Re: Probability

wwide@erols.com
Sun, 03 Aug 1997 19:33:20 -0700

Bart Stall wrote:
<< Lets say that Mr. X plays the lottery or games of chance... As a Frum
Jew(I know that gambling is prohibited) He buys x amount of lottery
tickets.. Usually the more tickets, the better his 'odds' of winning... But
what about the people who buy just one ticket... These people say that 'If
Hashem wants me to win, I only need one ticket'..This seems to be a
contradiction... And this is the part that is fascinating... look.... There
seems to be two schools here.... 1.Hashem's law that He knows all and He
controls EVERYTHING.. 2. Hashems law of PROBABILITY... They don't seem to
jive with each other.. If he only buys one ticket, he is subscribing to
law #1.. Have faith in Hashem and He will make it happen if it is to be...
And not subscribing to Hashem's law of Probability and Statistics... If he
does the opposite it 'seems' like he is trying to "outsmart" Hashem and
increase his 'odds' of winning...Does he buy x+y amount of tickets and then
he will 'change' Hashem's mind?? I am anxious to hear other responses and
opinions >>

By way of explanation, there's a popular joke that goes something like
this: Mort davins(prays) every day: "G-d, please let me win the lottery."
He talks to G-d every day, the same thing over and over: "G-d, please let
me win the lottery." Years go by; nothing happens. Mort turns to a friend
one night and says, "There is no G-d; I keep davining that I should win the
lottery and nothing happens." Suddenly a bas Kol (Heavenly voice) rings
out, "MORT, YOU'RE WRONG. THERE IS A G-D, AND THIS IS HE." Mort raises
his fist to the heavens, and cries out, "Nu? So if you really exist, how
come you haven't let me win the lottery?" and the bas Kol replies, "MORT:
BUY A TICKET!"

This joke brings out many issues: (First of all, just for the record, the
lottery isn't considered gambling in the conventional sense (like making
bets on the horses or a football game, for example).) I don't know all the
whys and wherefores; I can tell you with some certainty that about 15 years
ago, someone asked Reb Moshe Feinstein (zt"l) if he was allowed to play the
New York Lottery, and Reb Moshe paskined, Yes, but he could only purchase
one ticket, because he would NEED only one ticket if G-d wanted him to win.

As for balancing the notion of probability with the notion of G-d's will,
please don't forget that G-d created a world that is essentially orderly
and predictable. The laws of physics are consistent throughout every
culture, regardless of the weather, what language is spoken, who runs the
government, etc. Occasionally HE will alter those physical laws in order
to save lives, and these events are called "nissim" - miracles. But as a
rule, we rely on the consistency of this orderly world. It keeps us safe.
Therefore, the mathematical probability of winning a lottery will always be
calculable. The odds don't change if you switch the currency from paper to
plastic, or from Spanish money to Chinese money, or from head of cattle to
chocolate coins. One in ten odds are still one in ten odds. See? So if
you buy more than one ticket for the lottery, you ARE increasing your
mathematical odds of winning. But you aren't increasing your bitachon in
the Master. And too many people end up in the gutter trying to stack the
odds in their favour by putting out more and more and more money into the
game, when really they should just pay that one dollar for that one ticket,
and then get on with their lives, doing acts of chesed (kindness), learning
Torah, and believing that everyone's a winner in G-d's lottery.

Have a good week and an easy fast.

Mrs. Hana-Bashe Himelstein
Baltimore, MD
wwide@erols.com