Vayishlach: Dvora And The Importance Of Caregivers
11/15/2013 - 10:51
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

In these days of media saturation and instant connections, it sometimes seems, as Shakespeare put it, that the whole world is a stage. Everything must be dramatic. “What bleeds, leads,” and “What yells, sells.”

Among the casualties of our thrill-a-minute world are the caregivers, those to whom we of the “sandwich generation” entrust our growing children, our elderly parents, and some individuals of all ages who have chronic health conditions. It is therefore worthwhile to reflect on the life of Dvora, the first caregiver, as depicted in this week's Torah portion. (Not to be confused with Dvora of the Book of Judges.)

Dvora, Rebecca’s nurse, accompanied her from her parents’ home to the home of her future husband Isaac. The only other detail about Dvora that has come down to us is her death and burial during Jacob’s return journey to his father Isaac’s home. (Genesis 35, 8.)

Some commentators wonder why this “minor tragedy” interrupts the narrative of Jacob’s homeward journey, fraught with struggles with an angel, confrontations with his brother Esau, the abduction of his daughter Dina, the death of his wife Rachel and a number of divine revelations. Taking us behind the scenes, the Midrash reminds us of Dvora’s significance.

When Rebecca advised her son Jacob to flee from Esau’s wrath, she had assured him that she would notify him when he could return home safely. Thirty-six years later, she dispatched Dvora, her nurse, to tell Jacob that it was safe to come home.

Why did Rebecca select Dvora, a very old woman, to notify Jacob? Apparently, she trusted only Dvora to complete the mission. Through her work as a caregiver, Dvora had proven that her trustworthiness far exceeded what anyone else could offer.

In a job that is not glamorous, a caregiver completes the same tasks over and over again. She is occupied with feeding, dressing, bathing, cooking and cleaning. Sometimes caregivers are roused in the middle of the night.

A caregiver may help the family during crises and triumphs. Employers don’t often seek his opinion, and may forget that he, too, has needs.

If her employers are wise, they will not take her love and loyalty for granted. Like Rebecca, they will understand that she deserves their trust and gratitude.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that our health insurance companies restrict home care to what they consider to be medically necessary situations. Can the disability community stand by when some of its members must pay out of pocket to stay alive and healthy in their own homes?

Some commentators note that Jacob learned of Rebecca’s death at about the time that Dvora died. This may not be a coincidence.

How did Rebecca feel when her companion for perhaps eighty years needed to leave her for the first time? She herself may not have realized the grief that she would experience without her most trusted confidante nearby. The stress might have contributed to a deterioration in her own health – affirming the connection between the death of Dvora and the death of Rebecca.

May we learn to appreciate those who care for our loved ones.

A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah- and disability-related topics.

As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah -- the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons --boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at info@yadempowers.org

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