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Thursday, December 16, 2004

VaYigash - Serach, Daughter of Asher

ובני אשר ימנה וישוה וישוי ובריעה, ושרח אחותם, ובני בריעה חבר ומלכיאל

(בראשית מ"ו, י"ז)

VaYigash sees the close of the saga of Yossef and his brothers. After the big drama of Yossef revealing himself, the family is reunited and Ya'akov "goes down" to Egypt with his children and grandchildren. One of these is Serach:

And the sons of Asher: Jimnah, and Ishuah, and Isui, and Beriah, and Serah their sister; and the sons of Beriah: Heber, and Malchiel

(Bereshit 46:17; KJV)

We find the name Serach one more time in the Torah, during the second census of Bnei Israel in the desert, shortly before they entered the Land of Israel. Here too she is referred to as "the daughter of Asher". Approximately 250 years passed between the time Ya'akov's family arrived in Egypt and the end of the desert wanderings of Bnei Israel, but despite this long period of time, many commentators (among them the Ramban) conclude that the Serach in Bereshit is the same Serach in BaMidbar. According to this, Serach lived a long life.

Many Midrashic stories were woven around Serach. She is said to be the one who broke the news to Ya'akov that his son Yossef was alive and well in Egypt; she was also trusted with the secrets of the ge'ulah (redemption) and was able to tell the Israelites that Moshe was indeed "the one"; she revealed to Moshe, after three days of futile searching, where to find the bones of Yossef before leaving Egypt; she is also said to have been the "intelligent woman" mentioned in Shumuel Bet who wisely saves her town from destruction; and finally, she is mentioned as correcting a mistake of R. Yochanan. This last story would put her life span at over 1,000 years!

Indeed, an interesting and enigmatic figure. Why would the commentators go to such lengths to attribute these wondrous doings to Serach? The Torah promises a long life as a reward for several mitzvot, so is it possible that Search was rewarded for her good deeds? And if so, why does the Torah not give us so much as a hint about this apparently great woman? I have not found answers to these questions.

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