The value of chance: accident or G-d’s design?

Rachel LaVictoire,  is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Eliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a sophomore. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center.

By Rachel LaVictoire

Before he was “Dad,” he was Timothy Gerard LaVictoire—a baby boy born June 24, 1952. Throughout his first 10 years, Tim welcomed one sister and four little brothers into his humble home in Mt. Morris, Mich. He learned how to shoot a gun from his dad and how to play cards from his mom. He played football and basketball at St. Mary’s High School, and took Joyce Csiki to his senior prom.

Before she was “Mom,” she was Stacy Ellen Futterman.  Her parents welcomed her into the world on May 31, 1959 and brought her to their home in Norfolk, Va. She stayed an only child for four years until her little sister, Susan, was born in 1963. As the daughter of a Navy man turned businessman, Stacy lived in eight homes before settling into a house on Executive Drive in Long Island. She broke her wrists playing tag with Jamie Gropper and went to Camp Burchmont with Laura Briamonti.

Timothy Gerard LaVictoire met Stacy Ellen Futterman in Nashville, Tenn. in 1989. He was 37 and she was 29. The two of them had both been traveling for business when, קרו הם (hem kar-oo), they happened to run into each other.  A year later, Tim and Stacy gathered their families and said their vows on a boat in New York City. On November 30, 1991, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tim and Stacy became Dad and Mom as they welcomed their first son into the world; and only three years later, they became my dad and my mom.

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In the 18 years since the day I was born, Dad and Mom have moved houses and made new friends. They’ve celebrated their children’s pre-school graduations, high school graduations, birthdays and Bar Mitzvahs. Dad dressed up like a butler to serve my friends and I Domino’s pizza; and Mom never missed a school performance or celebration.

First of all, in honor of the recent holidays, I want to say thank you to Dad and Mom for all that you have done, I love you both. But I also want to talk about chance. It’s something that everyone sees differently—there are some who believe that G-d has everything laid out for us, that we are simply walking G-d’s path.  Others believe “what goes around comes around”—that if you do good things, good things will happen to you. Some people believe in praying for good fortune; and others see good fortune as something that can only be obtained independently.

This week’s parshah, Balak, only furthers that confusion. After the Israelites destroy the Amorites, the king of Moab, Balak, grows fearful that his nation will be next. He sends messengers to Balaam in Pethor asking him to come and curse the Israelites. Balaam, however, receives direct instructions from G-d and so refuses to go with the messengers back to Moab. When Balaam sends messengers of a higher rank, Balaam insists, “even if Balak gives me a house full of silver and gold, I cannot do anything small or great that would transgress the word of the Lord, my G-d” (Numbers 22:18). 

G-d eventually allows Balaam to go with the messengers, so long as Balaam agrees to do what G-d instructs, and say the words that G-d puts in his mouth. Finally, Balaam joins with Balak and the two of them build altars in order to offer their sacrifices. And then, the Torah reads:

“Balaam said to Balak, ‘Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the Lord will happen to appear to me, and He will show me something that I can tell you,’ and we went alone. G-d chanced upon Balaam, and he said to Him, ‘I have set up the seven altars and I have offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.’ The Lord placed something into Balaam’s mouth, and He said, ‘Return to Balak and say as follows’” (Numbers 23: 3-5).


In the lines that follow, Balaam recites a parable to the Moabites, and this is a sequence that repeats three times throughout the parshah—אלהים קורה (kor-ah elohim), G-d chances upon Balaam and gives him a parable to tell to the Moabites. The parable is always a blessing to the Israelite people and always angers Balak, king of Moab, who had instructed Balaam to curse the Israelites.

So, herein lies the question: How is it that G-d’s actions can be a coincidence?

Though I don’t necessarily have an answer to the question, I would like to note two things so as to help you answer the question for yourself. First, the title of the parshah: Balak. The reading this week is named not after Balaam, who blessed the Israelites; but it is named after Balak, the Moab king who had intended to curse them. Second is the Hebrew translation. The Torah reads, “אלהים ויקר (va-ya-kar elohim),” G-d chanced, with the verb לקרות (leekrote) meaning to chance, or to happen. However, for those who don’t know, Hebrew is a language often written without vowels, so I find it incredibly interesting that ויקר could also be pronounced ve-ya-kar, which would mean and valuable.

Maybe you think it’s a stretch, or maybe you just don’t agree at all, but I’d like to think there’s a connection between the two—that there is value in chance. I can’t even begin to tackle the various views on chance. I don’t know what events are laid out for us and what events we create for ourselves. I do, however, know I’m very happy that “אלהים ויקר (va-ya-kar elohim),” G-d chanced upon Balaam to bless the Israelites and their future generations; and also that G-d Tim LaVictoire and Stacy Futterman, קרו הם (hem kar-oo), they happened to run into each other that day in Nashville, Tenn.