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Parshas Vayigash: Why did Serach Live Such A Long Life?

Shemos Rabbah states that Yaakov transmitted the “secret of the redemption.”

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Remember 613 Torah Avenue? Of course you do.

Released in the 1970’s and through the early 1980’s, the 613 Torah Avenue Tapes on the weekly parsha were part and parcel of most frum children’s Torah education during those years, and continue to be used by many teachers and rebbeim.

One of those songs made a certain Tanach personality a household name – specifically this line set to the tune of “O Susanna”:

Serach played on her kinor Yosef is alive; Yaakov was so happy when the wagons did arrive.  [I have yet to find the midrashic source for this information.  If you know of one, please e-mail me.]

Indeed, Serach is mentioned in our parsha as a daughter of Asher:  “And the sons of Asher, Yimnah, Yishvah, Yishvi, Briyah – and Serach, their sister” (Bereishis 46:17). 

It is from Chazal that we learn more about her.

Serach was one of nine people to have entered Gan Eden alive (Derech Eretz Zuta 1). Targum Yonason explains that this was in the merit of being the one who gave Yaakov the news that Yosef was alive. At first, Yaakov did not accept what the brothers were telling him, but when Serach told him that it was true, he was able to accept it. Tzror Hamor writes that in this merit she lived a very long life, being the only person from the original seventy members of Yaakov’s family to enter Eretz Yisrael.

Shemos Rabbah states that Yaakov transmitted the “secret of the redemption” – that the Redeemer would say, “pakod pakadati – I [Hashem] have indeed remembered” to Yosef who transmitted it to Asher, who transmitted it to Serach, since he knew that she would be alive for the redemption. The Mechilta states that Serach was actually the one who informed Moshe where Yosef was buried (submerged in the Nile River) so that he could fulfill the promise made to Yosef that his bones would be taken out of Egypt.

The Midrash Seichel Tov explains the meaning of Serach’s name based upon what we have now learned. The word serach is used in connection to material for the curtain in the Mishkan (Shemos 26:12) which descended from the roof and was “additional,” in the sense that it wasn’t needed for the actual covering of the beams. Serach lived a long life with many additional years – as a matter of fact the Midrash writes that she was the “wise woman” who called out to Dovid’s general, Yoav, when he was pursuing Sheva ben Bichri (Shmuel II, 20:16). This is based on Bereishis Rabbah (94:9) where Serach rebukes Yoav for threatening to kill and destroy the whole city, including her.

So, Serach is one those mysterious personalities and she lived a very long life. Why? Yes, it was an extremely momentous time for Yaakov, but what exactly did Serach do that was so amazing?

That’s where this week’s haftarah comes in. You were wondering whether you had the right column, weren’t you? This is supposed to be a haftarah column, you were thinking, correct? Well, wonder no more.

The haftarah records one of the most important prophecies of Yechezkel HaNavi (37:15-28).  He sees a vision of Messianic times, when the kingdoms of Yehudah and Yosef will be unified once again. This is represented by two wooden sticks, one for Yosef and one for Yehudah, becoming one – no divisions within Klal Yisrael. Just as in our parsha Yosef is finally reunited with his brothers and his father, so too Yechezkel describes a time of reunification when the long exile of hatred and disunity will have passed.

The concept of achdus, ultimate unity, is the eventual goal of all of Hashem’s creation. Before Creation, Hashem’s Oneness existed alone, with nothing to create any doubt.  Then, Hashem made a world with many diverse parts, and His Oneness hidden throughout.  At the end of time, all the disparate elements that Hashem created will join together to show a true oneness, a Oneness of Hashem which existed all along but was not clearly seen. It will be then that Ein Od Milvado, the concept that nothing truly exists outside of Hashem, will be seen, and all of the puzzle pieces of existence will have come together as one. We will then encounter the truth of Hashem’s Oneness and the finality of the Complete Redemption, the Geulah Shelaimah.

This is all wonderful, but how does it all connect with Serach? Be patient.

Hashem initially intended for people to live forever.  The Arizal states that if Adam and Chava would have been patient on that first Friday and refrained from eating from the Eitz HaDaas until Shabbos, Hashem would have given them to eat of the Eitz HaChaim and then from the Eitz HaDaas.  They would have eaten from the tree which provides eternal life, and then would have been granted permission to eat from the one tree forbidden to them.

One of the consequences of their cheit was death, as Hashem had forewarned, “For on the day that you eat [from the tree], you shall surely die” (Bereishis 2:17). Ramban explains that this was not to be taken literally – they didn’t die on that day, but rather brought mortality on themselves and their descendants.

After the cheit, Hashem decreed that Adam would live to be 1,000 years old. (He lived for 930 because, as the Midrash explains, when he saw that David HaMelech was destined to die as an infant, he donated seventy years of his life to him.)

Later, as a result of further transgressions, man’s lifespan was shortened even more. Rashi (Bereishis 6:3) explains that Hashem was disappointed with mankind’s misdeeds and decreed that he will live no more than 120 years. For example, Adam lived to 930, Shem to 600, Avraham to 175, Yaakov to 147 and Moshe, 120. Man’s lifespan was diminished further, according to the Malbim, after the Mabul. Until then, there were no extremes in seasons; the weather was always comfortable. After, Hashem established regular seasonal changes and a weakening of the human condition. The lack of ability to withstand these constant changes in weather resulted in a shortening of man’s lifespan.

Bringing together the kingdoms of Yehudah and Yosef, the Ten Tribes and the Two Tribes, is a big part of the world’s ultimate tikkun, the rectification toward Oneness, and return of the world to a Gan Eden state. Serach played a huge role in achieving this unity by convincing Yaakov to go down to Mitzrayim and reunite his family.  Through her actions, Serach helped recreate the unity of Gan Eden, the unity we pray will come in Yemos HaMashiach.

And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftarah.

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One Response to “Parshas Vayigash: Why did Serach Live Such A Long Life?”

  1. Interesting you mention the Oneness of creation, Rabbi. While working on a "toy" and the rough-draft of the "manual" that comes with it, I started playing with the theme of One being the largest of numbers, because it is the smallest common denominator of all numbers- a multiple that fits evenly in any number, no matter how large. No number can exist without the One, and even prime numbers can be broken down by the One. Another concept behind this "toy" is the idea of two equal, yet opposed, parts coming together to make a whole (where each piece on its own is weak and the polar opposite of the other, when they are put together, they form a solid staff). This "toy" can have far more practical applications for the modern world, but when I came up with it, themes of unity, and respect for both the little ones and the big One kept popping up. Sadly, while I see the beauty in creation when I use this toy or imagine its uses once all the additional components are in place, I am stuck trying to get others to understand it. When I see a tree, I see the layers and layers of fibers that support it. Each grain is weak on its own, but when bundled together, they can support tremendous weight. Break it down even further, and we see individual cells forming together in complex arrangements to make the tree, as well as all other living things. Beyond that, the atomic and subatomic level, and who knows how much deeper it gets, but when you start to look from the bottom up, you start to see the beauty of this vast and complex system that is built piece by piece, one by One. And while this system allows for a lot of complexity, there is still this divine simplicity behind it that allows it all to come together and to interact in all the various ways to make life possible. This "toy" I've been playing is extremely crude in comparison, but even so, I think it has value to teach and inspire, as well as completing a few other, practical tasks at the same time. I've offered this system to various entities in the past year, but my words fail me and without having every component in play, it's a hard sale. To be honest, the themes of unity and the reverence for the natural world would be lost if most of those entities were to pick up the concept…from the start, it felt like this "toy" belonged with one group of people first. I'm little more than nothing myself though, and nobody listens to nothing. But for what it's worth, articles like these give me a peace and an understanding that I didn't have before…the Sunday-school teachers and preachers of my youth left me with a great uneasiness and an inability to unify the multiple angles that had been thrown at me. Thank you, Rabbi.

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