Finding Excellence in the Everyday

Finding Excellence in the Everyday

This time of year seems to get a little hectic for everyone.

Rachel LaVictoire

Parents are planning for holidays; they’re 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 getting in touch with their friends to make sure no one spends the holidays alone.

Then, there are students, who are falling victim to their teachers’ attempts to cram everything in before Thanksgiving break.

Finally, everyone is adjusting to the shift in weather, transitioning from shorts to jeans, from t-shirts to sweaters.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that it’s in these times of nonstop activity and uncertainty that we begin running 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. You wash your face, brush your teeth, then comb your hair.

 You get dressed, grab breakfast and head out the door. Open the garage door, get in the car, put the key in the ignition and back out. Go to work, go to your desk, finish that project you’ve been working on and start another.

Then you get in your car, go home, have dinner. Spend a few hours online shopping, or watching that new sitcom. Then, it’s back to bed, but not before setting your alarm for tomorrow.

With a few minor details changed, I think everyone can relate to that repetitive feeling. My favorite display of this monotony is helping younger kids with their weekly vocabulary words. It may seem like stretch, but stay with me for a second.

They’ve asked you to quiz them, so you’re holding that little red book. You say, “delicious,” and they recite back to you some perfectly worded statement like “highly pleasing to the senses of taste or smell,” but 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 every day. I know that I personally just spent four hours in the library running through relationships between different economic words that I’ll never be able to use correctly.

I ask myself sometimes if there’s a way to change it all or if, in fact, it is the way of life that should be changed. Life as part of G-d’s creation should be something exciting and invigorating; we should be curious.

To illustrate: What if I asked you what “delicious” means?

Obviously, there are other questions to be asked, but I’m hoping you get my point.

One of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” goes, “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 wouldn’t tell you why, where, or how deep, 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 on which we walk.

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 believed me, you would probably be more inclined to go digging. But still you would not know how deep you were supposed to dig or where exactly you were supposed to dig, and you might find nothing at all and give up.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac goes well-digging. Strangely enough, this is the only parsha that talks much about Isaac at all, though he outlives all of the patriarchs; and even more curiously, the most significant role Isaac plays in this parsha is that of 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 is the image we’re given of Isaac, but really, it’s meant to teach something much more than the art of creating wells.

Kabbalah says that each of our patriarchs has a different divine quality. Isaac’s was gevura, or rigor and self-sacrifice. Fitting, as he was actually the only patriarch to farm, and he was not young when he went to dig those wells. Imagine the difficulty.

Digging wells requires patience and faith. Isaac could be out there for weeks and never strike water; there was no certainty in his labor. He persisted, though, out of love for his father, whose men had dug wells; out of devotion to his people, who suffered through droughts; and out of the sheer thrill of unearthing water from the dry ground.

Isaac did not simply dig, find water and leave in search of more. He 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.


Rachel LaVictoire is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Contact her at


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