By Rabbi Pesach Wolicki
In the census in this week’s parsha, the naming of the families of the tribe of Asher contains an unusual detail; the mention of Asher’s daughter Serach. Serach is not named here as the matriarch of a family. In other words, there is no Serachite family for Serach. What is the meaning of this mention of Asher’s daughter?
Serach, daughter of Asher is mentioned one other time in the Torah. After Yaacov found out that his son Yosef was alive, he and his entire family traveled to Egypt. At that point, the Torah names all of those who descended to Egypt with Yaacov. Yaacov’s sons, his daughter Dinah, many of his grandsons and great- grandsons are all listed. “These are the names of the Children of Israel who were coming to Egypt, Yaacov and his sons… And the sons of Asher [were] Yimna, Yishva, Yishvi, and Bri’a, and Serach their sister” (Gen. 46:8,17)
Targum Yonatan ben Uziel embellishes the verse mentioning Serach in this week’s Torah portion as follows. “And the name of Asher’s daughter [is] Serach who was taken by six hundred thousand angels and was brought up to the Garden of Eden [heaven] alive because she told Yaacov that Yosef was still alive.” Serach was given the unique blessing of eternal life as a reward for being the one to give Yaacov the good news that his son Yosef was still alive.
Serach – at the time of the Exodus – is well over two hundred years old She is the only person who was born in the land of Israel, goes into exile in Egypt, and is there for the Exodus. Serach, better than anyone else at the time, understood that the Exodus from Egypt was not the end of the redemption. The Exodus from Egypt is complete only when the People of Israel enters the Land of Israel.
In this context, Rashi’s comment on the Serach mention in the census in this week’s parsha is especially meaningful. “The name of Asher’s daughter was Serach: Since she was still alive she was counted here.” Serach is still alive at the end of the 40 year sojourn in the desert! Serach is preparing to enter the land that she left to descend into exile in Egypt 250 years earlier.
Symbolically, Serach represents the importance of memory. Memory recalls something that happened to the person who is remembering. History happened to someone else. In Hebrew there is no word for history. The modern Hebrew word is “historia” – obviously not an authentic Hebrew word.
The idea of Serach teaches that it is essential to the redemption that there is a sense of memory of something prior to the exile. Without this, the exile appears to be normal and natural. What’s more, the redemption seems a thing of fantasy. Memory of a pre-exile condition reminds us that redemption is not fantasy. How inspirational it must have been to every member of Israel who would be introduced to this two and a half century old woman who was born in the Promised Land and remembered a time before slavery. The mention of Serach in this census – the preparation for entry into the Promised Land – reminds us that the story which began in Canaan with the selling of Yosef and the subsequent descent into Egypt has come full circle. Serach, daughter of Asher is going home.
Originally appeared in Torah Tidbits
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