Serah, Daughter of Asher

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

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When Moses and Aaron came to the Israelite elders and performed miracles before them, they went to Serah and told her: "A certain man has come to us and performed such-and-such wonders." She replied, "There is no substance to him" (that is, he is not the deliverer). They then said to her: "He also said: 'When God has taken notice of you'." She said: "This is the man who will redeem Israel from Egypt, for I heard from my father 'He will take notice'." Then the people immediately believed in their God.

In the midrashic account, Serah helped Moses to fulfill the oath sworn to Joseph, to carry up his bones. When the Israelites were ready to leave Egypt they were occupied in taking booty, and Moses was the only one who was engaged with Joseph's bones.

Serah was the only one of that generation still alive. Moses went to her and asked: "Do you know where Joseph is buried?" She answered: "They placed him here. The Egyptians made for him a metal coffin and sunk it in the Nile, so that its waters would be blessed." Moses then went to the Nile, stood on the bank and called out to the bones of Joseph. Joseph's coffin immediately rose to the surface and Moses took it (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 13a). This led the Rabbis to state that Serah delivered "the faithful one to the faithful one," since she gave Joseph over to Moses when they departed from Egypt (Genesis Rabbah 94:9).

Serah's Longevity

According to the Rabbis, not only was Serah among those who came to Egypt and one of those who left it, she also entered The Land of Israel; they use as a proof text for the latter claim Numbers 26:46, that includes Serah among the names of those entering the land (Seder Olam Rabbah 9).

The traditions of Serah's extreme longevity apparently have their basis in the fact that she is mentioned both in the count of those who went to Egypt and in the list of those who entered The Land of Israel. This evolved into the tradition that Serah lived for hundreds of years, was in the presence of both Joseph and Moses and was even one of those who entered the land of Canaan.

In the development of this tradition her lifetime extended to the period of King David and the later traditions claimed that she never died at all, but entered the Garden of Eden while still alive. In the late midrash, Jacob is the one who blessed Serah that she would live forever, telling her: "My daughter, because you revived my spirit, death shall never rule you" (Sefer ha-Yashar , Vayigash, chapter 14).

The character of Serah, who accompanies the Israelites to Egypt and enters the land of Canaan with them, embodies the history of the people of Israel. Her character is linked with those of the people's leaders, and she expedites the realization of the Divine plan. This is her role when she convinces Jacob that Joseph still lives, thus resulting in his going down to Egypt; she continues in this task when she identifies Moses as the true redeemer of Israel, thus leading the people to heed him; and thus, when she helps Moses to find Joseph's bones, so as not to delay the Exodus from Egypt. Serah's appearance seemingly confirms that God's promises will be fulfilled and that the people of Israel will leave Egypt and come to and take possession of the Promised Land.

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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.