Learning It’s Okay to Say Enough

Learning It’s Okay to Say Enough


When I was a kid, there were a lot of things I “couldn’t” do. I couldn’t read long books or remember vocab words. I couldn’t get my french horn to sing Hot Cross Buns, and I could never find x. I couldn’t do a cartwheel or a backbend, and I certainly couldn’t run very fast.

Rachel LaVictoire
Rachel LaVictoire

When I said that I couldn’t do these things, adults would say, “Don’t say can’t; it’s that you won’t.”

At the time, those adults were right to encourage me; I would be able to succeed eventually. But 10 years later, as a freshman in college, I’m trying to embrace the “can’t” in my life.

I go to one of the top schools in the country. Fifteen hundred courses are offered each semester, and the average student takes 16 credit hours. We also have more than 300 student organizations. Every day, the flyers are different:

“Purim Festival!”

“WU-Slam Poetry Competition!”

“Stereotypes A Capella Concert!”

“WUnity Multicultural Ball!”

“Relay for Life Meeting!”

The colored posters cling to the walls with blue tape, but they’ll be taken down in a few days, replaced quickly with another fundraiser/meeting/discussion/party/contest going on around campus.

There are about 1,600 kids in my freshman class. Among us walk child actors, valedictorians, athletes and award-winning Rubik’s Cube-solvers. I’ve met kids who spend their free time programing computer apps as well as kids who speak four different languages. I’m learning quickly that, yes, there are things I cannot do.

I have limits. I can’t take 16 credits, get straight As, pledge a sorority, buy my groceries, clean my room, keep up with my favorite TV shows, keep up with my friends, serve on committees and slap a huge smile on my face every morning. I can’t spread myself too thin, and neither should anyone else.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, tells one of the most well-known stories in Judaism: Moses gets the Ten Commandments, then shatters them when he sees the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf. Instead of focusing on that, though, I want to concentrate on the opening lines of the portion:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of such shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.’”

While I understand that we have no concept of how much a shekel was worth then, right now it’s worth relatively little compared to the dollar – if I’m not mistaken, I bought a $5 ring in Israel for 24 shekels. So why would G-d ask for only half a shekel?

Keep in mind: This is G-d. He saved us from slavery and gave us the Torah, fed us in times of famine and comforted us in times of doubt. And in return, when G-d spoke to Moses, He asked for one half of one shekel.

I like to think that it’s because G-d understands our limitations. The world He created cycles in 24-hour days, and no one day will be longer than the one before it; we therefore have to choose the ways in which we spend those limited hours.

Some people will choose to divvy up their time – an hour for work, an hour for relaxing, and hour for dinner with friends – while others may devote a full day to one task. Regardless, neither person can do both.

It’s not that I am unwilling to work for straight As – it’s that I physically cannot put in the necessary work while also saving time for Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Social Programming Board, my friends, my family, my writing and – most importantly – my sleep.

It’s a wildly difficult thing to do, to say “no,” you’re “too busy,” to say “you can’t.” You want to say it’s just one more thing, that you’re strong enough, that you can handle it. But don’t.

We all want to think we’re the exception to the rule, but in reality, we all run the risk of being spread too thin. In fact, G-d Himself spoke to this; he said to Moses, “The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to the Lord” (Exodus 30:15).

Thus, we all have to set limits. This being one of my biggest struggles, I am going to start now.

It’s 1:36 a.m., and I got five hours of sleep last night. I took a 13-page midterm today and have another one on Thursday. Needless to say, I’m exhausted.

So, regardless of the 150 words this article is shy from meeting the target word count, I am going to have to say “good-night.” There is my half a shekel.

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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