Gift Giving by Dan Atwood


In Parshat VaYishlach, the Torah (Bereishit 35:8) records the death of Devorah, Rivkah’s nurse. Yaakov buried her and named the place “Alon Bachut.” Bereishit Rabah tells us that this is an allusion to the death of Rivkah, which is never recorded in the Torah.

There are many ways in which this might hint to Rivkah’s death. The first clue is that of the name “Alon Bachut.” Bachut could be the plural of Bachah, weeping, meaning that there were multiple people wept for. Rashi states that Alon in Greek means “another” (i.e. another mourning). Ramban, however, says that the death of a nurse alone isn’t sufficient reason for Yaakov to change the name of a place. An additional hint could be that after this incident Hashem blessed Yaakov. This blessing could be the Birchat Aveilim, the blessing given to mourners. Furthermore, when Yaakov returned to his father’s house the Torah only says that he came back to his father, making no mention of Rivkah. Two questions arise from this. First, why is Rivkah’s death not recorded? Second, why is Devorah with Yaakov? Both matters are subject to a Machloket between Ramban and Rashi.   

Rashi says that Rivkah’s death was not recorded because she was buried in secret and at night. Yitzchak was afraid that people would curse her saying, “From Rivkah came Eisav.” Therefore, the Torah also didn’t want to publicize her death. Ramban, on the other hand, says that her burial was conducted under very grim circumstances. Yitzchak was blind (and couldn’t leave his house), Yaakov was away, and Eisav hated her for helping Yaakov take his Berachah, so her Chitti neighbors had to bury her. The Torah does not record this embarrassing piece of information. 

Regarding the second issue, Rashi, quoting Rabi Moshe HaDarshan, says that Devorah was with Yaakov because Rivkah had sent her to bring Yaakov back. In Parshat Toldot, when Rivkah told Yaakov to go to Padan Aram, she said that she would send for him when it would be safe for him to return. Since she saw that it was now safe, and was unaware that Yaakov was on his way home, she sent Devorah, who died on the way back. Ramban thinks that it is preposterous that Rivkah would order an elderly woman to travel so far. He argues that Devorah used to be one of the nurses in Rivkah’s household before she left Padan Aram. Yaakov wanted to honor his mother by bringing her former nurse to her as a gift, and took Devorah with him when he left Lavan’s house. Unfortunately, she died on the way.

As we see from the Ramban’s comment, giving gifts is indeed a good thing to do. As the so-called “Holiday Season” approaches we must remember who we are. We should always remember that we are Jews first. There is no problem with exchanging gifts on Chanukah as long as it doesn’t become an attempt to mimic our non-Jewish neighbors and their customs. Although it may seem very tempting, we must not get too caught up in the non-Jewish holidays and their customs. 

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