Raboyseyee and Ladies,
600,000 Pus Men and 6 Women:
Before we get to the six women, let us instead begin with a shtikel plug to Physical Therapist Bruce Goodheart who has –since the Oisvorfer’s shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff back in March- been nursing him back to health. He’s very good with his hands. Located on Franklin Pl in Woodmere New York –parking aplenty- Bruce eschews machines and relies on a hands-on approach with his patients.
A physical therapist since 1992, Bruce has been here in the Five Tows for the past fifteen years and I highly recommend him for those in need of PT. He does it all but prides himself on his ability to help those with orthopedic needs, and post-op rehabilitation. Find him at PRIORITY CARE PT, 516-569-0373.
Shoin, as last week’s parsha was coming to a close, the Yiddin, enticed by either Moabite, Midianite or both, hot shiksas, found themselves entangled in various sex acts and combined them with some avoido zoro (idolatry) which angered the RBSO greatly. Moreover, to make matters worse –what could be worse?- a fellow by the name of Zimri was having sex in public with Kozbi, she a princess of Midianite descent. The RBSO sent an unnamed plague and thousands died. A not so gentle gentleman by the name of Pinchas, a zealot, took matters into his owns hands (according to most) and killed them both with his spear. As they were in the midst of cohabiting, he aimed his weapon directly at the genitals and got them both. Shoin! The plague came to an end, but not before 24000 Yiddin were dead. Welcome to Parshas Pinchas which takes place in the aftermath of the plague and the zealot actions by Pinchas.
Once every ten years, the US Census Bureau does a complete population count, surveying every resident in the US. This count is mandated by the Constitution. The first census in the United States took place beginning on August 2, 1790. It began more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking through 1840. The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in “two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned…” and that “the aggregate amount of each description of persons” for every district be transmitted to the president.
Officially titled “United States Census 2020,” information and links concerning the current ongoing census occupy several pages on Google where, after clicking on a few, you will come to discover azoy: results from the 2020 Census will be used to determine the number of seats each state has in Congress and your political representation at all levels of government. Data from the decennial Census is used for a variety of purposes. It determines legislative districts and representation and sets eligibility for government programs like housing assistance. The data is also used to allocate nearly $700 billion, or 13% of all government spending, to government grants and programs. What is the relevance of this information, and just how is it related to Parshas Pinchas which some of you -those reluctant to go back to shul- will be hearing in various backyard minyonim? Let’s find out.
Back in Parshas Vayigash (the heylige Oisvorfer’s bar mitzvah parsha), we were given a very specific count of the number of Yiddin who accompanied Yaakov to Mitzrayim. They were listed by name. That number totaled either 69 or 70 persons. As an aside, both numbers are recorded in the heylige Toirah and explanations on the differences are for another time. Ober one thing is certain: only one woman was mentioned by name.
Post slavery in Mitzrayim, post the eygel fiasco and just before the Mishkan was to be built, the RBSO ordered a full count – a first ever census, and we get a final midbar count in this week’s parsha of Pinchas. It’s taka emes that reading the various genealogies of each tribe is somewhat repetitive and might even bore you, ober if you skip over the very detailed listing of names, you will miss something quite intriguing. Curiously, that one woman mentioned in Vayigash is shouted out again some 250 years later, and is seemingly alive and well. Who is this mystery woman? What role did she play? Does she have a speaking role in the heylige Toirah? How could she be alive at age 250+? Is that even possible? Why did she live so long? Didn’t all Toirah personalities mentioned in Sefer Bereishis long ago pass on and disappear from the script? They do! Where in the heylige Toirah can we find her engaged in conversation? As an aside, the answer to that last question is no place. She has not one speaking role in the entire heylige Toirah. What to do when a lone woman gets shouted out in two different census counts and no one knows why? Our sages of the medrish who specialized in reading the missing words of the heylige Toirah used their imaginations and answered each of the questions posed above and then some. They are recorded in various medroshim. Did they make these answers up of thin air? Avada not; if the medrish so states, avada it might have happened just that way. Of course, it’s also possible that it didn’t. The bottom line: ver veyst?
And before we answer the questions and reveal the identity of mystery woman, let’s briefly mention the results of the census. Several weeks ago, back in Parshas Shelach, in year two of their wanderings through the midbar, the RBSO decreed that all males above the age of 20 (with the exception of Kolave ben Yifuneh and Yihoishua bin Nun) would die in the midbar; they would not be entering the Promised Land. And shoin here we are in Pinchas, it’s year 40. Those condemned, avada died as we discussed just last week. The Yiddin, the new generation, are mamish weeks away from entering the land and the RBSO instructs Moishe to take yet one more census. Shoin, we shall skip the detailed numbers, ober its worth mentioning this one point. Though the RBSO did away with approximately 600,000 males who were 20 and over when the decree came down, somehow –mamish miraculously- when all were counted in this week’s parsha, the total number of males above 20 is kimat the same as it was in the year two census. How is that shayich? The bottom line: one should never question the RBSO. Somehow between those who were 19 when the decree came down, those even younger, and those not even born yet, when all totaled, it appears that all 600,000 were replaced by new lives. What that all means, ver veyst? Shoin, lets get back to the 250 year old woman of our parsha and how, where the heylige Toirah is silent, medrish stepped in and imagined a series of different scenarios as to why she was still alive at 250+ years old. Moreover, though elderly and at risk, she seemingly made it through the plague that hit the Yiddin. The bottom line: if it’s not your designated time to go, not to worry!
Back in the year 2488 (on our lunar calendars), the RBSO –as mentioned just above- ordered a third census, this one to include all males above the age of 20 and ready to bear arms. “And it came to pass after the plague, G-d told Moishe… take a census of Bnei Yisrael from the age twenty and up, l’beis avoisom (by their ancestral houses), all who are able to bear arms.” “… This is the total number of Bnei Yisrael: 601,730. Let us read posik 46 from Perek 26 of the parsha. “The name of Asher’s daughter: Serach. These are the families of the sons of Asher according to their count: 53,400.” Aside from this shout out and the earlier one in Bereishis on the way into Mitzrayim, Serach takes no part in any narrative, nor is anything said about her. In contrast, there are myriad fascinating medroshim about this woman and thus the faceless Toirah character becomes a fascinating personality.
What’s she, Serach, doing here? Wasn’t Moshe instructed to count males above 20 who could bear arms? Was Serach at 250+ going to bear arms, or any other part of her body? What’s pshat? Now it’s taka emes that our parsha will also list five more women, they being the daughters of a deceased gentleman by the name of Tzelofchod, ober there is a good reason to list them in the parsha as they were the catalysts behind Jewish inheritance laws which are recorded in the parsha. Moreover, they are not listed in the census. Ober, what about Serach? No place in the heylige Toirah does anyone named Serach bas Asher do or say anything. Yet she is listed in the Toirah by name; why? Moreover, we have to imagine that Yaakov had many granddaughters; vus epes (why specifically) is she shouted out? And even more moreover, let’s recall that Yaakov had 12 sons and they (among themselves) had fifty-three sons. Not one had a granddaughter? Bottom line: Serach must have been special, and medrish so tells us. What’s pshat special? Let’s find out.
One medrish tell us azoy: Serach did not die, ever! She had been granted eternal life by her Zeydi (it is avada good to have grandparents). Nu, mistama you have a few questions: ershtens, did Yaakov have the ability to confer eternal life, and secondly, what made her deserving of this blessing? Shoin, let’s hearken back to Bereishis where the holy shevotim who initially plotted to kill their brother Yoisef, instead sold him into slavery. As an aside, the Oisvorfer never got over those facts; moreover, they never apologized. Kimat a full twelve years later, the heylige Toirah tells us that when the boys returned home from Mitzrayim, they informed Yaakov that Yoisef was alive and now the vizier in Egypt. It does not explain the method used to break the news. The medrish fills in this lacuna; why not imagine a scenario? The brothers were concerned if they just came out and stated that Yoisef was alive, the shock would kill their father. As they were nearing their abode, they spied Asher’s daughter Serach, who they knew was wise, comely, had a pleasing voice, and was a talented harp player. Her father and uncles summoned Serach and persuaded her to tell Yaakov about Yoisef. Says the medrish (Medrish ha-Gadol azoy: Serach waited until Yaakov began to pray. Then she stood in front of him and asked him questions: “Is Yoisef in Egypt? Did he have two sons, Menashe and Ephraim?” Yaakov heard her questions, and when he saw the wagons that Yoisef had sent, he understood that Yoisef was alive. Says the Baal ha-Turim (Devorim 33:24) that Serach was a prophetess and that’s how she knew Yoisef had been sold, even though the brothers had sworn not to tell anyone. Says Yoinoson ben Uziel (Bereishis 46:17), azoy: “Because Serach told Yaakov that Yoisef was alive, she entered Gan Eden (Paradise) without having to die first.” Serach took her harp, sat before her grandfather, and sang with an agreeable melody about Yoisef’s being alive and viceroy of Egypt. As she kept singing her song, Yaakov started to become excited. He rewarded Serach with the words: “My daughter, may death never have power over thee, for you revived my spirit.” Another version of this story (Sefer ha-Yashar) tells this story more vividly. In that version, Serach played a harp (or some other stringed instrument) and sang, “Yoisef is still alive, and he’s a king in Egypt.” Because of her gentle way of breaking the news, Yaakov gave Serach a blessing to live forever. And so it was. A blessing from zeyde Yaakov enabled Serach to be in the list of those who went to Mitzrayim and those who left. But wait: the medrish tells us she did even more. What more can one woman do?
Serach played an important, but not recorded, role in the entire exodus. She persuaded the Yiddin to believe Moishe when he claimed that the RBSO had sent him to free them from slavery. Seemingly, the people had been fooled by a false redeemer about 30 years before Moishe came back to Egypt from Midian. A descendant of Ephraim claimed he had been sent by G-d to take the Yiddin out. Thousands escaped with this false redeemer and were slaughtered by the Plishtim (Philistines). As an aside, that is why the Yiddin avoided the shorter route through the land of the Philistines. When Moishe came to free the Yiddin, the elders wanted proof that he was legitimate. More good work by Serach! The heylige Toirah tells us that Aharoin spoke all the words that Hashem had spoken to Moishe, and he performed the signs. The elders consulted with Serach. She told them that the signs were worthless, but that because they used the phrase, “I have surely remembered you,” this is the man that shall free Israel. For that phrase was the secret password passed on from Yaakov to Asher to Serach. And that’s why Raboyseyee, the Oisvorfer loves the medrish.
But wait, there’s even more. She seems to have been front and center when the Yiddin got ready to leave Mitzrayim. In the first verses of Beshalach we read that Moishe took along the bones of Yoisef. This statement is inserted into a general description of how the entire people left, in particular by what route. Now from the final verses of parshas Vayichi we know that Yoisef was embalmed and placed in a coffin inside Egypt. However, Egypt is a big place, and the rabbis wondered how did Moishe know where to find Yoisef’s coffin? He knew because Serach bas Asher told him. Shoin, she was the go-to person who seemingly knew, and could do it all. For three days and night Moishe looked for Yoisef’s remains, but his hunt was in vain. Then Serach met the frustrated Moishe and asked about the cause of his weariness. Serach told him to look in the Nile River where the coffin had been sunk.
And if that weren’t enough for one person of over 200 years old, the Novee (2 Shmuel 20) has even more for us. When King David ruled over Israel, a man named Sheva ben Bichri spoke badly of him, inciting a rebellion. He was chased by King David’s army until he reached a city called Avel Beis Maachah. Yoav ben Tzeruyah, the army’s commander, laid siege to the city and tried to breach the walls. But a wise woman convinced him not to destroy the whole city on account of Sheva ben Bichri alone. In the end the rebel was killed, and peace reigned again. Who was the wise woman? The Medrish (Yalkut Shimoni) says that it was Serach, the daughter of Asher. In the course of her conversation with Yoav, she said, “I am one who fulfills the faithful of Israel.” This is an allusion to Serach being the one to “fill” the quota of Jews going down to Egypt with Yaakov, being the 70th person in the count.
Want more: seemingly there is a “Serach Cemetery” over in Iran where Persian Jews call the Jewish cemetery of Isfahan, Iran, “Serach’s Cemetery.” One of its graves is considered to be Serach’s. Why a person who never died and went directly to heaven needed a grave ver veyst? The bottom line: just because a few medroshim are mutually exclusive does not mean they are all false. Which version –if any- is emes? Ver veyst?
Some say Serach was not Asher’s daughter but only his stepdaughter (his wife’s daughter). What? And some say that Serach was Asher’s granddaughter—i.e., Asher’s son married, and fathered Serach; that son died, and Asher married his son’s wife. All of his other sons were from this wife. Ober doesn’t the heylige Toirah tell us that Serach was the daughter of Asher? It does ober check out the Ramban’s version of Onkelos’s explanation, which he discusses in his commentary on Bamidbar 26:46 where you will these other theories on who Serach was. One medrish (Sefer ha-Yashar, Va-Yeshev, chap. 14) tells us that Serach 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. Serach was raised in Asher’s home as his daughter, but since she was adopted, she was not listed among Yaakov’s seventy descendants. One exegetical tradition tells us that Serach never died but was one of the people who entered the Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) while still alive where she would eventually meet up with people including Enoch, Eliyohu, Paroy’s daughter Bitsya, Koirach’s three sons, Rochov son and a few other son the VIP list.
The bottom lines: because the heylige Toirah gives no voice to Serach, the medroshim (traditions) of Serach’s extreme longevity apparently were very creative and 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 Promised Land. This further evolved into the tradition that Serach lived for hundreds of years, was in the presence of both Yoisef and Moishe, and that her lifetime extended to the period of King David. And if that wasn’t a full life, later medroshim claim that she never died at all, but entered the Garden of Eden while still alive. And that Raboyseyee, is why you needn’t spend money on trashy novels; the medrish has it all.
Have an easy fast and a gittin Shabbis!
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv