Why does the Torah suddenly tell us of the death of Deborah, Rebecca’s childhood nurse (Genesis 35:8)? Deborah dies in the course of journeying with Jacob and Rebecca, and the family buries her at Beth El. We are told absolutely nothing else of her in the Torah. So perhaps the account of Deborah’s death is intended to teach us about Rebecca.
Rebecca was the one who could envision the future — that is why she arranged for Jacob to receive the blessing instead of Esau. Who can best envision the future? One who does not neglect the past. Rebecca took her childhood nurse with her. Deborah must now have been an old woman, unable to contribute to the family. But they traveled with her, supported her and buried her. Rebecca wept over her grave (she is buried at allon bachut — the tree of tears). She did not forget the one who had been kind to her in her youth.
In an age heedless of the past, the lesson is poignant. Rebecca is grateful, and gratitude is a function of memory. Deborah matters because reaching out from the ancient world, this aged nurse of a once-young girl reminds us to remember those who helped us along the way.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.