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A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nazir 39

A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nazir 39

Embrace your luck.

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This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

It is common for us to think that we are entitled to the consequences of our choices, but not to those of pure randomness, chance, or luck. This feeling or attitude applies to both good and bad luck.

Some moral philosophers argue that our good fortune, such as the family we were born into, the country we reside in, our ability to generate income, or how easily we grasp academic concepts, are solely due to chance. The influence of random chance should not lead to some individuals having everything, while the unlucky have nothing. We aspire to construct a society in which our choices and hard work result in a greater portion of the reward, but to create a fair world, we must eliminate luck as a factor.

Naturally, one obstacle is the absence of a clear line between what qualifies as chance and what constitutes genuinely independent decision-making. The events in our lives that we did not select have an impact on the choices we make. A different problem can be illustrated by the fact that many individuals drive recklessly on a daily basis, yet nothing happens to them. If they happen to be unlucky and end up causing a catastrophe due to their carelessness, should they be punished?

Conversely, we experience intense frustration when our lives take a turn for the worse despite having done nothing wrong. Consider the scenario of suffering a devastating tragedy, and doctors reveal that the likelihood of such a disease occurring is one in ten million. The question “why me?” inevitably arises, and the seething anger that accompanies it exacerbates the challenge of managing the crisis. When others inflict harm upon us, we demand that life be fair and assert that their actions are unjust and unwarranted. At best, we reluctantly accept the reality that life is just not fair.

Throughout history, people have argued that every falling leaf must serve a greater purpose, in part because the notion that our lives are shaped by random misfortune is intolerable to many.

This outlook on bad luck presents two primary issues. Firstly, the anger we experience in response to misfortune can exacerbate the distress we feel. Secondly, by denying or dissociating ourselves from the outcome, we risk failing to maximize our potential for coping with the misfortune.

Picture yourself sitting at a poker table, having placed a substantial bet with confidence that you hold a strong hand. When the cards are revealed, it becomes apparent that your opponent has the better hand and you lose all of your money. Would it be logical for you to argue that you should not pay up because bad luck is undeserved, and therefore not your fault?

We are all sitting at this poker table, whether we choose to or not. At times, we may choose to bet higher stakes, but often we find ourselves staking things we care about without having made a choice to do so, and yet we still end up losing. It is valuable to acknowledge that randomness is built into the game of life. There are many instances when the dice roll in our favor, even if we do not realize it, but there are also times when the roll goes against us. If we choose to embrace sitting at this poker table and strive to accept all the events of the game, it may provide us with the resilience to keep playing.

While it is true that randomness and luck play a role in our lives, we shouldn’t just passively accept the unfairness of the world. We despise that life can be unfair, and if we have any ability to make it more just, then it’s our responsibility to take action.

Life may become less difficult if we can learn to accept the role of bad luck in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and do nothing to make the world a fairer place.

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