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A Rabbi Plays Poker on Yom Kippur
There once was a rabbi from Chelm who loved to play poker. Or maybe he was from Las Vegas. I forget. Anyway, he had a passion for poker and played every chance he could. But preparing for the High Holidays left him with no time to play. For weeks.
In between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah or Ten Days of Repentance, he discovered that a major poker tournament was going on. It was a two-day tournament beginning in the morning of the day before Yom Kippur. All of the big-name players in the world were going to attend. He’d never had a chance to play in such a major tournament. It was so tempting. He really wanted to play. And he could use a break from all the High Holiday stress—practicing the special prayers, writing unique sermons that would both enlighten people without offending anyone—not really possible but he always tried, dealing with congregants upset about their seating or about not getting an honor or about getting the “wrong” honor, or just about anything at all. Oy vey!
He decided to play. After all, he would probably bust out before Day 2 of the tournament anyway. That’s how his luck had been running.
So he entered the tournament, and things went a little better than usual. He won a few hands and lost a few hands, but he seemed to be winning more than he was losing. And by the end of Day 1, he had survived! He was thrilled! It had been a long time since he’d made Day 2 in a tournament. And he’d never made Day 2 in a major tournament. But then again, there was the Kol Nidre service he needed to attend on the evening of Day 2 to lead his congregation into Yom Kippur, the day of fasting for their sins. It was an important service, preparing for the most holy day of the year.
Then again, he was unlikely to go very far on Day 2. He rarely did. And this time, he was playing against some of the best players in the world. He would dress for the holiday and when he busted, he’d go over to the synagogue with plenty of time.
So on Day 2, he played. He got some winners and some losers, and this time his chip stack started dwindling, but he was still in the game as players around him were being eliminated.
The time for Kol Nidre services was approaching. He was dealt Q2 off suit and decided to shove his remaining stack. He got one caller, who showed pocket As. He got up to leave as the dealer placed two queens on the board. He won the hand and doubled up.
What to do? What to do? He thought and prayed and decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He hoped God would understand. He had been waiting for the opportunity to play with great players at a final table for many years. This could be the time. Maybe… he wasn’t sure he wanted to think about it and give himself a kina hera… but he might even win the tournament!
Above in heaven, the angels had been watching the game. Like everyone else, they too took an interest in poker. But when they saw the rabbi’s decision to keep playing, they called God over.
“God,” they said, “your rabbi is playing poker on the holiest day of the year.”
“I see that,” said God.
“He should be praying, not playing,” they said.
“Yes,” God answered.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” they asked.
“Yes, I will,” said God. At that point God did something like wave a wand or snap his fingers. Or maybe he twitched his nose or put his hands around his waist and blinked. I don’t really know how these things work.
Down on earth at the poker table, the rabbi disappointedly picked up 7♣2♥ in the big blind. When a few players limped in, he checked. The flop was 7♥7♠2♠. He won!
On the next hand, he got 4♥5♥. Not a great hand, but he was in the small blind, so he completed the bet. The flop was A♥2♥3♥. He had flopped a straight flush! The next hand he got pocket 2s, and the flop also had a pair of 2s! In fact, every hand, he flopped the nuts! He couldn’t believe his luck as his stack got bigger and bigger.
“What did you do?” asked the angels of God. “We thought you would punish him!”
“I did,” replied God. “After all, who can he tell about this?”
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