Shalom Orzach

The First Lady(ies)

The daughters of Zelophehad, whose appeal created a precedent in heritage laws, are not the only heroines featured in this week’s portion of Pinchas. There is an additional enigmatic figure that makes an appearance,- Serach. Serach is the daughter of Asher, we meet her for the first time in Bereishit, listed among the children and grandchildren of Jacob, Yisrael, who went down to Egypt, 46:17

וּבְנֵ֣י אָשֵׁ֗ר יִמְנָ֧ה וְיִשְׁוָ֛ה וְיִשְׁוִ֥י וּבְרִיעָ֖ה וְשֶׂ֣רַח אֲחֹתָ֑ם וּבְנֵ֣י בְרִיעָ֔ה חֶ֖בֶר וּמַלְכִּיאֵֽל׃ 

Asher’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, and Beriah, and their sister Serach. Beriah’s sons: Heber and Malchiel.

This debut is fascinating as it does not seem to be the practice to include daughters in the many examples of the countings of the Jewish people in the numerous occasions that they occur. So from the outset, Serach is somewhat striking. What is all the more salient is that she is still alive!

She appears this week, as part of the census that Moses instructed Elazar, Aaron’s son, to take following “the plague”. Curiously in an even more overt manner, we would not expect Serach to be included as the purpose was to: (26:2)

Take a census of the whole Israelite company [of fighters] from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelite males able to bear arms.

And yet she is listed, 26:46;

וְשֵׁ֥ם בַּת־אָשֵׁ֖ר שָֽׂרַח׃

The name of Asher’s daughter was Serach.

Rashi, seeing this discrepancy, quoting from Tractate Sotah 13a points to the fact that because she still remained alive after all these long years it exceptionally mentions her here. The actual account in the Talmud is more detailed and reflects an enthralling tradition that expounds her remarkable role serving as a link connecting past promises to present and future events. At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Moses was assiduous to fulfill the promise to take Joseph’s bones for burial in Israel. This is how the Talmud accounts the episode; 

And from where did Moses our teacher know where Joseph was buried? The Sages said: Serach, the daughter of Asher, remained from that generation that initially descended to Egypt with Jacob. Moses went to her and said to her: Do you know anything about where Joseph is buried? She said to him: The Egyptians fashioned a metal casket for him and set it in the Nile as an augury so that its water would be blessed. Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile. He said to Joseph: Joseph, Joseph, the time has arrived about which the Holy One, Blessed be He, took an oath saying that I, God, will redeem you. And the time for fulfillment of the oath that you administered to the Jewish people that they will bury you in Eretz Yisrael has arrived. If you show yourself, it is good, but if not, we are clear from your oath. Immediately, the casket of Joseph floated to the top of the water.

There are other magical accounts in the Midrash and Talmud. What is fascinating is the juxtaposition of her showing up again in Pinchas, together with the account of the daughters of Zelophehad, and the agonizing plea of Moses for his ‘inheritance’, hoping that perhaps his sons will replace him as leaders of the Jewish people. Serach is the iconic backstage player, she and unequivocally she serves as the bridge between the generation that went down to Egypt and the generation that came out of Egypt, imparting to Moses the whereabouts of Joseph’s bones, allowing him to fulfill the oath taken by the children of Israel to bring Joseph with them out of Egypt. She reminds us that our powers are not unlimited, that so many of our well made plans need to be delivered and interpreted by others. It is a lesson in legacy and humility. Daughters as well as sons, women as well as men, count.

Shabbat shalom


About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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