Serah, Daughter of Asher

How the Midrash interprets Serah's role in Israelite history.

Print this page Print this page

Serah, daughter of Asher, is mentioned in the Bible in the count of the Israelites who went down to Egypt (Genesis 46:17) and in the enumeration of the Israelites at the steppes of Moab (Numbers 26:46). Aside from this, she takes no part in any narrative, nor is anything said about her.

In contrast, there are a plethora of midrashic traditions about this woman and thus the faceless Biblical character becomes a fascinating personality. Her history is intertwined with the story of the migration to Egypt and enslavement, and also with redemption and the return to the Land of Israel. She lived to an extremely old age and, accordingly, was blessed with much earthly wisdom and knowledge, which she used to help the people of Israel as needed, even during the time of the Rabbis.Woman with Lyre

Midrashic Interpretations of Serah

The midrash speaks of Serah's great beauty and wisdom: when Joseph was reunited with his brothers and sent them to the land of Canaan to bring his father Jacob to him in Egypt, he ordered them not to alarm their aged father. The brothers summoned Serah and asked her to sit before Jacob and play for him on the lyre, in this manner revealing to him that Joseph was still alive. Serah played well and sang gently: "Joseph my uncle did not die, he lives and rules all the land of Egypt."

Enumeration of the Israelites

Although Genesis 46:17 lists Serah among the seventy members of Jacob's family who went to Egypt, the Rabbis observe that a count of the names in Genesis 46 totals only sixty-nine. Logic would dictate that Jacob himself completed the count of seventy souls, but the midrash maintains that Serah was the seventieth member of the Israelite party (Genesis Rabbah 94:9).

According to this view, she was intentionally not enumerated among the seventy, because she entered the Garden of Eden while still alive. This exegesis might be based on a tradition preserved only in the late midrash, according to which she was the daughter of Malchiel son of Elam and Hadorah, the granddaughter of Eber, and was adopted by Asher after the death of her father and her mother's marriage to Asher. Serah was raised in Asher's home as his daughter, but since she was adopted, she was not listed among Jacob's seventy descendants (see Sefer haYashar, Vayeshev, chapter 14).

Serah Identifies the Liberator of the Israelites from Egypt

The Rabbis assign to Serah an important role in identifying Moses as the redeemer who would deliver the Israelites from Egypt. The midrash relates that the secret of redemption was given over to Abraham, who conveyed it to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to Joseph. Joseph transmitted the secret of redemption to his brothers, telling them (Genesis 50:25): "When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here" and Asher passed it along to his daughter Serah.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Tamar Kadari received a B.A. in Hebrew Literature and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Midrash at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She teaches Midrash at Bar Ilan University and at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. During her period as a doctoral candidate she was a fellow at the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her academic research focuses on Song of Songs Rabbah and its early interpretations.