Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Vayigash 5784

Parashat Vayigash 5784

I am Serah, daughter of Asher: singer, keeper, bridge…

December 21, 2023
by Rabbi Enid C. Lader

We learn about Serah bat Asher (daughter of Asher) in our Torah portion, as she is listed with the names of the children of Israel who went down to Egypt with Jacob to reconnect with Joseph and to find a safe place with access to food during famine. (Gen. 46:17) We hear about her again when her name is listed with those who are making their way into the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for forty years. (Numbers 26:44-47) Wait! Just how much time has elapsed from going down into Egypt and entering the Promised Land… Four hundred years? We haven’t read about people that old since the early begots of Genesis… These two short references in Torah led to a wealth of midrashic literature, painting a picture of an amazing woman.

The day was warm, the sun was bright,
And we continued to look for the return of my father and uncles.
Off to Egypt they went – a second time – to find food for us during these long days of hunger.
They took my youngest uncle Benjamin with them;
Something about having to bring him with them or don’t show your face… (Gen. 43:5)
Poor Saba Jacob; he is so forlorn with Benjamin’s absence.
Heaven forbid anything should happen to his youngest and dearest son…
Wait! I see a shift at the horizon… there is a cloud of dust and it is moving closer to us…
My father and uncles! As they draw nearer, I see their concerned expressions.
I run up to greet them and, in my happiness, I kiss them all.
They pull out a harp from one of their many, many bags and present it to me, saying:
We have very exciting news to share with Saba Jacob, but we are afraid he will become too overcome.
With your sweet playing and your sweet voice, you must share this news with him…
They shared the news, and I carried the harp and went quickly to sit near Saba Jacob.
I began to strum and to sing:
“Yosef my uncle is alive. He rules throughout the land of Egypt, and is not dead.”
I continued to repeat these words… two times… and three times…
Saba Jacob listened, and listened, and smiled, and looked like he was filled with the spirit of God.|
He placed his hands upon my head and blessed me with these words:
“My daughter, may death never prevail over you, for you have revived my spirit. Please, sing again…” (Sefer Ha’Yashar, p. 200)
We gathered ourselves together and made our way down to Egypt. (Gen. 46:8)
I am Serah, daughter of Asher, singer of songs…

My Saba Jacob’s blessing came to be.
I went down into Egypt with my father and uncles and their families.
We settled there… but it never felt like home.
I lived… while my grandfather, father and mother, aunts, uncles and cousins, died.
My Uncle Joseph made his brothers promise to bring his bones out of Egypt.
My father told me of this promise…
And I saw how the Egyptians buried Joseph.
I am Serah, daughter of Asher, and I carried that promise with me for many, many years…

Pharaohs came and went…
We went through very tough times; times of oppression… times of death…
And then, a new leader – Moses – arose to lead us out of Egypt and to bring us home.
But could he be trusted?
As it happened, my father delivered the mystery of the Redemption to me; he had received it from his brother Joseph.
When Moses and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed the signs in their sight, the elders of Israel came to me and wanted to know if the signs they performed were legitimate.
I said no, at first.
Then they said to me: He said “Pakod yiphkod”—”God will surely visit you.”
“Ah,” I said to them. “He is the man who will redeem Israel in the future from Egypt, for so I heard from my father [the double “peh” as a sign of redemption]. (Pirke De Rabbi Eliezar 48:17)
I am Serah, daughter of Asher, carrier of the secret of redemption.

The Egyptians suffered through their Pharaoh’s stubbornness
Until the call went out – time to leave!
But, wait… don’t forget the promise we made to Uncle Joseph!
Moshe came to me and asked, “Do you know where Joseph is buried?”
I did! I remembered all this time.
I told him that the Egyptians had fashioned a metal casket for him and set it in the Nile River so that its water would be blessed.
Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and called out to Joseph.
“The time has come…”
And Joseph’s casket floated up to the surface, and Moses took with him the bones of Joseph as we left Egypt.  (Sotah 13a)
I am Serah, daughter of Asher, keeper of memories.

We walked and walked until we came to the Sea of Reeds, with Pharaoh’s army right behind us.
Moses held up his staff, and the waters parted, looking like glass windows (Pesikta DeRav Kahana 11:13)
I kept that image with me as we made our way through the wilderness over the next forty years
And into the Promised Land.
I am Serah, daughter of Asher, bridge to the future.

Post Script: Like the prophet Elijah, Serah does not die a natural death. Also like Elijah, she is included in the list of nine people who entered the Garden of Eden alive (Derekh Eretz Zuta 1:18) And perhaps, standing beside Elijah, Serah bat Asher, as she enabled the redemption from Egypt, will herald the Messianic time of Redemption.
Rabbi Enid Lader (AJR ’10) is the Rabbi Emerita at Beth Israel – The West Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. In retirement, she is actively engaged with interfaith programming and, along with her husband Harry, actively engaged in babysitting their local grandchildren.