The Humble Heroism of an unknown Woman


In the midst of a violent episode in Shechem, the Torah squeezes in one verse without context: “Devorah, the wet-nurse of Rivkah, passed away… buried under a tree, and [Yaakov] called [the tree] ‘Alon Bachus’ (The tree of Weeping)” (Bereishit 35:8). Who was this Devorah- and what about her caused the Torah to interrupt other narratives to tell us how mournful Yaakov was upon her death?

The truth is that the Torah had mentioned Devorah before, but not by name. Back in Parshas Chayei Sara, when Rivka agreed to marry Yitzchak, the verse relates: “And they sent Rivka and her wet-nurse… (to Yitzchak)” (24:59). Targum Yonasan translates ‘wet-nurse’ as “Padgugata”, Aramaic for a teacher, the one who raised her. 

Devorah was the woman who presumably instilled Rivka with her righteousness (Surely it was not her brother, Lavan!). In the background, but always there, it was Devorah who quietly ensured the future of the Jewish people.

Devorah, in her humble way, may have been our silent matriarch. At teh time of her passing, it is therefore no surprise thay the Torah takes pause, and reveals the pain that her loss caused Yaakov. (The Midrash implies that Devorah -the prophetess- would later be born under this very tree, perhaps becoming her namesake as well). In much a similar way, an unsung hero of Channuka is Yehudis, the sister of the Maccabees, who killed the Greek General, leading the Jewish people to a miraculous victory.

Sometimes heroism does not come in the form of public success but in private worth. In the spirit of Devorah -and in the spirit of Channuka- let us recognize the silent supporters in our life and give them their due appreciation, for without them- who knows where we’d be.