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Serach

Serach

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Every child who has studied Chumash knows the name of Serach, the daughter of Asher, who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons (“the Tribes of Israel”). Serach is the only woman mentioned among the children of the twelve tribes, Jacob’s grandchildren. She must have been very worthy to be singled out for special mention, for Jacob had many other granddaughters whose names we do not know, with the exception of another one. Only his grandsons are mentioned by name among the “seventy souls” that came down to Egypt. The other granddaughter of Jacob mentioned later (in connection with the birth of Moses) was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, the mother of Moses.

Serach, from her earliest childhood, was brought up in her grandfather’s home. Old Jacob himself took care of her upbringing. She was an unusual child, very well-behaved and full of love for G‑d, and very kind to all. As you can well imagine, she loved her grandfather dearly, and when her beloved uncle Joseph disappeared, and Jacob thought him dead and mourned for him for twenty-two years, Serach was a real consolation to her grandfather.

Then that wonderful day came when her father with her ten uncles came back from Egypt with the news that they had found Joseph in Egypt, not as a slave, as they had feared, but as the viceroy and prime minister of Egypt! But Joseph’s brothers did not know how to tell the good news to their aged father. They were afraid the shock might be too much for him, and they were terribly ashamed at having been the cause of their father’s sorrow for such a long time. So they turned to the wise Serach to “break the news” to her grandfather.

Serach took her harp, which she had not played in her grandfather’s presence during all those years, and she began to play and sing. The strains of her harp reached old Jacob, in the midst of his mourning. For twenty-two years no sound of joy had been heard in his house. What was the meaning of this? he wondered. He began to listen to her words, and his heart began to leap for joy, for he clearly heard the words, “Joseph is alive; he rules over all Egypt . . .”

Only then could his sons approach him and tell him the full story, how that “harsh” ruler in Egypt had only been pretending when he first met them on their arrival in Egypt to buy food; he had wanted to test their love for each other, and for their father, and to find out whether they were really sorry that they had sold him. Then he revealed himself, and behold! Joseph had not changed, except that he had grown older and was the father of two wonderful boys.

It was wonderful news for Jacob in his old age, but he was still worried. It was hard for him to believe that the young boy who was torn from him at the age of seventeen had remained the same G‑d-fearing and devoted son. But the brothers hastened to assure their father that Joseph had never allowed himself to be influenced by the Egyptian way of life, nor by his power and riches. On the contrary, Joseph was the true ruler and master of Egypt, and his good influence was everywhere, from the royal house of Egypt to the farthest corners of the land. This was even better news, and Jacob was happy again, and he felt the power of prophecy return to him.

In gratitude to his granddaughter for bringing the glad tidings to him, he blessed her with the gifts of long life and prophecy.

Serach saw one generation after another pass on. She lived through the two hundred and ten years of the Egyptian bondage, until the day came when the children of Israel were to leave Egypt. Moses remembered the oath given to Joseph before he died, that when the children of Israel would leave Egypt they would take his bones with them and bury them in the Holy Land. But where was Joseph’s coffin? There was only one person who would know; that was Serach, and to her Moses went. Serach told him that after Joseph died, he was placed in a coffin, and the Egyptians lowered the coffin into the Nile River. They hoped that it would bless the waters of the Nile, and that the children of Israel would never be able to find it and fulfill their promise to Joseph, so that they could never leave Egypt. But Serach knew all about it. She led Moses to the banks of the Nile, and he called out: “Joseph, Joseph, the time has come for us to leave Egypt and go to our promised land. We want to fulfill our oath to you and take you with us. Come up, and do not delay our departure!” And wonder of wonders! The coffin came up, and for the next forty years, during their wanderings through the desert, two arks were carried side by side in front of them: one contained the two tablets of stone, with the Ten Commandments, while the other contained Joseph’s remains, and it was said: “The one lying in here fulfilled that which is in there.”

Many years later, during the time of King David, when a man from the Tribe of Benjamin, Sheba the son of Bichri, raised a rebellion against the king, Serach once again—so our sages tell us—played an important role in bringing the rebellion to an end. King David’s great general Joab defeated the rebellion and besieged the city of Abel Beth Maachah, where Sheba had taken refuge. Joab threatened to raze the city to the ground unless the rebel was delivered to him. A “wise woman,” we are told (in the second book of Samuel), persuaded the city people to comply with Joab’s ultimatum, for Sheba had forfeited his head to the king. Sheba was executed, and the city was saved. The “wise woman,” our sages say, was none other than Serach.

All this and other wonderful things our sages tell us about Serach. Jacob’s blessing came true, and she lived to a great age of many hundreds of years. In fact, according to one opinion, Serach never died, and she was one of nine persons who entered Gan Eden (Paradise) alive.

According to another tradition, Serach lived right up to the time of the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, and she was one of the exiles who went to Babylon. Together with many other Jews she settled in Isfahan (now in Iran), where she died and was buried. A Muslim traveler who lived some seven hundred years ago related of his visit to that city and what he had heard about the way the Jews settled there. According to his story, the Jews who fled from Nebuchadnezzar took with them from Jerusalem some of the water and soil of the holy city. After long wandering they came to Isfahan, where they found water and soil of the same high quality. So they settled there, built homes and raised families. The Jewish quarter was called al-Yahudiah. Near that city, which is the “Garden City” of Persia (the modern Iran), in a town called Ling’an, is the tomb of Serach, which is well known to the Jews.

Many years ago the tomb belonged to the Jews, although it was held sacred also by the Muslims. Later, the Persians took over the sacred tomb. Many legends are current there in connection with the tomb.

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Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Chabad.org March 12, 2017

The following people are mentioned in Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta as having entered Gan Eden alive: Chanoch, Eliezer the servant of Avraham, Eliyahu, Mashiach, Chiram the king of Tzur, Eved the king of Kushi, Yaavetz the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, Batya the daughter of Pharaoh and Serach the daughter of Asher (granddaughter of Yaakov). According to some, Yehoshuah ben Levi should be included in this list. Reply

Michaelah March 7, 2017

Who were the eight who lived forever? Hi,

In the article you wrote that there is an opinion that Serach lived forever and she was one of the nine people who lived forever and entered Gan Eden.
Who were the other eight?

Thank you!

"All this and other wonderful things our sages tell us about Serach. Jacob’s blessing came true, and she lived to a great age of many hundreds of years. In fact, according to one opinion, Serach never died, and she was one of nine persons who entered Gan Eden (Paradise) alive." Reply

Marty Fox LA January 8, 2014

Search How do I find the " many legends?" Reply

lil brookline, ma usa October 29, 2012

serach The info on Serach was excellent and well written.

Could you say more about how her story was derived form the text ie. how the rabbis cam up with the midrash.

Also, it is very sad to me that she is the only woman mentioned,. Yes she must have been quite extraordinary.

I do not believe that the men mentioned, especially minor characters were all mentioned because they were so outstanding, but because the text is so clearly patriarchal and because it values men over women so strongly. Reply

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