By Simon Rocker
May 26, 2009
A frequently repeated motif of the coverage she received is that she was deprived of years of her life because she devoted them to the care of her aged mother. She was underemployed, and sang only at the church she regularly attended. It was only after her mother’s death that she thought of publicly competing, something she had tried decades earlier without much success. Devoting her life to her mother made her pitiable; people were delighted that at times, the loser can turn things around.
In our circles, of course, we’ve heard the story before. Had Dama ben Nesina (Kiddushin 31A) lived today, he would probably also be seen as a loser, for losing an opportunity for a windfall profit because he did not want to dishonor his father by rousing him from his sleep. We can imagine the looks of condescension he received for an entire year. “Poor chap. It’s lovely that he still cherishes that old value of caring for the old folks, but he took it a wee too far, didn’t he?” When an extremely rare parah adumah was born to him a year later, and he sold it for a handsome profit after all, some of those former critics might have cheered. Nice guys sometimes do come out ahead – despite themselves.
Chazal, of course, saw things very differently. The red heifer was born to Dama ben Nesina because he honored his father, not despite it.