Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Vayishlach 2020: Famous in Death

Raboyseyee and Ladies,


We begin with a big mazel tov shout out, this one, in house. The heylige Oisvorfer and eishes chayil (Lisa and Yitz Grossman) are thrilled to announce the engagement of their beautiful daughter Alex (Alexandra Lauren), to Jonathan Herszfeld, he the amazing son of Eilene and Yeruchem Herszfeld of Wesley Hills, New York. Mazel tov to grandparents Irv and Ellen Bader and to Estelle and Murray Appelbaum; may they all be healthy and ready to walk down the aisle at the wedding soon. A big Mazel Tov to Alex and Jon, to her siblings, Ariella and Zachary Grossman and their son Ryan Nathaniel, Jonathan, Max, and Mollie. Mazel tov as well to Jonathan’s siblings Dani and Michael Gottesman and their children, and Rachel. May Alex and Jon merit to enjoy many decades of marital bliss. Omen!


This week, we’re back with another edition of why the heylige Oisvorfer loves the medrish as we explore the life, or more accurately stated, the death of an unusual Heylige Toirah character by the name of Devoirah (Devorah). Who was Devorah? We shall soon find out. Where can we find her in the parsha? She’s mentioned but one time. Where else does she appear? Nowhere! What do we know about her life? Nothing! What does the heylige Toirah tell us about her? Very little. To whom was she married? We don’t know. Why is she famous? Read on. Why is she shouted out? Same answer. And one more big one: How does a person who gets but one heylige Toirah shout out by name and no other narrative – zero mamish- go on to become famous only upon death? We shall explore all that below. Why is this person about whom we know nothing, suddenly famous? Let’s find out.

Shoin, let’s meet Devoirah, ober who is she? We don’t know much, because the heylige Toirah mentions her but this once and in it’s the middle of another storyline right here in our parsha. Let’s read the posik innaveynig. Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 35:8), azoy: “And Devorah, the wet nurse of Rivka, died and she was buried below Beis-El.” In fact, let’s read the entire posik.

“And Devorah, Rivka’s nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Beis-el, beneath the plain; so he named it Alon Bachus… And G-d appeared again to Yaakov when he came from Padan aram, and He blessed him.”

Shoin, from that one posik, and the English translation (one of them) we learn one thing and have yet more questions to ask:  we learn that she was a professional, a nurse, a  front-line worker who would have been in the first group eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine had corona been an issue back then. Ober, we also have questions, more than a few. Who is Devorah, and why have we not heard of her before? Of what relevance is this information to us? Why mention it right now? Why name the place the “tree of cryings?” As an aside, that’s cryings as in more than one cry. And what brocho does the RBSO give here?

Nu, to chap why the medrish took such an interest in a person who gets but one shout out by name in the entire heylige Toirah, and who does not ever again appear, we must try wrapping our heads and or our arms around this most unusual phenomenon. This Devorah person goes unnamed in the entire heylige Toirah until she dies. Gornisht, not one word about her, and her origins. Why then is she being discussed, and the topic, and person of the week? Because our sages of the medrish brought someone to life mamish, and created an entire bio for her. So full is her medrish resume, she’s mamish a superstar.  Were her resume to appear on Indeed.com, she’d be instantly hired.  Shoin.

Ober let us think about this: one of the fascinating (and, at times, frustrating) aspects of the heylige Toirah is how much information it does not tell us. We know nothing of Avraham’s first 75 years, are left in the dark regarding most of Moishe’s first 80 years, and the list goes on. A great number of our mitzvis and commandments are written in a way that is somewhere between obscure and incomprehensible. And why is that? Ver veyst? Avada we assume and accept that’s just what the RBSO wanted: analyzing what made it into the text and why, and what did not, is mamish efsher what the RBSO wanted from us to keep us busy and out of trouble. How has that worked out for Him and many of us? Not so well. Shoin. Ober, these gaps gave birth to an entire industry of sages and their writings who proffer and fill in gaps using various tools -including their vivid imaginations- to explain the missing words. Why we are told every detail about Soro’s passing and burial and not one word about Leah’s passing, ver veyst? And the list goes on. The bottom line: it’s the RBSO’s heylige Toirah; He gifted it to us and when it comes to gifts, in most instances we accept them and shoin. Grada, of late, a growing number of people exchange their unwanted gifts for store credits; that option seemingly not available to us. Shoin. And with that introduction, let’s look at the life of Devoirah as imagined by a few prominent exegetes.

Did we mention that we know nothing about the passing and burial of Leah? We did. We also forgot to mention that we know nothing about the passing of Rivka, the second of our foremothers and perhaps the most cunning as she alone concocted and helped execute the plot whereby her younger son Yaakov took over the blessings of the first born? Why taka is the heylige Toirah totally silent regarding the deaths of Rivka and Leah? Nu, it’s taka a good question, ober not one that escaped the curiosity of our sages who had plenty of time on their hands to think of these inconsistencies in the reporting on the deaths and burials of important Toirah characters. Our sages of yore were a shtikel bothered by this deafening silence and found a way to make Rivka’s funeral and burial come back to life. Not mamish, but her passing, levaya and burial are now screenplay ready from a few words in this week’s parsha and they are connected to mystery and not oft-talked about Devorah.

Devorah, the wet-nurse of Rivka, is introduced to the reader via her obituary. Grada, a number of people, to include the shvigermeister (Ois’s givaldige MIL) enjoy meeting people through their obituaries; it’s not a crime. And what do we know?  Seemingly, the reason her passing is noted is that she happened to be with Yaakov Ovenu at the time. Where were they going? Why she was there and why the heylige Toirah records her passing, led to a shtikel machloikes (disagreement) between Rashi and Ramban, ober let’s first review what the heylige Toirah does tell us about this Yaakov/Devorah journey and how Rivka was involved. Halt kup (pay attention); it’s mamish brilliant how the medrish spun this all together.

Last we heard from Rivka (last week’s parsha), having concocted the plot for Yaakov to outwit Eisav out of the birthright brochis, she instructed Yaakov to flee to Padan Arom and find himself a wife. Welcome to Parshas Vayishlach where it’s over 20 years later. Yaakov and Eisav will meet and reconcile and shoin, that’s 30% of the entire parsha. And then?

Yaakov will get into a physical confrontation with a malach, Dina will get raped and sexually abused, Shimon and Levi, all of thirteen years of age or so, will use their bar mitzvah gift swords and wipe out the entire city of Shechem and shoin.  When that debacle is all over, Yaakov and his entourage will finally make his way home to his father Yitzchok’s house. Like in corona times, and never mind that he’s 106 years old (or thereabout), he’s moving back in with dad. Ober, where is mom? That heylige Toirah tells us that Yaakov returned home to his father’s house and the medrish seeing no mention of Rivka is suspicious; where is she?  We will come to learn that Rivka is no longer alive. Gishtorben mamish? Yes, dead and buried. Says who? Not the Toirah. Not one word about her passing and burial. And if that’s the case, why are we discussing Rivka when we advertised Devoirah? Nu, taka a good question and the answer is seemingly azoy:  just because the heylige Toirah doesn’t mention Rivka’s passing, levaya and burial, doesn’t mean they all didn’t take place. Farkert! They did! And how do we know? Because the medrish figured it all out and somehow her passing and burial is somehow connected to Devorah about whom we read exactly these words “and Devorah, Rivka’s nurse (or nursemaid or nanny) died and was buried….” Shoin, now we’re intrigued and having laid the foundation for a givaldige medrish or two, let us find out more about Devorah and her role in heylige Toirah.

Our sages tell us that while the heylige Toirah only mentions the passing of Devorah, and that the place where she is buried is called Allon Bachus, which they perceive to mean the plateau of double weeping, there’s more to the story. Why was there double weeping?  They tell us that Rivka had also died. The Heylige Toirah does not mention Rivka’s death explicitly, because she was buried secretly. She was? Were creditors after her? Efsher her son Eisav? What’s pshat that one of our foremothers was buried secretly without a proper sendoff? Is this the Toirah way? What happened?

Shoin, medrish tells us azoy: Rivka’s funeral was very sad. Her husband, Yitzchok Ovenu, was blind and could not attend. Her son Yaakov, her favorite, was away from home, for fear of his life at the hands of his brother Eisav. Eisav would not attend, because he was broiges (angry) and blamed his mother for all of his woes. It was through her machinations -so he believed- that he lost out on his father’s blessings. Seemingly, he forgot or never chapped the master plan. Shoin, she died all alone and was buried by her neighbors in a quiet, sad ceremony. No Toirah mention, nada.  The bottom line: Medrish tells us that the Heylige Toirah never explicitly records Rivka’s death because of the disrespectful burial she received. Rivka had a disrespectful levaya? Shoin, in a slightly different version (another medrish of course), since her husband was blind and Yaakov was away in Charan, Eisav was the only family member who attended her funeral. This may have prompted people observing such a burial to utter humiliating comments about Rivka, bemoaning the fact that Rivka’s only legacy is the corrupt and ruthless Eisav. She was therefore given a private, nighttime funeral so as to protect her honor. Due to the dishonorable nature of her burial, the heylige Toirah does not explicitly record her death. Gishmak.

On the other hand, the heylige Toirah writes a few words about Devorah’s passing though we never met her before. What’s pshat? Shoin, our sages figured it all out azoy: by referring to Devorah’s burial place as the place of “double weeping,” the Heylige Toirah is alluding also to the passing of Rivka. It tells us about Devora’s passing, but refers also to Rivka’s. You chap this?

Says Rashi quoting the medrish, azoy:  Rivka, too, died at that time, demonstrating the deep bond between child and “nanny”. If this is so, we must empathize with Yaakov, who lost his mother and wife in quick succession. As an aside, immediately thereafter, we read of the death of Rochel; yikes! And if all that’s emes, efsher you’re wondering what grave sin Rivka committed for her death to be glossed over. Ober says Rashi, in his commentary, azoy: Rivka and Devorah had a connection, a bond. How so? According to this pshat, Rivka had sent Devora to bring Yaakov back home from Choron, and Devora died as she accompanied Yaakov on the way home. What? She did? What was she doing traveling with Yaakov?

Nu, let’s harken back to these pisukim from Bereishis 24:58-60 where we read this: “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” They sent off Rivka, their sister, along with her nurse and with Avraham’s servant. They blessed Rivka. “Our sister, may you become thousands of myriads, and may your descendants inherit the gate of his foes.” Did you read that? There is a mystery unnamed person – a nurse- accompanying Rivka as she leaves her father’s house to meet, fall off the camel and then marry Yitzchok.  And shoin, that nurse is posthumously identified as Devoirah. Mamish gishmak. The bottom line: Devoirah, previously unnamed, was according to this pshat, already on the scene and played a pivotal role in Rivka’s upbringing.

And what’s Devoirah doing in our parsha? Let’s recall these pisukim (Bereishis 27:43-45) where we read azoy:


43.  And now, my son, hearken to my voice, and arise, flee to my brother Lovon, to Haran. מגוְעַתָּ֥ה בְנִ֖י שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלִ֑י וְק֧וּם בְּרַח־לְךָ֛ אֶל־לָבָ֥ן אָחִ֖י חָרָֽנָה:
44. And you shall dwell with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath has subsided. מדוְיָֽשַׁבְתָּ֥ עִמּ֖וֹ יָמִ֣ים אֲחָדִ֑ים עַ֥ד אֲשֶׁר־תָּשׁ֖וּב חֲמַ֥ת אָחִֽיךָ:
45. Until your brother’s rage subsides from you, and he forgets what you did to him, and I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of both of you on one day?” מהעַד־שׁ֨וּב אַף־אָחִ֜יךָ מִמְּךָ֗ וְשָׁכַח֙ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂ֣יתָ לּ֔וֹ וְשָֽׁלַחְתִּ֖י וּלְקַחְתִּ֣יךָ מִשָּׁ֑ם לָמָ֥ה אֶשְׁכַּ֛ל גַּם־שְׁנֵיכֶ֖ם י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד:


Rivka sent Yaakov off and told him to tarry there for “days” and that she’ll send for him. Nu, twenty years later she seemingly sent for him and used Devorah as her messenger to tell Yaakov to come home. On the other hand, we also read that the RBSO appeared to Yaakov and told him to go home. Why did Yaakov go home? Maybe he heard from both the RBSO and his mother through Devora, ver veyst. Why doesn’t the heylige Toirah mention that Rivka sent Devorah as her messenger? That’s none of your business!


Ober says the Ramban, not so fast: while he agrees that the heylige Toirah mentions the death of Devora to provide a context in which to allude to Rivka’s death, he does not agree that Devora was the messenger. He argues that Rivka would not have sent an elderly woman on so far a journey to bring Yaakov home. She would have sent a younger servant. He therefore explains azoy: Devora, had accompanied Rivka many years earlier on her initial trip to Canaan to marry Yitzchok (see 24:59 as mentioned above), and at some point, she returned home to Choron. What? We met Devorah before? Earlier? Not exactly; ober, there is another posik with an unnamed person and of course if no person is identified, why not say that person was Devorah.

The bottom line: medrish is a hole plugger! Shoin, that’s why many you love the medrish; we can relate, if you chap. The heylige Toirah doesn’t reveal all the facts? No problem; along comes medrish -typically a few- and each opines on, and plugs people of interest into the laconic narrative. Accordingly, though we never met Devorah, she could have played multiple roles. Multiple? What else did she do? Create a vaccine? Teach Yaakov how to increase his flock? Help Rivka with her bat mitzvah lessons? Nu, according to those who suggest that Rivka was but three years old when she married Yitzchok, this pshat makes good sense. At three, Rivka was taka too young to make the trip alone with Eliezer and was therefore chaperoned by Devora.  She needed a nurse and or a nanny. Alternatively, the Ramban suggests, Devora was not the same nurse who accompanied Rivka to Canaan. In any event, he writes, Devora joined Yaakov as he returns to K’naan, perhaps in order to care for Rivka, who was now an elderly woman. Is that what happened, ver veyst? Recall that we are not told and that Rashi, the Ramban, and others but speculate on what might have happened.

Shoin, and if all that creativity weren’t enough to satisfy you as you read these gems, and avada is should be, listen to this from the Da’as Zekeinim Mi-Ba’alei Ha-Toisfis citing yet another medrish, that pshat is completely different. Devorah is mentioned in our parsha davka because she is associated with the other, far more famous Devora – the prophetess who led the Yiddin to war when they triumphed over the Canaanite king Yavin during the period of the Shoftim. For the full story check out the heylige Novee (Shoftim 4-5). In introducing Devora the prophetess, the Novee writes that she “would sit under the Palm of Devora… ” Says the medrish cited by the Ba’alei Ha-Toisfis, azoy: this palm was actually the “alon” (oak tree) under which the nursemaid Rivka was buried, as recorded here in our parsha. Ober, why would the medrish draw such an association between Devora in the days of the Novee to the nursemaid Devora? Efsher pshat is azoy: to highlight the stark contrast between these two personalities. Devora the prophetess was a woman of wealth, prominence, and known by name. Devoira the nursemaid, who appears in our parsha was known only for her anonymity. The bottom line: the world has room for many personalities.


The final bottom lines: who Devoira was depends on whose pshat talks to you. In yet another medrish, Devorah the nurse was either Rivka’s mother or aunt. All we really know with certainty is her name and profession. And we know this: When Yaakov left Lovon, he took Devorah with him. Out of respect for his mother, Yaakov supported her wet-nurse in her old age. And that raboyseyee could be the big lesson of the parsha: we should take care of, and not forget, those who helped us when we were younger or anywhere else on our journey through life.


A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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