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Serach bat Asher

They prepared Jacob for the news that Joseph was alive; fearing that a sudden announcement might shock and harm Jacob, the brothers sent one of his granddaughters, Serach daughter of Asher, to prepare him. She played her harp, singing gently that Joseph was still alive and that he was the ruler of Egypt. Slowly, Jacob’s long sadness evaporated and he blessed her for having lifted his spirits. As a result, she was still alive centuries later, and eventually entered the Garden of Eden alive (Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer).


Are we to believe that because Jacob heard the news in a song accompanied by a harp that he could sufficiently absorb the message for his sadness to evaporate, and for him to be so grateful, that Serach, not only merited a centuries long life, but also to enter the Garden of Eden alive?

The Midrashim go into great lengths to describe this woman:

Some say: Serach, the daughter of Asher, completed the count of the seventy souls that came to Egypt together with them.

Thus it is written, “A wise woman called out from the city and Joab drew close to her. The woman said, “Are you Joab (II Samuel 20:16–17).” With these words she was saying in effect, “Your name is Joab, which is to say that you are like a father (Av, as in YoAV) to Israel. Yet, you are nothing but a reaper and a murderer, and thus you are not acting according to your name! Now, are you and David not Torah scholars? Have the words of Torah ceased to be binding as of now? Is it not written, “When you draw near to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it for peace (Deuteronomy 20:10).”

And Joab said to her, “Who are you?”

She replied to him, “I am the loyal faithful people of Israel (II Samuel 20:19),” by which she meant, “I am the one who completed the count of seventy souls of Israel in Egypt,” “I am the one who delivered the trusted one to the trusted one; Joseph to Moses [she was referring to the incident in which she showed Moses where Joseph was buried in Egypt].”

She continued, “You are seeking to annihilate a city and a mother in Israel!” Meaning, “Why are you seeking to annihilate the city and also to annihilate me, a mother in Israel!”

Thereupon, Joab answered and said, “Far be it, far be it from me (Verse 20).” Joab said, “Far be it, far be it,” twice, by which he meant, “Far be it from David and far be it from me.”

“Rather,” Joab continued, “the matter is not so, but rather a man from Mount Ephraim whose name is, Sheva ben Bichri, has raised up his hand against the king, against David.”

“The woman then said to Joab, Behold, his head will be thrown to you.” Thereupon, “The woman then went to all the people with her wisdom,” what wisdom did she share with the people of the town? She said to them, “Do you not know of David’s deeds? Which nation has ever stood up to David? Which kingdom has ever stood up to David? We have no choice but to do as they wish!”

They said to her, “And what is it that Joab wants of us?”

“He wants 1000 men,” she told them, “each one of us should give according to what he has.”

“Perhaps by placating Joab he will remit a little,” she told them. She then pretended to go and placate Joab and returned and informed the people that Joab had decreased the number from 1000 to 500. She continued this ruse and informed the people that Joab had decreased the number to 100, to 10, and finally she told them that Joab went down to demanding, “one person, and that person is not even a resident of the city, but only a visitor. And who is he? Sheva ben Bichri.”

Thereupon, “They cut off the head of Sheva ben Bichri.” [Bereishit Rabbah 94:9]

I love these stories, but often wonder from where the Sages got them. How do they go from this woman lifting Jacob’s sadness, to being the person who informs Moses of the burial place of Joseph, to being the woman who saves a city from the wrath of King David and Joab?

To be continued…

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