A Woman Named Serah

First, a link to what I wrote last year about Parshat Vayigash (yippee! first time I can do that, link to an old parsha post):
 Why Didn’t Yosef Send a Letter to Yaakov

harpFrom this parsha onward, there are not a lot of women in the Torah. We have Moshe’s female relatives (mom Yocheved, sister Miriam, wife Tzipora). And there is a woman who is mentioned only three times in the Torah: Serah Bat Asher. Actually, in this week’s parsha her name is affiliated with her brothers, not her father:

And the sons of Asher: Imnah, and Ishvah, and Ishvi, and Beriah, and Serah their sister

Commentators suggest that perhaps she is the adopted daughter of Asher, and her mother is his wife but she is from a different father.

When I was younger and I heard a midrash, they would sound silly or fake to me. The text would make sense, but then why the fantastic midrash? Midrashim came about because of questions in the text, and now as an adult I have more appreciation for them. Indeed, all we know in detail about Serah is because of midrashim, and because a big question regarding Serah in the text is: why mention her at all? She must be there for a reason.

In Torah of the Mothers (see previous posts about Devorah and Daughters of Tzelafchad), Rachel Adelman writes a whole essay about Serah Bat Asher. In this post I will just quote one midrash, the one where we learn how she brings “life” back into Jacob as she tells him his son Yosef is alive:

[The brothers said:] If we tell him right away, “Joseph is alive!” perhaps he will have a stroke [lit., his soul will fly away]. What did they do? They said to Serah, daughter of Asher, “Tell our father Jacob that Joseph is alive and he is Egypt.” What did she do? She waited till he was standing in prayer and then said in a tone of wonder, “Joseph is in Egypt/ There have been born on his knees/ Menasseh and Ephraim” [three rhyming lines: Yosef beMizrayim/Yuldu lo al birkayim/ Menasheh ve’Ephrayim]. His heart failed, while he was standing in prayer. When he finished his prayer, he saw the wagons: immediately the spirit of Jacob came back to life.

(This quote is from Midrash HaGadol 45:26, translated by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in Genesis: The Beginning of Desire).

This paragraph does not say anything about a harp, although my daughter, who is sitting next to me as I write this post, clearly told me she learned that Serah plays a harp as she gently gives the good news to Jacob. With midrashim there is frequently more than one version. However it was that she broke the news to Jacob, with a musical harp or poetry or both, we can learn from her about how to relate shocking news to an older person, with gentleness and caring.

 Ilana-Davita wrote about the careful use of speech in the parsha

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