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One of the hardest lessons to learn, whether in relationships or business or politics, is that not making a decision is also a decision. “Wait and see” is the default state for people, and it comes both from experience and risk-aversion. We have all been burned by making decisions too quickly; but the loss from not making a decision in a timely manner plays out much more slowly, leading to accumulated regrets.
There is a very strange line in the Torah that comes directly from this kind of situation. Jacob is in the land of Canaan, back from his travels and with his entire family in tow. He seems to be in no particular hurry to get back to his parents; he settles in Shechem (and seemingly would have stayed there indefinitely had his daughter not been raped). And he goes to visit the place where he had his dream of angels on a ladder when he departed the land all those years before.
And the Torah then tells us: “Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Bethel; so it was named Allon-bachut.”
Who? Where did Deborah enter the story? She is never mentioned before this verse! And remember that Rebekah was Jacob’s mother – so how did Rebekah’s nurse end up with Jacob’s entourage?
There are two reasonable possibilities, but they both bring us to the same conclusion.
1: Deborah, being Rebekah’s nurse, never left Lavan’s house, until Jacob leaves. She comes along with Jacob when he leaves, in the hopes of seeing Rebekah after all those years.
2: Deborah actually came with Rebekah when she met and married Isaac. In which case, when Rebekah died (the text never mentions Rebekah’s passing), Deborah left to join Jacob somewhere between Beth-El and Lavan’s house.
And here is the clue: the place where she was buried, Alon Bachut literally means “the tree of tears.” Tears in the Torah are predominantly due to loss, to weeping, to regrets. Tears reflect a missed opportunity, humanity coming to terms with something that cannot be fixed because the clock can never be rolled back.
As a result, the death of Deborah is marked with tears because it is loss: either Deborah’s hopes of seeing Rebekah again, or the end of the possibility of Jacob seeing his mother again.
The place where she dies and is buried reinforces this point: she is buried under Beth-El. Beth-El is the place Jacob stopped for the night all those years ago when he left his parents. So marking that place as the place where Deborah is buried, connects back to when he left, the last time Jacob saw his mother.
Jacob was theoretically coming back to see his parents (the text says he was going back to the land of his fathers). But he did not get there before they died – in no small part because he seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. Indeed, it seemed that Jacob was avoiding going to his childhood home, possibly because his memories may well have been painful: as a younger man he had fought his brother, followed his mother’s well-intentioned but catastrophic advice, and he deceived his father. Why be reminded of all that?
So he stalls. And delays. But the end result is one of tears; the loss of his connection to his mother, the years he would never get back. If Deborah was traveling with Jacob to meet Rebekah again, then Jacob’s stalling led to Deborah’s demise before she achieved her goal.
In both cases, the conclusion is the same: do not delay seeing loved ones. Always try to fix relationships if you can – find a way to move on from the past, or it will block your future. If we adopt a “wait and see” posture, life will pass us by, and that path ends in tears.
[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith, @kidcoder and @eliyahumasinter work]