Unscheduled living

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Rachel will be contributing regular commentaries and d’var Torah reflections, which will be posted on the Jewish Light’s website,  stljewishlight.com — some of which will also be included in the Jewish Light’s print editions.

By Rachel LaVictoire

With Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fast approaching, this time of year seems to get hectic for everyone. Parents are calling family members, making travel arrangements, going to the grocery store, pulling out that old recipe for the perfect dessert, going back to the grocery store, and calling friends to make sure no one spends the holidays alone. Then there are the students who fall victim to their teachers’ attempts to cram everything in before Thanksgiving break. Finally, everyone is adjusting to the shift in weather and transitioning from shorts to jeans, and T-shirts to sweaters. Oddly enough, I’ve found that it’s in these times of nonstop activity and uncertainty that many of us begin to run on autopilot.

Alarm goes off, press snooze. It goes off again, and this time you should probably get up. Half asleep, you go to the bathroom, wash your face, brush your teeth, then comb your hair. You get dressed, grab breakfast and head out the door. Go to work, finish that project you’ve been working on, start another. Go home. Have dinner. Spend a few hours online shopping or watching TVor whatever your nightly guilty pleasure is. Then go to bed, but not before setting your alarm to start over again tomorrow.

With a few minor details changed, I think everyone can relate to that repetitive feeling of life. My favorite display of this monotony is helping younger kids with their weekly vocabulary words. It may seem like a stretch, but stay with me for a second. They’ve asked you to quiz them, so you’re holding that little red book and you say… “delicious” and they recite back to you some perfectly worded statement like “highly pleasing to the senses of taste or smell.” It’s straight memorization without any knowledge of what the word means or how to use it. We all “recite” parts of our life in a similar way. Maybe you have the same thing for breakfast every morning or you crunch the same numbers at work everyday. I know I spend four hours in the library monotonously running through relationships between different economic words I’ll never be able to use correctly.

I ask myself sometimes if there’s a way to change it. It is something that should be changed, is it not? G-d life should be something exciting and invigorating. We should be curious. “What does delicious mean?” If I asked you right now, what would say? Where does the word come from? Obviously, there are other questions to be asked, but I’m hoping you get my point. One of my favorite quotes from Thoreau’s “Walden” says, “We must learn to reawaken ourselves and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” Could you even imagine what the quality of your life would be like if you could wake up every morning with a glistening curiosity for what lies ahead that day?


Let’s take all of this one step farther. What if I told you right now to stop what you’re doing and go to a pasture of my choosing and dig holes. I don’t tell you why, where, or how deep, but just that I think it’s a good idea for you to go dig some holes in the ground. You would probably think I’m crazy. But have you ever thought about what could be down there? The earth has been building up for millions of years, surely there has to be something interesting beneath the ground we walk on.

What if I made it more specific? What if I told you that somewhere within a one-acre pasture there was buried treasure? Assuming you’d believe me, you would probably be more inclined to go digging. Although still, not knowing how deep you were supposed to dig or where exactly you were supposed to dig… you may find nothing at all and give up.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac goes well digging. Now, strangely enough, Isaac outlives all of the patriarchs and yet Toldot is the only parshah that talks much about him at all. Even more curiously, the most significant role he plays in this parshah is as a well digger.

“Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham… and Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and they found there a well of living waters… and they dug another well, and they quarreled about it also; so he named it Sitnah. And he moved away from there, and he dug another well” (Genesis 25: 18-22). It seems strange that this be the image we get of Isaac, but really it’s meant to teach something much more than the art of creating wells.

Kaballah says that each of our patriarchs has a different divine quality. Isaac’s was gevura, or rigor and self-sacrifice. He was actually the only patriarch to farm. He was not young when he went to dig those wells and imagine the difficulty. Digging wells requires patience and faith. He could be out there for weeks and never strike water, there was no certainty. He persisted though. Out of love for his father who’s men had dug wells, devotion to his people who suffered of drought, and out of sheer thrill of unearthing a water from the dry ground. He did not simply dig, find water, and leave in search of more. Isaac dug until he struck water and then went through a process of naming his newly formed well, appreciating its beauty.

If Isaac could find beauty and life in something as trying and unexciting as digging wells, what does that mean for us? We have a world filled with interesting factoids and anecdotes and millions of phenomena that are still unexplained. Go find them. My challenge for the week is this: Try to wake up every morning with the same gevura that Isaac portrayed — be curious about something and find the answer, learn a new skill, find something that takes you out of your scheduled life for at least a moment.