BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT Columnist //
I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on Aug. 13, 1999, and for the following two-and-a-half years, I received weekly chemo treatments at Egleston Hospital.
Armies of chemicals marched through my body. Vincristine attacked the front line, killing off cells by interfering with their DNA. Methotrexate battled at the rear by making it difficult for cancer cells to grow.
Prednisone was a sort of battlefield medic, reducing the severity of side effects. The first line of defense – my blood pressure, weight, height, and cell counts – was monitored vigorously.
The war ended on Feb. 13, 2002. The chemicals won….
Or did they? Was the victory all about my chemo treatment, or did it also involve the daily prayers from friends and family?
For two-and-a-half years, people were calling on G-d for my recovery from across Georgia, Florida, New York, New Jersey, California, Alaska, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and probably other places, too.
The members of my immediate family – my mom, my dad, my brother and I – prayed separately, and, then, we prayed all together. Every night when I went to bed, my brother, my dad and I would close our eyes and offer up these wishes to the Almighty:
“Dear G-d, thank you for letting us have another great day. Please watch over us tonight and help us to have a good night sleep, with all sweet dreams and no bad dreams. Please bless mommy and daddy, Max and Rachel, Ryan and Jeremy, Grandma and Grandpa…”
We would then go on to list all the loved ones in our lives, then ask G-d to bless “all the doctors and nurses that help take care of Rachel” and finish by asking G-d to “watch over us tomorrow and help us have another great day.” We called these words our “Magic Prayer,” and I still say it with my dad every night when I’m home.
When I was 5 years old, it really did seem like magic. I was talking to a being that I couldn’t see, and yet I could feel that He heard me. In fact, I know He heard me.
I’m certain that G-d heard me, my brother, my dad, my mom, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my grandparents and all our friends. This collective call for help and divine intervention led to my miraculous recovery, right?
This – my recovery, how and why I was blessed – is just one example of a dilemma that I encounter on almost a daily basis: “prayer vs. action.”
Not One Without the Other
Generally speaking, I believe that G-d will allow everything in my life to eventually work out. I haven’t yet decided whether that means G-d has an ultimate goal for me, whether or not He moves me like a puppet or if He simply created me with the da’at, or knowledge, to succeed.
However, I’m also a smart kid. I know that I can’t just sit back and say, “G-d won’t let me destroy my life, I’m fine.” I know I need to have as much faith in myself as I have in G-d.
Case in point: My exams start this week, so I have to get organized and focused. I have to prioritize my tasks and work as hard as I can. G-d won’t teach me microeconomics, but He gave me eyes for reading, hands for writing and a brain for thinking. Now I have to do the work, and as it turns out, by doing so I’m taking a page out of Joseph’s book.
In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Pharoah hears of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and sends for him. Pharaoh says to Joseph, “I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it, but I have heard it said of you that you understand a dream, to interpret it” (Genesis 41:15).
Joseph replies by saying, “Not I; G-d will give an answer that will bring peace to Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:16). Nevertheless, Joseph then interprets Pharaoh’s dream, telling him that there will be seven plentiful years of harvest followed by seven years of famine.
Now, he could have stopped there; he was only asked to interpret the dream. Joseph continued, though. Using his own logic, he mustered up the confidence to advise the King of Egypt:
“…seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt…let them collect all the food of these coming seven good years, and let them gather the grain under Pharaoh’s hand, food in the cities, and keep it” (Genesis 41: 33-35).
Of course, it was Joseph that Pharaoh appointed to this position in the end, and thus Joseph watched over all of Egypt. But just as important as this fact is the difference between prayer and action illustrated here: G-d is responsible for Joseph’s capacity to read dreams, but Joseph is responsible for what he chooses to do with that gift.
And so it was with my cancer treatments.
G-d endowed certain people with a gift for science, and those who applied themselves were able to develop a protocol for chemotherapy. G-d also blessed my family with unrelenting strength, and so we chose to fight, week after week, fever after fever, methotrexate shot after methotrexate shot.
Perhaps, then, that it’s not so much “prayer vs. action,” so much as it is prayer and action, together. Neither can exist on its own.
We can’t sit back and assume G-d will take care of everything, but we would also be wrong not to step back and realize that our individual potential is a gift from G-d. Everything we accomplish is due to both G-d’s will and our own efforts.
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.