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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash


When I read Parshat Vayeishev, as it recounted Jacob's return to meet his brother after many years away, there is a strange line tucked into the narrative.

"Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Bethel; so it was named Allon-bacuth. Understood as “the oak of the weeping.”

Genesis 35:8

How strange it was to see one line inserted which speaks about Rebekah's nurse so many years after she had left Laban's camp. As it happens in Torah, there are people who either remain unnamed or who pop in and out of the narrative. They seem to move the story line forward in some way and their influence is felt long after we have glanced over the brief pasuk which briefly mentions their actions.

I came back to this pasuk over and over again. I wanted to know Deborah and her relationship to Rebekah, to Isaac, to Esav and to Jacob so I made an attempt to write

a story/a poem which gives voice to her. It describes her life and her feelings as they relate to her responsibility and devotion to a person. However imperfect is my attempt to give Deborah a voice, she now has one in the words that appear below. Is this a poem or a story; I don't know, but it is a Midrash and with it a gap is filled; it is Deborah speaking from the page.



I was there with you from the start

I nursed you at my breast

and although you were not

from my flesh

I served you.

I loved you.

You were such a sprite!

Dark curls and eyes like coals,

romping through the camp,

adored by all around you.

You played among the sheep

and even the stubborn camels were your friends.

You helped to water them,

running barefoot to the well and filling your bucket.

Over and over again you would run.

And then one day a stranger came;

He was kind, but had a task in mind.

He paused by the well,

covered with the dust of the desert.

You bade him to stop and rest

and watered the camels with a laugh.

Days later you replied yes to his proposal

to travel from the camp of your brother and wed a silent stranger,

a child of aged parents.

When it came time for you to take leave

you wept salty tears,

afraid to face the journey alone.

You were so young and so vulnerable,

so I joined you and we left the familiar tents behind us.

I held your hand and wiped your tears

and together we embarked.

The journey was long and you were quiet as you considered your future.

One day, the sun had already set and the sky was pink.

We approached a field dotted with rocks and wild plants.

A young man wandered in the field, his head down.

You knew then that this was the man

with whom you would build a future.

With barely a pause you descended from

your camel

and your eyes locked with his in a first embrace.

And that man,

that melancholy, silent man

became your husband.

He loved you and you loved him.

It was that simple.

And I was happy.

I stayed with you and cared for you still.

I taught you the arts of the kitchen

and how to be the mistress of your home.

I was there with you as you carried your twins.

I watched as your belly grew round and large.

I found roots and leaves to aid with the pain of carrying two souls

in one small and fragile body.

I held my hand on your belly as the twins moved inside;

each wishing to be the first to exit.

When the babies were born I caught them and cleaned them

and helped you count their fingers and toes.

So perfect were they;

almost like the flesh of my own flesh.

I was by then past my time to nurse the babes,

but as they grew I was there with them;

I taught them right from wrong

and truth from lies.

I taught the fiery redhead about the patience of the hunt;

to learn the use of the herbs of the field,

to prepare savory soups and breads.

And the younger one, so delicate was he; so awkward,

his head always in the clouds; asking endless questions.

I taught him about the stars and moon and the changing seasons.

I watched you and your silent husband

as you each chose favorites.

Words were sharp and silences were deep during this time.

I was there grinding herbs when you set one son against another

in a dance of deception.

I taught you right from wrong and thought this wrong,

but you listened to the voice in your heart.

You did not veer from your plan.

Could you see what I could not?

I sat with you when the delicate one fled, trembling and alone.

I soothed the red hot anger of the son who remained

and I comforted you as you wondered about both of your sons.

I never veered from you, my Rebekah, even when I doubted your motives.

And time passed.

After the delicate one left

anger ruled the household

and silence stretched over the tent like a sodden gray cloud

like a cold fog which stayed for far too long.

The years swiftly passed.

I grew old and bent, my knuckles

knotted with age.

You, too, my Rebecca, grew older.

Streaks of gray painted your dark plaits

and your eyes no longer sparked.

Your quiet husband spoke even less.

You wondered more and more about your actions,

and about your sons.

You and I would sit at the opening of the tent toward evening

and I would sing to you the old songs of our land

with the hope of soothing your spirit.

One evening as we sat,

you took my hand and looked into my clouded eyes

and asked me to travel far from our tent,

back to the land of my parents,

to tell the delicate one to return home.

Enough time had been wasted on hating.

How you knew the time had come for his return,

I could not know.

How you could ask me,

a woman so old and bent, to travel frightened me,

but I swallowed my protests and prepared for this journey,

perhaps my last journey in service of you, dear Rebecca.

As I folded my blankets and packed the teas that soothed my bones at night

I was reminded of the man who had journeyed to us so long ago.

Eliezer was his name.

We marveled at how you had jumped to water his camels.

That action changed our lives.

I was not sorry for the decision I made, my Rebecca, to accompany you,

to love you and care for you as a humble servant,

as a loving friend.

No, I was not sorry.

This time you sent a servant with me

to assist me with this journey.

To help me to climb upon the camel,

to help set up my bed at night and to prepare my food.

For this I am grateful.

In my head I rehearsed the words that I would say

over and over again so that I would not forget them.

"Come home. Your mother awaits you."

Slowly we made our way past wadis and through grazing lands.

I saw it all through my weakened eyes

and thought how odd it was that

I, so old and bent,

should be traveling the same route as Eliezer traveled so long ago

when my Rebecca was so young.

And one day, after a long journey, we arrived.

I found the delicate one, who was now grown and walked with a limp.

When he saw me he remembered me

and memories of his childhood rushed back to him.

He ran to me and hugged me as he would a grandmother.

And it was there, among the sheep in the fields that I delivered my message.

And the delicate one heard and began to weep as did I.

It is a strange thing.

Some of us are brought into this world to build families, cities and empires.

Some of us are meant to serve others,

and some of us,

ride silently through stories and are mere footnotes.

We are the messengers, the ones who are loved and trusted.

This has been my life's work, to attend to, to love, to care,

and in my last act, to bring a family back together,

a return to peace.

And as this story ends,

as the sun sets,

I go in peace.

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