Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayigash
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Revital Bat Lea

Parashat Vayigash

Growing Wiser With Age


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

7 Tevet 5766
In several places, the Torah promises long life for those who follow His commandments. In our parasha (see Bereishit 46:17) we find one of the most outstanding long-livers, Serach, the daughter of Asher.

According to the Targum Yonatan (to Bamidbar 26:46), not only was Serach mentioned in the count of Yaakov’s offspring who came down to Egypt, but she also played a unique role in the family saga. Yaakov’s sons were looking for someone to break the news to him that Yosef was still alive without shocking him. They called upon Serach to do so because of her wisdom. During the census at the end of Bnei Yisrael’s stay in the desert after the Exodus, Serach’s name comes up again. The Ramban confirms that this is the same woman mentioned some 250 years earlier as one of the people who went down to Egypt.

As one who spanned vast, historical eras, during which the family-turned-nation had undergone so much, Serach was able to make further contributions. When Moshe started out on his mission to redeem Bnei Yisrael, he needed to convince the nation to trust him. Yaakov had passed a secret code to Yosef, which would be used by the redeemer. Yosef passed it on to his brothers, and Asher passed it down to Serach. Thus, when Moshe came with the message of "pakod pakadti," Serach informed the nation that he could be trusted (Shemot Rabba 5). Serach’s second contribution at that juncture had to do with a last-minute arrangement needed to facilitate the Exodus. Bnei Yisrael had sworn to Yosef that they would take his remains with them to Eretz Yisrael. As they prepared to leave, they could not locate his coffin. Moshe approached Serach, who recalled that the Egyptians had buried him in a heavy, metal coffin in the Nile. From there, Moshe was able to miraculously extricate Yosef and take him along with the nation (Michelta D’Rashbi 13).

There is a midrash which identifies Serach nearly 500 years later in another critical role. After King David had quelled the rebellion of Avshalom, Sheva ben Bichri began another one. As David’s general, Yoav, pursued him, Sheva "dug himself in" at Avel Beit Ma’acha, near the modern city of Kiryat Shemonah. Instead of waiting for Yoav to storm the city, a wise woman came forward and used negotiation to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Bereishit Rabba (94) infers from the woman’s choice of words that this was none other than (excuse the pun) good, old Serach. Chazal, in this context, apply the statement in Kohelet: "Wisdom is greater than weapons of battle" (9:18).

Serach, who by that time already was around 700 years old, personifies the concept of special people who were blessed with unusual longevity. Because of her wide-ranging contributions, including those of the period of the Exodus, she also exemplifies the concept: "In the merit of the righteous women of the generation, Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt" (Sota 11b).

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