In the Pursuit of Happiness

In the Pursuit of Happiness


Rachel LaVictoire
Rachel LaVictoire

Money is important. We love it, we hate it, and, ultimately, we need it.

In college, it’s on everyone’s minds. Whether graduating in four years or next month, most students are wondering what direction they should take to find financial security.

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Forbes came out recently with an interesting list: “25 College Diplomas with the Highest Pay.” Here are a few highlights: Graduates from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University earned an average of $84,400 annually; engineers from Stanford, $74,700; and NYU Nursing School grads, $70,200.

It’s unfortunate, but some students might decide what profession to enter based on this report. The “bottom line” is often the bottom line when picking out a career.

Rarely are students encouraged to learn simply for the sake of learning. It’s almost always about what we plan to do with what we’ve learned.

Even at a young age, my Papa Jack taught me about using my personality to turn a profit. He’d say things like, “You’re already good at arguing – you speak clearly and you’re well organized. Maybe you’ll be a lawyer.”

Over the years, he’s nudged me towards quite a few other “stable” professions, and though I didn’t see it at the time, I’m certain his intentions were good. He was simply trying to show me how to use my innate qualities and skills to make a living.

Last week, a friend (who I’ll call Ben) made a comment that reminded me of the conversations I had with Papa Jack. We were strolling back to our dorms, mostly making small talk about our families, friends and why we were attending Washington University.

When I mentioned that I was at Wash U studying psychology and business, Ben commented that it was probably a good call to tack on a business degree, adding, “I guess there’s, like, therapy.”

I didn’t really understand his point, and when I asked him to explain, he replied:

“Well, of course you have to add on the B-School major to make money, but then I realized that therapists also probably make a lot – people have a lot of problems.”

I told him that there’s more to a job than how much you’ll get paid.

“Well, right,” he said, “but isn’t that why we’re all here, because Wash U grads make a lot of money?”

Ben added that he’d be attending a school that was “more fun” if he thought he could end up making the same money with a degree from such a place. I guess there’s some truth to what he had to say, but I tried to explain that money wasn’t the only reason I was attending Wash U and told him that I enjoy being surrounded by smart and driven students, being in an environment that allows me to me myself but also getting a fantastic education.

It’s not about the reward, I told Ben, it’s about the process. I encourage readers to think of that message this week, as we read Behar-Bechukotai and finish the book of Leviticus, the section of the Torah so disproportionately focused on law.

After 25 chapters, it’s in this closing section that a new controversy arises. The matter begins with G-d’s instructions on the sabbatical years and the year of Jubilee: It’s made clear that every seventh year, the Israelites must allow the land to rest; and on the 50th year, after seven sabbatical years, there will be a Jubilee.

Then, for the first time, G-d strikes a deal with the Israelites. He promises them:

“You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them…you will live on the land securely. And the land will then yield its fruit and you will eat it to satiety, and live upon it securely (Leviticus 25:18-19).”

G-d had never before offered a reward for doing a mitzvah – it’s a commandment, and therefore doing it should not require reward. The Israelites were already bound to G-d through the covenant that G-d made with Abraham; they knew the importance of following mitzvot.

Why, then, would G-d suddenly provide this incentive?

Maimonides, a renowned Jewish scholar, offers the following explanation in the Mishnah:

“G-d gave us this Torah, it is a tree of life…Yet G-d also promised us in the Torah that if we observe it with joy…He will remove from us all things that may prevent us from fulfilling it, such as illness, war, hunger…so that we need not preoccupy ourselves all our days.”

So it would seem that Maimonides is suggesting that the reward is not actually a reward at all. G-d didn’t promise prosperous fields for the sake of incentives, but rather as a way to ease the worries of the Israelites. They can fully focus on Torah if they have no fear that they will go hungry.

I feel that the same argument applies to the career dilemma. On the one hand, taking a job just for the salary won’t bring you happiness. But on the other hand, you won’t be able to enjoy the job you love if you’re constantly stressed out by financial struggles.

Unfortunately, G-d can’t really provide financial stability. We can ask him for money, but it probably won’t fall from heaven like manna.

We can, however, ask G-d for strength and ask for guidance in recognizing our individual potential. We can use our G-d-given gifts to succeed and find financial success. We definitely can ask G-d to help us – to ease our everyday worries, as he did for the Israelites – so each of us can pursue what we love.

Rachel LaVictoire ( is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis.


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