Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parhsas Vayishlach 5770- The Death of Rivkah

Question: In this weeks parshah Rivkah dies, but her death is not mentioned- why not and where does the parshah teach about her death?

This weeks parshah is Vayishlach found in Bereishis (Genesis) 32:4-36:43

Answers can be done in the comments here or on Yahoo! Answers at  The answer will be posted on Thursday.

Answer:  According to Rashi the death of Rivka is not recorded so that people would not curse her as the mother of Esav.  Ramban expands ont his.  he points out that when she died, Ya’akov was out of the country and could not come to her funeral.  Yitzchak was blind and bedridden and thus could not attend either.  This left Esav to bury her.  However, by this stage Yitzchak was well aware of the nature of Esav (the meforshim point out that after Ya’akov took Esav’s blessing Yitzchak realised who the righteous son truly was and thus did not regret the blessing he had given Ya’akov but reinfornced it in stating to Esav that he had given his blessing to Ya’akov) and he did not want him to come and bury her- thus it was done in secret so Esav would not know of it.  Ramban repeats the idea that had Esav led the funeral procession, then people would have cursed Rivkah as his mother.  However, he also discusses the more likely scenario:  that Esav hated his mother because she colluded with Ya’akov to take his blessing form him leaving it to the sons and daughters of Heth to bury his mother.  People, on seeing this, would have cursed Rivkah as the mother of Esav; not just for Esav’s impure actions, but even for the fact that Esav did not come to bury and eulogise his own mother!  Additionally, Ramban remarks that it was a shameful thing for Rivkah to have to be buried in secret by Canaanites, thus the Torah does not detail the incident!

Where does the Parshah teach about her death?  We learn about it form the detah of Devorah, her wet nurse.  The Torah there states:

Bereishis (Genesis) Chapter 35

8. And Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Beth el, beneath the plain; so he named it Allon Bachuth.   ח. וַתָּמָת דְּבֹרָה מֵינֶקֶת רִבְקָה וַתִּקָּבֵר מִתַּחַת לְבֵית אֵל תַּחַת הָאַלּוֹן וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת:
9. And God appeared again to Jacob when he came from Padan aram, and He blessed him.   ט. וַיֵּרָא אֱ־לֹהִים אֶל יַעֲקֹב עוֹד בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ:

How does this hint at the death of Rivkah?  A few  ways are mentioned by the meforshim: 1) The renaming of the area as Allon Bachut is a sign of mourning that would be out of a place for his mother’s wet nurse.  Generally, such overt mourning is left for one of the direct relatives that we have to mourn (father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband, wife) and not for others.  This action therefore indicates that Ya’akov was in mourning for someone other than Devorah- i.e. Rivkah his mother.  2) Rashi on verse 8 states that “allon” also means “another”- thus the Torah here is stating that he was mourning for another- not Devorah the nurse but his mother Rivkah 3) Verse 9 states that G-d blessed him.  Rashi states that this was the blessing of consolation of mourners and sources this idea from Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 82:3.  Ramban also quotes this verse as being G-d coming to bless Avraham with the blessing of mourners and cites the Talmud masechta Kesuvos where the text of this brachah and the fact that it used to be used is given.  (Note:  Even in the time of Rashi and Ramban this brachah was no longer in use.)

Additional ideas from this: From here we can see the importance of parents teaching children correct behaviour.  Rivkah was a righteous woman.  She merited that just as the Shekhina had been in Sarah’s tent, so it was in hers, by rights people should only have been discussing her righteousness.  However, in her son Esav we see a truly evil person who mired himself in physicality and was hated by all.  What did people talk about?  Not her righteous son Ya’akov, nor her own righteousness, but about how she was connected to the evil person Esav.  Similarly, when we are taught later about the ben sorer and morer (the glutonous and lazy son), it is seen as a failur eof parenting.  Did Rivkah fail in her task of parenting?  Most likely she tried her best to correct his faults, to bring him back to where he should be, but Esav resisted such correction. His nature, his very essence wa smired in physicality and against the lure of the spiritual- it is not surprising that it is from an adulterous relationship of one of his sons that the nation of Amalek came about! 

When people see a child that is blatantly on the wrong path, who goes against correct behaviour and the mores of society, they look to the parents.  They gossip about the parents being x and the child being y.  If the parents are righteous and good the gossip will be “How could a such a child come from such parents?”- the parents are denigrated by association with their wayward offspring.  If the parents are not righteous, the gossip will be, “Who can blame a child for turning out that way with parents like that?”  Either way, be the parents righteous or not, their own reputation is marred by that of their child. 

There is an interesting idea here- the Torah commands us to honour our parrents.  In essence to hold them in awe and to obey them.  the Torah does not command us to love our parents.  Why this distinction?  There is an idea that the aseret hadibrot (ten commandments) can be divided into two sets of five- the first set of 5 deal with our relationship with G-d, the second set of 5 deal with our relationship with our fellow man.  The commandment to honour our parents falls on the side of our relationship with G-d.  The lesson in this is simple:  just as we have to honour and fear (i.e. be in awe) of G-d in order to obey his commandments faithfully and to not deviate form them- the same applies with our relationship with our parents.  When children fail to reflect the values and behaviour of the parents- people note this and will look at the parents.

Thus, the Torah teaches us the importance of effective and good parenting.  The Torah does so obliquely by not mentioning the death of a righteous women- but at the same time its message is all the more powerful because of its obliqueness.

November 30, 2009 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I am truely sorry about your former wife, my prayers are with you and your dear children. David

    Comment by David Alan Ben Israel | February 23, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: