Who Was Serah? Originally Published January 1-2, 2021.

Serah (שֶׂרַח בַּת אָשֵׁר) was the daughter of Asher, who was a son of Jacob.  We read about her briefly last week, in Vayiggash (Genesis 46:17), as we read the names of Jacob’s 53 grandsons and this one granddaughter being among the 70 to be transported to Egypt.

Interestingly enough, we read about her again in Numbers 26:46 as being one of the family of Asher who escaped Egypt after centuries of slavery. 

In fact, it is in midrash that she comes alive.  She is mentioned in Targum Yonatan as the one who gently told Jacob the news that Joseph was still alive.  She is said to have told him with soothing music, to soften the possible shock.   The midrash tells of her ability to compose music, sing, and play lyre.  This is said to have merited her transport to the afterworld alive, much as Enoch, Jonah, the Prophet Elijah, and several others are said to have gone.

There is an account that Serah was the daughter of Asher’s second wife (he had no children with his first, and she was a widow with one) and he adopted Serah as his own.  The Book of Yasher gives the details:  Asher’s first wife had been Adon bat Aflal ben Hadad ben Ishmael.  His second was Hadurah bat Abimael ben Heber ben Shem.  Hadurah had been married to Malkiel ben Elam ben Shem, and he had named his daughter Serah.  Asher was apparently eager to adopt her and took them both to live in Jacob’s house in Canaan.  (This story has been cited as informative for a child being officially the child of an adoptive parent rather than the genetic parent.)  She was three years old at the time, and Jacob took a liking to her.  He is said to have blessed her after she so gently broke the good news to him, saying words to the effect that she would live forever and never die.

Also we read the story of her helping Moses find Joseph’s bones to take to Israel in the Exodus.  Since the promise had been made, Joseph’s body had to be taken.  Known for her knowledge and wisdom, in addition to her beauty, she showed them where the Egyptians had placed Joseph’s metal coffin into the Nile.  The story further says that Moses stood on the bank of the Nile and called to Joseph to raise his coffin so that they could take it.  (Other accounts say that Moses wrote the name of God on a tablet and threw it into the water, which served to raise the coffin.)

Serah’s name also appears as one of those who enters the Land of Israel (Numbers 26:46).  There is also a tradition that she was the Wise Woman of Abel-beth-maacah who advised King David.  The king’s military commander, Joab, asked who she was (2 Samuel 20:19) and she responded “I am one of those seeking welfare of the faithful in Israel.”   Thus she is said to have saved the residents of her town, Abel.

There is even a story about her testifying for the rabbinic academy as Rabbi Yohanan was expounding about the walls of water in the parting of the sea in the Exodus:  Serah reportedly said, “I was there, and the water was not as a net, but as transparent windows.”   

Serah in Sephardic tradition is said to have lived nearly 1,000 years, until the tribe of Asher was exiled by Shalmeneser V.  She died in exile and was reportedly buried in Pir Bakran, a small town southeast of Isfahan in Iran.  The huge cemetery is likely 2,000 years old.  Your correspondent prefers to think she still walks among us.