by Rabbi Shua Brick, Jewish Studies Teacher 

On Mourning

There is a rather elusive verse in this week’s Torah portion that introduces a character, only to announce
their death and burial place. Amidst the rather action packed parsha, we are told that Devorah, the
nurse of our matriarch Rivkah, passed and is buried in a place aptly renamed the Weeping Tree, after
the tree that she is buried under. (Gen. 35:8)

At first blush, this reads as an appreciative tribute to an unsung hero, recognizing a character whose
service we want to acknowledge, despite not having made it into the narrative. The Rabbis, in search for
further context, make a rather extraordinary claim, that this verse is actually not only about Devorah,
but rather is hiding another death that does not get mentioned in the Torah – the passing of Rivkah

They argue that the name of the Weeping Tree in the original Hebrew indicates a plurality of reasons to
be weeping, which hints to another death at this time. Further, Jacob after losing his wife Rachel,
returns home for the first time, with all of his children and is said to be visiting his father Isaac (35:27),
and his mother is conspicuously missing. They take this to mean that Rivkah has also passed and is the
unspoken death included in the plurality of weeping.

While some terse rabbinic comments seem to imply that the omission of a mention of Rivkah’s death is
some form of punishment, Nachmonides argues to characterize the entire scenario differently. Relying
on a Medrash, he points out that Rivkah’s burial would have been heartbreakingly under-attended.
Abraham and Sarah have passed, her husband having lost his sight could not bear witness, her beloved
son has been exiled from the family home, and due to her favoritism her local son, Esau, is likely not on
good terms. Nachmonides believes that the reality of her passing did not honor her appropriately and so
the text decides to share the story of a properly honored passing and leaves hints to an unsaid and
abandoned funeral.

Honoring the dead is of paramount importance in Jewish tradition, and attending to the deceased
overrides nearly every other commandment. You could be the High Priest on the way to lead the most
important rituals of Yom Kippur and you would be required to break all protocol, negatively impact the
holiest day of the year, if you are out of necessity called upon to honor the dead. With so much
continuously tragic news, it is hard to juggle our ongoing heartbreak as well as our efforts to save the
living and preserve life while also trying to make time to mourn all the lives that have been lost.
I have spent paragraphs here to speak about a singular verse that forever immortalizes the passing of
two great women, and that we collectively remember thousands of year later. The Jewish ability to
remember is unparalleled. May the memories of those we have lost be a blessing, and may we do
everything in our power to insure their memories receive the honor that is deserved.