There is a mention of an otherwise unknown woman, in this week’s Parasha. We are told ‘Devorah, Rebecca’s Nurse, died, and she was buried just below Beth El, under an oak tree. The tree was thus called the Oak of Weepings.’ There is no other information about this Deborah anywhere in our story – just this.
A good friend, and now Rabbi, Eric Yanoff, created an entire sermon from this one mention, and the mention, in the Midrashic collection Bereishit Rabbi, that there must have been more than one weeping at this oak, the site of the death of this otherwise unknown woman. He suggested that at some point ....
“Somewhere along the way – a class of students, the next generation, were sitting around, and a teacher, or a parent, said, “Oh, you all know the story of Devorah, right? You know – Rebecca’s nurse. You know what I mean.” And in that class, in that group, no-one knew. It just hadn’t come up. And even worse no one asked. No one raised a hand and asked. “Tell us the story of Devorah.” None of the older generation bothered to go through the motions of telling the story – maybe they were afraid to bore the kids, they didn't want to elicit that groan, that response of “we've heard it all before.” And at that moment, in that silence, Devorah was buried again – and now we have to mourn her twice. Once for the loss of her life, and once for the loss of her story.”
In the provocative collection of imaginings on the afterlife, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, David Eagleman envisages just this. We die, suggests Eagleman twice. Once when we die physically, and once when the memory of our life dies. We are a people with a story. We tell our own story and we tell the story of those who have touched us. And in that way we live on and so do those who death we mourn as we keep their memories alive.