Parshat Vayishlach

Torah Reading for Week of November 14 – November 20, 2010

“A Eulogy for Rebekah”

by Robin Hoffman, AJRCA Third Year Rabbinic Student

It is in this week’s parshah, Vayishlach that we lay to rest our mother, Rebekah. It is difficult to do a eulogy for Rebekah, when the Torah does not actually tell us that she has died. Yet, we find in Parshat Vayishlach, a brief reference to the death of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse (35:8) and we learn in the Midrash, that this may be a hidden reference to Rebekah’s death. It is not unique to Rebekah that her death is not mentioned directly. Leah’s death is also not mentioned in the Torah. But the death of Deborah seems to be mentioned in place of Rebekah as if to say, yes, our mother, Rebekah has died and it must be noted if only by allusion.

Why I wonder, are the details of Rebekah’s death omitted? Ramban and others seem to agree that it is because of Esau that Rebekah’s death does not receive proper mention. R. Yaakov Culi suggests that it would have been improper for Esau to attend his mother’s funeral for then people would say, “Cursed are the breasts that nursed this criminal.” Therefore, it seems Rebekah is not granted a proper funeral because of the actions of her son. And yet, both sons, Jacob and Esau, are present at the burial of their father, without recrimination for Isaac. And so it seems, this may be the beginning of the vicious psychological cycle of blaming the mother for the sins of the children.

Rebekah was not a bad mother. She did what she had to do ensure the success of both of her children. She knew their strengths and their weaknesses. Perhaps in hindsight, it seems that she behaved badly in orchestrating the trickery that would gain Jacob his father’s blessing. But in fact, both sons, once they matured, became successful individuals, leading large families. Furthermore, they eventually came together and reconciled! In fact, Rebekah’s death comes just after Esau and Jacob make up. Hopefully, she died knowing that they had renewed their relationship. Perhaps that would have brought her some joy in her old age.

When we think of Rebekah, we think of her chesed, her kindness to strangers and to animals, when Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, approached her at the well. When we think of Rebekah, we think how diligent and hard working she must have been. She took care of her family when Isaac became ill. When we think of Rebekah, we remember how she left her family to marry Isaac and Isaac was comforted to have her after the death of Sarah, his mother. After so many years together, there must have been a great love between Rebekah and Isaac. They were loyal to one another and both of them loved their children. When we think of Rebekah, we think of her piety. During her difficult pregnancy with the twins, she prayed to G-d for help and G-d guided her. And she faithfully did what G-d asked her to do.

Rebekah deserves our respect. All of us who are mothers know how hard we try to help our children become the best people they can be. But we can only guide them, teach them, and then we have to let them go to make their own decisions. There are no guarantees in parenting. We care and we are kind; we discipline and punish as it is warranted. We offer forgiveness and sometimes, we apologize. We learn and grow together with our children. But most of all, like Rebekah, we love them deeply and wish them only the best.We are all children of Rebekah and we have learned many lessons from her. May her memory be for a blessing.

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