Friday, November 30, 2012

Random Musings Before Shabbat–Vayishlakh 5773–That Other Devorah’s Tale

וַתָּ֤מָת דְּבֹרָה֙ מֵינֶ֣קֶת רִבְקָ֔ה וַתִּקָּבֵ֛ר מִתַּ֥חַת לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל תַּ֣חַת הָֽאַלּ֑וֹן וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ אַלּ֥וֹן בָּכֽוּת׃

And Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Beit El, beneath the plain; so he named it Allon Bakhuth (weeping oak?)

It has been a very long life, thought Devorah. I have seen and experienced many things. I am old and weary. I’ll just stop and rest here a moment.

Oh G”d of Yaakov, and, if You are indeed the same, G”d, the G”d of Yitzkhak and his father Avraham, tell me, “where did I go wrong?” I suckled the young Rivkah, and spent the better part of my middle age teaching her and preparing her to be a good woman, a good wife, a good mother.And how does she reward my efforts? With bad parenting, for one. Despite my warnings, she so clearly showed her favoritism for the younger of her twin sons. She fawned and doted on him, while all the time remaining dependent on the elder son for his prowess and his ability to put food on their table. She rewards me with the most base deceit of her husband, and the corruption of her younger son. She sets her two sons up to be rivals, with one threatening to kill the other.

And stubborn, Oy! was she stubborn! She treated poor Esav with such disdain after her married those two Hittite girls. Yet when he realized how he had displeased her and his father, he took two more wives from within the clan and still she spurned him.

The younger will rule over the older, this G”d told her and Yitzkhak. Yet her faith in this G”d was so pale she just felt compelled to help things along. Her pansy of a husband just played along, too. Of course, he was a troubled man. His own father had tried to sacrifice him to this G”d. And surely he knew about the dangers of parents creating rivalry between brothers. His own mother had sent his half-brother and childhood companion away.  It’s no surprise he ran away to live with his half-brother Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother after his old man tried to sacrifice him.

Yet he was no better than she. Oh, he was a little more even-handed in his attention to his twin sons, yet, in the end, played along with Rivka’s deception, perhaps because his faith too, was weak. Blind? Yeah, his eyesight was pretty weak. But his other senses were working just fine. He acted for all purposes like he was on his deathbed when Yaakov and Rivkah played their little game with him, yet he’s still alive and kicking all these years later! Off, perhaps, but no fool, he.

They never talked about it, least not that I know. But after that they always seemed a bit estranged. We didn’t see much of him, she and I. We whiled away the hours talking, sewing, and weaving. Then, with me as old as I am, she has the nerve to send me off to fetch Yaakov, to tell him it was time to come home, that his brother’s wrath had passed. So here I find myself traveling with Yaakov and his brood.

Yaakov hasn’t improved much either, I have to tell you. Oh, he does seem to have grown in his faith, but his imperfections remain. His poor daughter Dinah was raped by a local prince. In revenge, his sons killed most of them. And what was his complaint? Not that his daughter was raped, but that his sons had disturbed the good relationship he had with the locals!

If Rivka were here I know she would have died of shame. Not sure how much use she would have been to poor Dinah, though. She was bad enough with her sons, and probably doesn’t have a clue about being a good grandmother to a girl. No experience with girls. She might had a harder time trying to pass one daughter off for another!

Oh, listen to me go on like an old hag. Truth be told, I loved her like a daughter. She had good qualities. Her father-in-law’s servant Eliezer chose her to marry Yitzkhak because of her kindness. She could be a very kind, loving person. She could also be a real bitch. Oh, but there I go again. Sigh.

She was such a beautiful bride. And Yitzkhak was smitten with her. I thought it was a little strange that he bedded her on their wedding night in his mother’s tent, but then again, he was always a bit, well, off. She didn’t seem to mind.

Then all those years trying to conceive. I think they took their toll. She became less kind, It must have been terribly frustrating for her. I offered her the best counsel I could, but she often simply sniped at me, and asked me to keep my, as she called them, trite attempts at making her feel better about her situation to myself.

After those two decades, when she finally did become pregnant, she had a difficult time of it. Those twins acted in the womb as if they were at war with one another. The pain drove her mad. I think that is why she clung so strongly to the words of the G”d explaining the difficulty of her carrying. She was determined that her suffering would not be in vain, and that the G”d’s promise and prediction would come true. More than determined. Obsessed.

Once, Yaakov tricked Esav into giving up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Did Rivka or Yitzkhak say a word to either of them about that? No, the fools just let it go. They let Yaakov lollygag around the camp while Esav was out learning to hunt.

For all her fears, when Yaakov and Esav met again recently, what could have been a nasty confrontation turned out okay. Oh, there’s still little love lost between them, but each of them had achieved enough success to feel good about it, making any serious conflict unnecessary. They met, they danced their little ritual dance, and went their own ways.

Sigh. I tried to be a good nurse and mentor to Rivka. This G”d knows I tried. All the G”ds know I tried. Now I am old, and weary, and tired, and I can try no more. I think I’ll just lie down her for a bit.

וַתָּ֤מָת דְּבֹרָה֙ מֵינֶ֣קֶת רִבְקָ֔ה וַתִּקָּבֵ֛ר מִתַּ֥חַת לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל תַּ֣חַת הָֽאַלּ֑וֹן וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ אַלּ֥וֹן בָּכֽוּת׃

And Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Beit El, beneath the plain; so he named it Allon Bakhuth


We don’t know when Rivka died, and we can’t be sure if she died before or after her nurse Devorah did. we only know, from what Yosef says many years later, that she is buried in the cave at Makhpelah. Isn’t it odd that Torah omits the details about Rivka’s death, yet mentions the death of her nurse Devorah?

Is there a missing story here? Did Devorah play a bigger role than the text as we now have it reveals? Was she somehow associated in folklore with this weeping oak tree? (Some of the sages suggest the tree was weeping because there were two deaths – Devorah’s and Rivka’s – in close proximity.)

Ah, if we only had Devorah’s story, we might have a better understanding of the lives of Rivkah, Yitzkhak, Yaakov and Esav. I’ve speculated a bit about what that story might reveal. Like the story of Yitzkhak’s time with Hagar and Ishmael after the akeidah, it’s another midrash waiting to be more fully written.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayishlakh 5772 - One and Many, Many and One
Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5767-Wrestlemania
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!


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