quick U-turn. With the spinner knob, we escaped as quickly as possible. The first injury in the IDF, the amputation of my hand, is what saved us from the dangerous event in 2001.”
Rabbi Gold ended his interview, “As we travel on the road of life, all of us encounter difficult and challenging moments. Sometimes life can feel so unfair. This story reminds us that it is precisely in those moments of stagnation and paralysis that Hashem, who sees the bigger picture, is looking out for us. What is a tragedy or disappointment today can end up saving a life tomorrow.”
Rabbi Yoel Gold shares another amazing story.
Mordechai Fishman was the gabbay for a minyan on Simchat Torah. While dancing, he bumped into another man and the Torah fell to the floor. The man who dropped it turned white and raced out of the room, embarrassed.
Everyone was shocked and didn’t know what to do.
Mordechai tried to change the mood, “We can’t allow this mistake to ruin the atmosphere of Simchat Torah. We have to get everyone back into it.”
However, no one was interested in celebrating anymore. They dragged their feet and hardly clapped. The man who dropped the Torah was distraught outside the sanctuary and refused to return.
Someone had the idea to honor the Torah that fell by utilizing it to begin Bereshit. After reciting the bracha, the baal koreh hesitated, starting at the fallen scroll open in front of him.
People began to grow uncomfortable and say, “There was a bracha, you need to start right away.”
The man motioned for the congregants to approach and look at what he saw.
The words bereishit bara were missing from the scroll. Because of this, the Torah that fell wasn’t ever completed. They rolled it up and left the room to show the man who dropped it.
When they showed him, he breathed a sigh of relief.
They located the owner of the Torah and told him about the missing words. He was shocked at first. Then he remembered, “The sofer explained a custom of leaving a couple of words at the beginning and end for people to write in before the hachnasat Sefer Torah, and suggested we do the same.”
But they had forgotten all about this when it came time to dedicate the Torah.
Initially, the man who dropped the Torah was devastated. Then he realized that because he dropped it, the Torah actually became complete.
So too in our own lives, we are all incomplete. Every time we fall, it is an opportunity for growth. Our imperfections can actually help us to soar.
In each of these stories, the initial moment was disastrous. Later, the gift of that moment was revealed. ‘Luck,’ as we know it, doesn’t exist. Each aspect of our lives is directed by the “house”—Hashem.
So tell me, are you feeling lucky?
 Lipsky, Isaac, Eyes Wide Open, pg. 160-164