Here’s a fun version of the Serah bat Asher story I wrote up and read at a friend’s “Harry Potter” themed passover seder last year. Thought I’d share it.
We are a people of history, of memory, of continuity. We teach. And we remember.
When Moses readied the Hebrews to leave, after the final terrible plagues and after the Angel of Death had passed over their doors, there was still one last task. A promise that needed to be kept. A promise far older than the pharaoh who was even now readying his chariots and soldiers. A promise demanded by Joseph, son of Jacob the patriarch, at the very beginning of the Hebrews sojourn in Egypt. Joseph had his brothers and their children promise that someday, when they would finally leave Egypt and travel to the promised land, they would take Joseph with them.
But it is 400 years later and Moses, who was raised in Pharaoh’s house, did not know where the bones of Joseph were buried. Nor did the elders of the Hebrews. The burial had been in secret. So they went to Serah bat Asher and Serah knew. Serah knew because she was Serah the immortal, who had been there 400 years earlier. Serah was the adopted daughter of Asher, who was Jacob’s son and Joseph’s brother. Serah had been Jacob’s favorite, studying at her grandfather’s knee and learning all the old lore. She not only learned about the one God but the deep secrets of how God made the universe, and how the universe could be remade, all that Jacob had learned from Shem and Ever, the son and grandson of Noah. For her devout diligence, God had blessed her with learning and understanding.
And then Jacob blessed her with immortality. After Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt, Jacob had broken. He mourned and grieved for Joseph, with a face wet with tears that never dried. When, years later, the brothers learned that Joseph, with God’s help, still lived and flourished in Egypt, they rushed to tell Jacob. But they feared the news might be too much of a shock, that it might kill their father. So they begged Serah to tell him, to find a way to ease the news. And Serah knew how. She took her harp and sat next to Jacob as he prayed, as she always did. She played and sang all the prayers of Jacob’s heart. As Jacob was filled with prayer and was closest to God, she sang new words to him. She sang of Joseph being alive and healthy and that Jacob would see him soon. Jacob finished his prayers, weeping now in joy, and blessed Serah, saying “My daughter, may death never prevail against you forever, for you have revived my spirit.” The blessing of a patriarch is a powerful thing.
Death never did prevail against her. So she was there when the Jacob and the brothers went down to Egypt. She was there when Joseph made the brothers promise to take him with them when they left Egypt. And she was there, years later, watching quietly from the tall grasses, when the Egyptian wizards sunk Joseph’s body in a hidden spot in the Nile river, in a metal coffin, covered with sigils and signs, such that it would never rise again. Because the Egyptian wizards knew that the Hebrews would never abandon Joseph and would never leave if they could not find his bones.
That is why, 400 years later when Moses came to her, she was able to lead him to where Joseph’s metal coffin had been sunk. She stood with Moses, as Moses, in God’s name and using the names of God that Serah had learned, said “Joseph, Joseph, the time has arrived about which the Holy One, Blessed be He, took an oath saying that I (God) will redeem you. And the time for fulfillment of the oath that you administered to the Jewish people that they will bury you in Eretz Yisrael has arrived. If you show yourself, it is good, but if not, we are clear from your oath.” Immediately, the casket of Joseph floated to the top of the water.
Serah, the immoral, had learned great secrets and had shared them with her people and sustained them.
When God divided the Red Sea, Serah bat Asher crossed the dry sea bed with Moses and Miriam and the rest of the Hebrews, marveling at the miracle.
Serah was with them at Sinai, when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of the commandments, as well as gifts given by angels including Moses’ sword, his great book of spells. Serah was with them when Moses fought and destroyed the giant Og, King of Bashan, who had lived since before Noah and had tried to throw down a mountain on Moses and the Hebrews (but the spell book and the giant are stories for a different night). And Serah was with them when, at last, they entered Eretz Yisrael with two arks, the holy ark with God’s commandments that was venerated by the people and a second ark, that was shielded from the people, an ark that carried Joseph’s bones finally fulfilling the old promise.
And so it was two thousand years later, when Serah lived in Eretz Yisrael, in the Galilee, in the north, that she stood outside the schoolhouse of Rabbi Yohannan and listened.
Rabbi Yohanan was [once] sitting and expounding about how the waters became like a wall for Israel [at the time they miraculously passed through the Sea which had split open before them to permit their Exodus from Egypt]. Rabbi Yohanan explained that the waters looked “like a lattice.” However, just at that moment, Serah bat Asher looked in and said: “I was there and they (the waters) were not like that but rather like lighted windows.”
It is now 2000 years after that, more than 4000 years after Serah bat Asher was born. Some believe that she still lives, still sharing her memories and helping us remember who we have been and who we are. Others believe that she moved to Persia and, during the fire at the great synagogue of Esfahan, ascended directly to heaven to again study with Jacob and to intercede with God when her people needed healing and help. Either way, Serah the immortal never died, and tonight is a night to remember Serah and to thank God for memory and wisdom and to thank our parents and teachers and friends and Rabbi’s and everyone we learn from.