A NOBLE PROFESSION
Rabbi Ariel Asa
In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced by name to an almost totally unfamiliar character, Devorah, the nurse of Rebecca.
Honeybee: social, honey-producing bee, recognized as the most economically valuable of all insects. This reputation commonly rests on its production of honey and beeswax. The honeybee's greatest usefulness, however, is actually in the pollination of crops, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, and forage crops.
In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced by name to an almost totally unfamiliar character, Devorah, the nurse of Rebecca. As Jacob is making his way back from his many years of servitude to Laban, the verse informs us that, "Devorah, Rebecca’s nurse, died, and she was buried at the foot of Beit El under an oak tree, and he [Jacob] called its name alon bachut – the tree of weeping" (Genesis 35:8).
In reality, Devorah had been mentioned by title much earlier in the Bible. When Rebecca leaves home to marry Isaac the verse states, "and they sent Rebecca their sister and her nurse" (ibid. 24:59).
What significance did Devorah have and why did she seem to be bouncing back and forth between Padan Aram (the land where Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah all grew up) and the land of Israel? Furthermore, why did Jacob name the place where she was buried "the tree of weeping," implying there was tremendous sadness and crying over her demise?
When it was time to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham sent his trusted servant to the house of his cousins Betuel and Laban, both well known for their deceitfulness and lack of kindness. It seems like a strange place to find a soulmate for Isaac. However, there was at least one person in that household who upheld the ideals of Abraham – kindness, honesty, and serving Hashem. That was Devorah, the nurse.
The Hebrew name Devorah means a honeybee. Just as a honeybee goes from flower to flower pollinating the plants and gathering nectar, so too, Devorah emulated the ways of Abraham and Sarah and spread their ideals with enthusiasm. Having Rebecca in her care, she instilled in her those ideals of kindness and service of Hashem, thus making her a suitable soulmate for Isaac. When the time came for her to leave Padan Aram and marry Isaac, of course she took along her spiritual mentor, Devorah.
Many decades pass and Isaac and Rebecca send Jacob away to find a wife. The logical choice? Their cousins house in Padan Aram where Laban is now in charge! Again, an unlikely place for Jacob to find a marriage partner for life. Sure enough, Laban has not one, but two daughters worthy of becoming wives of Jacob and mothers of the Jewish people.
From where did Rachel and Leah absorb the traits needed for such greatness? Who taught them to ignore the wicked ways of their father Laban and follow in the ways of Hashem instead? Rebecca had long foreseen the day when it would be time for Jacob to get married. There was a family tradition to marry relatives, but Rebecca knew her brother Laban’s evil ways. Who could assure that there would be a spouse focused on the same goals as Jacob? Devorah to the rescue.
She returned to Padan Aram many years earlier and became the nanny for the daughters of Laban, Rachel and Leah, thus creating a second generation of eminent women to carry the banner of kindness and the ways of Hashem.
After having physically and spiritually raised Rachel and Leah (and most likely Bilhah and Zilpah as well) and experiencing their entering the marriage canopy and starting their own families with Jacob, Devorah now accompanies them back on their way to Israel.
As they arrive back in Israel Devorah passes away at a ripe old age with a sense of accomplishment at having successfully raised two generations of outstanding women, matriarchs of our people, in such adverse conditions. Jacob calls her grave "the tree of weeping." At this place, all who passed by would weep for the loss of such a devoted spiritual giant who was the candle in the darkness of Padan Aram for Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
At times, we find ourselves in our own "house of Laban" – situations where there is spiritual darkness all around. May we emulate Devorah, the honeybee, who gathered wisdom and with her commitment and enthusiasm "pollinated" others to walk in the ways of Hashem.
This d’var Torah is based on the writings of Rabbi Yisroel Miller of Pittsburgh.
Rabbi Ariel Asa is a practicing mohel and sofer who travels throughout the southeast. This d’var Torah is dedicated in honor of Devorah, the daughter of Rabbi and Mrs. Asa.
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