G-d and Happenstance

G-d and Happenstance



Before he was “Dad,” he was Timothy Gerard LaVictoire, a baby boy born June 24, 1952. During his first 10 years of life, 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.

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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 remained 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.

Tim met Stacy in Nashville, Tenn. in 1989; he was 37 and she was 29. The two of them had both been traveling for business when, they happened to run into each other, but a year later, Tim and Stacy gathered their families and said their vows on a boat in New York City.

Still, it wasn’t until Nov. 30, 1991, in Ann Arbor, Mich., that Tim and Stacy became “Dad” and “Mom” as they welcomed their first son into the world, and it was still three more years before they became my “Dad” and “Mom.”

Of course, in the 18 years since the day I was born, my parents have moved and made new friends. They’ve celebrated their children’s preschool graduations, high school graduations, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. Dad dressed up like a butler to serve me and my friends Domino’s pizza; and mom never missed a school performance or function.

Now, before I go any further – and in honor of the recent holidays – I want to say thank you to my parents for all that you have done. I love you both. But I also want to talk about chance – that is, my personal view of it, as it’s something that everyone sees differently.

There are some people who believe that G-d has everything laid out for us, that we are simply walking G-d’s path. Others believe that “what goes around comes around” and that if you do good things, good things will happen to you. And some people believe in praying for good fortune; and others see good fortune as something that can only be obtained independently.

This week’s parsha, Balak, isn’t particularly helpful in determining which of these interpretations is correct, but it certainly raises some fascinating questions. As we read, the king of Moab, Balak, grows fearful that his nation will be next to be destroyed, as the Israelites have just done as much to the Amorites. 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 Balak 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. Thus, Balaam finally joins with Balak, and the two of them build altars in order to offer their sacrifices. Then, the next passage 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).”

Thus, Balaam recites a parable to the Moabites, and this is a sequence that repeats three times throughout the parsha. 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.

But therein rests the question: G-d only chances upon Balaam, and He chooses to give him a parable to tell to the Moabites. How is it that G-d’s Though I don’t necessarily have an answer, I would like to note two things. First, the title of the parsha, Balak. The reading this week is named not after Balaam, who blessed the Israelites, but after Balak, the Moab king who had intended to curse them.

Second is the translation; as the Hebrew language is often written without vowels, a key phrase here can be interpreted two different ways. The Torah reads va-ya-kar elohim, meaning either “G-d chanced,” signified by the Hebrew verb leekrote, meaning “to chance” or “to happen” – or, with a different pronunciation, “and valuable.”

Now, 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.

Of course, I can’t even begin to tackle the various views on chance, and 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 va-ya-kar elohim – G-d chanced upon Balaam to bless the Israelites and their future generations – and also that Tim LaVictoire and Stacy Futterman happened to run into each other in Nashville, Tenn.

There was certainly value in those chances.

Rachel LaVictoire (rlavictoire@wustl.edu) 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. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.


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