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Parshas Vayishlach - Shaping our Future from our Past                  18 Kislev 5781

12/04/2020 10:10:20 AM


These past nine months have drawn us closer to our screens almost to an unhealthy level. Obviously, we have no choice in certain circumstances such as zoom classes for school, work-related meetings, and, of course, family get togethers. Rarely do I watch online classes or presentations,  But this week was different. For a few hours straight, I watched hespedim for recent leaders of the Jewish people given by other great leaders of our time. I drew so much inspiration and insight from the eulogies. That I came to reconsider that perhaps such use of online technology was not a ’waste of time’ but rather an invaluable component of who we are as a people, and what I can strive to become as a person. This opened my eyes -and heart- to an important dimension of our character development that should be focused upon. Then I became conscious that this is not something new, as you know…..

Every week I scour my library for divrei Torah related to an incident, a story, or something that I relate to in ordinary life. Every book and sefer brings perspectives to the reader that may not have been previously known or keenly understood. Sometimes reading someone else’s thoughts resonate within us. I believe that when such thoughts do resonate, it is because we are like-minded, but could were able to express it as well as in this particular sefer or book. Most seforim are commentaries of the Torah, whether it is halacha, mussar, or presentation of a deeper understanding of the written and oral Torah. I for one, hope to get inspiration or a more profound sense of knowledge and understanding from the seforim I learn from.

No question, Torah is paramount to all that we do as Jews. I have  always been driven by learning so as to be able to answer questions with depth, to prepare lectures and drashos. I felt that the reading of “books” was not the best use of my time. Only recently did I come to understand the need to read about the great Jews of our past to gain a perspective for our future. These biographies are not just “reading material”; rather they contribute to pieces of a larger picture of our overall dimension as Jews.  Therefore, at the same time, the learning and reading of such material should be used and viewed as a mechanism to aspire us to be better people, not only better Jews (in the limited Jewish sense). There are dedicated biographies that I recommend everyone to read, from the great Torah scholars to the great women driving them to their greatness.

This week, as I was perusing through a few seforim, I realized that the phenomena of reading about our great sages and righteous people is nothing new. In the back of a few of the seforim that I have, eulogies of the leaders of the generation the author lived in are included. I thought to myself “Why write up the hesped/eulogy here? Intrigued, I began to read the Hespedim. Amazingly, the people whose Hespedim I was reading came to life!  These beautiful tributes to outstanding leaders of our past did not focus on how many times the individual finished Shas and Poskim and all of the laws of the Torah, but rather gave me a deeper insight regarding the greatness of each of these people; I learned to appreciate them as great husbands/wives, fathers/mothers/ mentors, friends, colleagues.    Above all, I learned how they profoundly reached out to the less fortunate. Although the Torah is not meant to be a history book, there nevertheless is mention of many (not all) of the characters’ place and time of death. In this week’s parsha we read of one obviously significant person and one less known but nonetheless important.

In this wek’s Parshas Vayishlach the Torah states in Bereishis 35:8 "ותמת דבורה מינקת רבקה ותקבר מתחת לבית קל תחת האלון, ויקרא שמו אלון בכות"  “Rebecca’s nurse Devorah died, and she was buried in the valley of Beth El, under the oak. It was named Weeping Oak”. Who was Devora and what did they say at her funeral? We do not necessarily know exactly what was said, but as in every eulogy we find out things about someone that we did not necessarily know. But it IS through the words of the eulogizer that we gain insight into who the person was and what and how we can gain and grow from that individual’s way of life. So too, we seek out Chaza”l to give us the tidbits of information that the Maspid/eulogizer may have used in delivering the final say about this Devorah.

Devora was a name  that would later become famous through a prophetess by the same name in Shoftim 4:4.  Rashi and Medrash Lekach Tov, and Sefer HaYashar say that Rivka Immeinu sent Devorah to inform Yaakov that it was safe to return home. According to others, Yaakov had stopped at his parents’ home and had picked up Devorah. The Midrash Aggadah explains Devorah was the mother of Rivka, making her Yaakov’s grandmother. In fact, the Midrash Tanchuma in Ki Seitzay explains the plural of the word ‘Bachus/weeping for Yaakov, who wept for both his mother and grandmother Rivka and Devora on their passing. The passuk reveals to us her burial place is Beit El,  a holy place that, in her merit, indicates she deserved to be buried there.

There are three times the Torah uses the expression "ותקבר"   “and she was buried”: Devorah, Rochel and Miriam. The Midrash Lekach Tov asks what is this expression supposed to teach us? The answer is that we do not allow a bier to be left out in the street by women because of their honor, and therefore we bury as close or as soon as possible following their death. It is a testament to Devorah that she was part of the elite- on the level of a Miriam and Rochel Immeinu. No more needs to be said. The greatest of our women leaders were always Tzanua, modest and in the background, pulling the strings, choreographing their husbands, daughters, and sons to lead and teach the Jewish people. Sometimes we hear a lot about someone; other times only a word or two encapsulates their entire essence and being. It was Devorah who fast tracked Yaakov and his family to put into motion the essence of all that the Jewish people will become.

Let us take some more time from our busy schedules and learn by reading , hearing, or watching events and accomplishments of  our leaders of the past to insure a brighter and stronger future for Am Yisrael, Amen  


Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782