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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Devorah

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Yaakov had a difficult life. Rashi tells us that at time that he was sending peace offering to Eisav he was “Sharuy B’kaas”. He was angry. Yaacov had been harassed by his brother, left home, lost everything and been cheated by Lavan in the switching of Rachel and Leah and with the spotted and dotted and striped sheep. He had encountered Eisav and Eisav’s angel, had his daughter kidnapped in Shechem and watched his sons Shimon and Levi get involved in a questionable tactic of promising peace and then killing an entire city.

In the midst of all this Yaakov had a funeral. There were many great people in the Torah but we do not hear about everyone’s funeral. This funeral was a seemingly insignificant character, Devorah the nurse of Rivka yet we are told that Yaacov wept copiously. In fact the place where she is buried is called Alon Bachus. Who was this Devorah and why was she - Rivkah’s nurse with Yaacov to begin with?

The first thing we need to remember is that Yaacov was leaving Lavan’s home in Charan and Rivkah was Lavan’s sister and a native of Charan. Presumably, her nursemaids were natives of Charan as well. Rashi explains that Devorah was with Yaacov because Rivka had promised to send for him when it was time to return home. Devorah was the messenger.

Why did Rivkah choose Devorah, of all people, to fetch Yaacov? It seems from the commentaries that this Devorah is the same wet nurse that was at Rivka’s engagement party many years earlier.  Rivka was blessed that she would be the mother of many multitudes. At the time, Devorah might have wondered if that would ever come true, but she stuck with Rivkah and raised her and helped her become who she was. The Targum says that Devorah was Rivka’s “padagogia”, she was her teacher. She showed Rivkah how to become great and she witnessed Rivkah as she grew.

Now Rivkah’s son Yaakov was at a difficult juncture in life. The UN was mad at him for the incident at Shechem. Lavan had only let them go by the skin of their teeth. Eisav was ready to attack at any moment. And more than any physical danger, Yaacov said that he didn’t know if he was spiritually able to stand all of it. “Maybe I became too small”, he said. “Perhaps I’m not great enough for all this”.

The only person who could answer this question honestly and bring Yaacov back home was Devorah. Devorah had been present when Rivkah was given her mandate. She had watched her grow and guided her through it. Devora, and only Devorah, could say to Yaccov “come home – this will work”.

We cannot judge ourselves and decide that we can’t go further and become greater. We need to find people outside of ourselves who are able to recognize the growth that we can’t see and encourage us. Better yet, we need someone to say, I’ve seen people like you – they turn out ok. This is the role of Devorah. It is why Rivkah sent her, and why
Yaacov cried so much when he buried her.

(Based in part on “Teachings” by Rabbi Asher Brander)

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