Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Vayigash 2020 – Born But Never Died

Mazel tov to our friends of many decades, Malki and Phil Rosen upon the wedding this past Sunday of their son Isaac to Emily Klein. Mazel tov to grandma Sara Leifer and to the entire extended Rosen, Klein and Leifer families. May Isaac and Emily enjoy many years of marital bliss.


Born But Never Died

Is it at all shayich (possible) to be born and never die?

Not under normal circumstances, ober all is avada possible in the medrish and this week, we shall meet one of those lucky ones. Who is this mystery person who makes an appearance for the first time in this week’s parsha, one more in the entire heylige Toirah before disappearing but seemingly never dying? Why is this person famous? What did this person accomplish? We shall soon find out, ober let’s begin here.

Parshas Vayigash, which the heylige Ois will be laining, and as all know, is very emotional and action packed, mamish.  After threatening and taunting his brothers and following various seemingly vengeful tribulations, Yoisef reveals himself to them and sends a message -with them- for his father Yaakov and his entire family to join him in Mitzrayim. Of course, that invite ultimately led to hundreds of years of slavery, ober all that for another day and parsha. Recall the master plan. That being said, our focus this year is on the mystery person. As an aside, and as we have avada mentioned in earlier postings on Vayigash (see www.oisvorfer.com), according to Rashi and others, Yoisef’s revelation was real: seemingly, he pulled his pants down to show them that his royal member had been circumcised. No wonder his brothers backed away! Ober this year, in year 11 of Vayigash postings, we shall -as we have been doing of late- focus above the belt, and on a secondary Toirah character, also by chance a female.

This week’s mystery person is rather an elusive character. We don’t know much about her from the heylige Torah itself, but what we do know is enough to have sparked the imagination of many an exegete for centuries. She is a faceless Biblical character who becomes a fascinating personality. She has her first appearance in this week’s parsha in a sentence that is easy to overlook. The heylige Toirah (Bereishis 46:8-27) delineates all those who descended with Yaakov to Mitzrayim. Included in that list are both “his sons and his sons’ sons…his daughters and his sons’ daughters.” 53 grandsons are listed by name but only one single granddaughter is shouted out. Our person of the week is Usher’s daughter, otherwise known as Serach bas Usher. Says the heylige Toirah: “These are the names of the Israelites, Yaakov and his descendants, who came to Egypt,” and continues to list all of Yaakov’s sons, his daughter Dinah, his grandsons, and one granddaughter—Serach. The posik read azoy: “The sons of Usher: And the sons of Usher [were] Yimna, Yishva, Yishvi, and Bri’a, and Serach their sister.” Shoin, we named her and now let’s find out who she was -or is- what she did, and why we’re talking about her.

Now to chap her importance and why she is shouted out by name, we must avada chap that for a woman to be mentioned by name in the list of family members who made the big move down to Mitzrayim, is by itself an indication of her importance. After all, it’s not shayich that she alone was the only female on the trip. Why not? Because the heylige Toirah specifically told us that Yaakov descended with daughters and granddaughters. As well, what about the wives of the holy roller shevotim? Did they not join?  Yet, only Serach is mentioned? Accordingly, something’s up with her, ober what? Shoin, as you all know, the heylige Torah doesn’t always tell us all, its laconic style and text, contain only what the RBSO wanted us to know. Of course, this wasn’t good enough for many a sage, and taka, many do attribute givaldige fanciful and perhaps even true stories about her. As to the text, it does not record a single deed, thought, or anything else about her. Yet, this is not the only mention of this enigmatic woman. Her name appears again in the census of the Yiddin taken in the midbar (desert) years after they left Mitzrayim (Bamidbar 26:46).  Moreover, she is mentioned also among the descendants of Usher in Divrey Hayomim (I Chronicles 7:30).

And from these three-brief shout-outs of her name, our sages of the medrish concluded that Serach bas Usher traveled with her family into Mitzrayim and then out again hundreds of years later. Well blow me down! She’s alive hundreds of years later? How could that be? She lived longer than the more typical 100-200 years? How could she be alive mamish hundreds of years later? How many hundreds? That depends on how long the Yiddin were there. Says the heylige Toirah (Shmois 12: 41), azoy:

41. It came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it came to pass in that very day, that all the legions of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt.   מאוַיְהִ֗י מִקֵּץ֙ שְׁלשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֗י בְּעֶ֨צֶם֙ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה יָֽצְא֛וּ כָּל־צִבְא֥וֹת יְהֹוָ֖ה מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם:

And while there is a machloikes (dispute) over how long the Yiddin were enslaved, all seemingly agree that they had a physical presence in Egypt for 430 years. And if she was among the first to enter, she’s zicher hundreds of years old. Moreover, based on what you’re about to read, she had to be at least 5 or efsher 6 before the family descended to Mitzryaim. The bottom line: if it’s emes that she descended and that she appears in the census count in year 40 of midbar wanderings, and of course it’s emes if the heylige Toirah so told us, she is at least 470 and more likely, at least 475 or even older in the 40th year of the exodus. How did she live that long? Why did she live that long? Did she ever die? When? Where is that mentioned? Where is she buried? And how is that even shayich when great people like Moishe died at 120 years of age? And that Raboyseyee, is what our sages of yore were wondering as well; how was that possible?

And if you’re wondering why some women were mentioned by name while other Toirah characters remain nameless -without a shoutout- and are known to us by reference only, you are not alone. Do we know the names of the wives of the shvotim? Not! Who was Reuvain’s wife?  And to whom were the dynamic duo brothers married?  We do know that Yoisef married Osnas a nice Egyptian shiksa because so the heylige Toirah tells us this week, ober that’s it. Our sages of the medrish and others looked at all these anomalies and proffered very interesting thoughts. Are their opinions what really took place? Why not? And who are but some of the women who fall into unnamed category? So happens that we meet a few in our parsha. There is the Canaanite woman, unnamed, who bears a son known as Shaul ben Haknanis – to Shimon, apparently from a different mother than that of his other five sons. Shimon had two wives? An affair? Interestingly, the Toirah does not tell us that; only that he had another son from this mystery unnamed woman. This mystery woman reappears again unnamed in the list of those exiting (Shmois Ch. 6) as the mother of Shimon’s son Shaul. Another Canaanite woman who bore sons to the family also goes unnamed. We previously (back in Vayehsev) met the wife of Yehudah introduced only as the daughter of the Canaanite Shua, whose children Eyr and Oynon both married Tamar, she seemingly destined and perhaps the first (and maybe only) person to bed three people in one family. Yikes! Indeed so; she experienced, if you chap, both sons and their father. Amazing! No wonder Yehudah was destined for royalty. Seemingly such ability was efsher a perquisite to such honor. And isn’t that what kings and royalty do? In any event, we never did meet Yehuda’s wife by name.

Ober let’s get back to our parsha where we meet other unnamed wives. Says the heylige (Bereishis 46:5): “And Yaakov rose up from Beer-Sheva; and the sons of Israel carried Yaakov their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Paroy had sent to carry him.” And there is the somewhat ambiguous language of posik 7 where we are told of “[Yaakov’s] sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.”

What do we know? We know azoy: thousands of years before the TSA required names and picture identification to leave and or enter a new country, the heylige Toirah too told us who left and who entered. It Provides a complete manifest, ober is that emes?  Only two ‘daughters’ are mentioned by name: Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov and Leah, and Serach, the daughter of Usher, granddaughter of Yaakov and Zilpah, the maid of Leah. Got all that? Veyter! Yet the word ‘daughters’ in the posik is in the plural and there were clearly other women who were born into the household, even though they remain unnamed and indeed uncounted in the famous statement that seventy souls went down to Mitzrayim with Yaakov. Is the number 70 to be understood literally? For that to make literal sense, we are forced to rely on fuzzy math as the numbers are grossly understated when we add all the other women who joined. Is the count but symbolic? Or, did the others not counted, mamish not count? As an aside, though the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 46:17) lists Serach among the 70 members of Yaakov’s family who went to Egypt, our sages observe that a count of the names totals but 69 persons. Logic would dictate that Yaakov himself completed the count of seventy souls, but the midrash maintains that Serach was the 70th member of the Israelite party, so says the medrish (Medrish Rabbah 94:9). According to this view, she was intentionally not enumerated among the seventy, because she entered Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) while still alive. She did? Mamish? And the question is azoy: who is Serach bas Usher and why is her name shouted out?  Midrashic literature is very intrigued by this woman who apparently lives over four hundred years, whose name bookends both the leaving of Canaan and the return to the Promised Land, and who, according to some, never dies but enters Gan Eden alive. Shoin, let’s explore the creativity of our sages on this topic.

Says the medrish: Serach was a musician and a singer. Mamish? When the sons of Yaakov wanted to tell him that Yoisef was still alive, they feared that the shock of the news might kill him, so they enlisted the talents of Serach who revealed the information to him gently. What’s pshat? Let’s read the medrish (Medrish Hagodol 45:26). which tells us azoy:

“ויגדו לו לאמר ‘עוד יוסף חי'” (בר’ מה:כו)  רבנן אמרו אם אנו אומרים לו תחלה יוסף קים שמא תפרח נשמתו.  מה עשו?  אמרו לשרח בת אשר, “אמרי לאבינו יעקב שיוסף קים והוא במצרים.  מה עשתה? המתינה לא עד שהוא עומד בתפלה ואמרה בלשון תימה:יוסף במצרים/ יולדו לו על ברכים/ מנשה ואפרים.  פג לבו כשהוא עומד בתפלה. כיון שהשלים ראה העגלות, מיד “ותחי רוח יעקב אבינו” (שם).  [מדרש הגדול על בר’ מה:כו]


And in English: [The brothers said:] If we tell him right away, “Yoisef is alive!” perhaps he will have a stroke [lit., his soul will fly away].  What did they do?  They said to Serach, daughter of Usher, “Tell our father Yaakov that Yoisef is alive, and he is in Egypt.”  What did she do?  She waited till he was standing in prayer, and then said in a tone of wonder, “Yoisef is in Egypt/ There have been born on his knees/ Menashe and Ephraim” [three rhyming lines: Yosef be-mizrayim / Yuldu loi al birkayim / Menasheh ve-Ephrayim].  His heart failed, while he was standing in prayer.  When he finished his prayer, he saw the wagons: immediately the spirit of Yaakov came back to life. Gishmak: job well done by Serach and Yaakov did not stroke out.

In response Yaakov blessed her and said “the mouth that told the news that Yoisef is alive will never taste death” (Medrish Hagadol 46 and Targum Yoinoson). This blessing gave Serach immortality, and like the prophet Eliyahu, according to some, she entered heaven while still alive. How that works, ver veyst?!

In another medrish (Midrash Avos, p. 45), we find this: Serach’s long life is either a blessing or a curse (depending on the inflection you give the words) from Yaakov. After returning from Mitzrayim and discovering that their brother Yoisef was alive and well, Yoisef’s brothers weren’t sure how to break the news to their father. After all, he had spent years mourning his favorite son and he was not in the best of health. Afraid that the shock of the news might kill him, the brothers came up with a plan. They asked 6-year-old Serach, Usher’s daughter, to sing a special song to her grandfather. As she sang the chorus “Yoisef is alive,” Yaakov replied “you should live so long.”

In yet another version, the medrish adds more color. Serach did indeed inform Yaakov that his son Yoisef was still alive. Fearing that the news would be too much of a shock for the old man, she informs Yaakov while he is praying, by playing a harp and singing in rhyme that Yoisef is “alive and living in Egypt, and has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim.” In return, Yaakov blesses her, saying “May you live forever and never die.” According to this midrash (“Derech Eretz Zuta 1) , Serach was eventually permitted to enter Heaven alive, something achieved only by nine individuals in all of Jewish history. And shoin, while the President is issuing lists of those pardoned, the heylige Ois is here with the list of those who fared even better; they went straight into heaven while still alive. How that works, ver veyst but here they are.

  1. Chanoch be Yered – The father of Mesushelach was taken by Hashem when he was 365 years old.  Quite young for those days.  The Medrash Agada says that he became the Malach Matat.
    2.  Eliyahu HaNavi
    3.  Moshiach
    4.  Eliezer Eved Avrohom – The gemara Bava Basra (58a) says that when Rav Bana’a went into Meoras HaMachpela he saw Eliezer serving Avrohom.
    5.  Chiram Melech Tzur – In the Aleph Bais of Ben Sira it says that Chiram was let into Gan Eden because he helped built the first Bais HaMikdash and he was a Yarei Shamayim.  After living in Gan Eden 1,000 years he decided that he was a Deity and he was promptly taken out and put into Gehinom.  One Medrash says that he was married to Nevuchadnetzar’s mother.
    6.  Eved Melech HaKushi – He is mentioned in Yirmiya (38:7) and he saved Yirmiya from the mud pit.  Some say he was Baruch ben Neria, Yirmiyahu’s talmid.  Others say he was Tzidkiyahu himself.  Rashi says that this was his name.
    7.  Ya’avatz the Son of Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi
    8.  Bisya bas Paroh
    9.  Serach bas Asher
    (10) Some say, Rav Yehoshua ben Levi who tricked the Malach HaMoves into giving him his sword and showing him Gan Eden.  When he got there he ran inside and the Malach HaMoves couldn’t chase him.

Of course, other lists contain a few other names, but that for another day. In this version, Serach played the harp while informing Yaakov that Yoisef was alive. Ober is that emes? She played the harp?  Not according to Targum Yonasan ben Uziel Braishis 46:17 who says that Serach was taka the one who told Yaakov that Yosef was alive. But? There is no mention of a harp. Rashi, in Shmuel 2 20:19 mentions in the name of Medrish Agada that Serach was the one who told Yaakov that Yoisef was alive but again there is no mention there of a harp. And says the Sefer Mayim Rabim in the name of Pirkei Drebbe Eliezer that she told Yaakov in a song, but once again, no mention of the harp. Was there a harp in the story? Depends on whom you ask.  It’s medrish; they add color all the time and this time, efsher also some music. Grada, growing up, the heylige Ois only knew the version with the harp. The bottom line: whether or not she sang, or sang and played, ver veyst. One thing is certain: Serach was the only one of her gender mentioned in the genealogical lists and for that reason alone, she was a VIP.

Ober Raboyseyee, the medrish is not quite done with Serach and tells us more, much.  The heylige Gemora tells us azoy about Serach: Rebbe Yoichonon was discussing the parting of the Reed Sea and wondered what the walls of water looked like. There was a discussion in the Beis Hamedrish (Academy) as to whether the sea took on the shape of latticework or brickwork. At that moment, Serach bas Usher peered into the window of the study hall and attested, “I was there. They were like lighted [brick] windows.” According to another legend, Serach lived until the tribe of Usher was exiled by Shalmaneser V, went with them into exile, and died there, nearly 1,000 years old. According to the legend, her grave is located in Pir Bakran, a small town about 30 km southeast of Isfahan. The site consists of a small synagogue and a huge cemetery which is probably 2,000 years old.

Says Targum Yonoson ben Uziel, he with an incredible imagination, azoy: “And the name of Usher’s daughter [is] Serach who was taken by six hundred thousand angels and was brought up to the Garden of Eden [heaven] alive because she told Yaacov that Yosef was still alive.” Serach was given the unique blessing of eternal life as a reward for being the one to give Yaacov the good news that his son Yosef was still alive.

Want more? Here we go. Another reason she was blessed with eternal life was because that in the time of Dovid Hamelech, Yoav, his general was pursuing a rebel against the king by the name of Sheva ben Bichri. He came to the city where Sheva was, Avel Beit Ma’achah, threatening the city and its entire population with destruction, ober according to the medrish (Bereshis Rabbah” 94:9), Serach, still alive at the time, persuaded Yoav to spare the city, and accept only the traitor to be punished, Sheva ben Bichri, himself.

In yet another midrashic account (Mchilta de Rebbe Yishmoel, the heylige Gemora Soita 13a), Serach helped Moishe fulfill the oath sworn to Yoisef, to carry up his bones. When the Yiddin were ready to leave Mitzrayim they were occupied in taking booty -who could blame them? – and Moishe was the only one who was engaged with Yoisef’s bones. He searched for his coffin in all the land of Egypt, but could not locate it. Serach was the only one of that generation still alive. Moishe went to her and asked: “Do you know where Yoisef 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.” Moishe then went to the Nile, stood on the bank and shouted: “Yoisef, Yoisef, the [time] has come for the oath that the RBSO swore to our father Avrohom, that He will redeem His children. Give honor to the Lord, the G-d of Israel, and do not delay your redemption, because we are delayed on your account. If you show yourself, it will be well; and if not, then we are free from your oath [if you will not raise your coffin, we will go forth from Egypt and leave you here].” Yoisef’s coffin immediately rose to the surface and Moishe took it. This led the Rabbis to state that Serach delivered “the faithful one to the faithful one,” since she gave Yoisef over to Moishe when they departed from Mitzrayim.

But wait: Serach’s resume is not yet complete as we left out this medrish which tells us azoy: When Moishe came to begin the process of Redemption of the Yiddin from slavery, he told them that the RBSO had said, “I have surely remembered you.” (Shmois 3:16) The Yiddin recognized that coded message and believed in Moishe as the legitimate messenger of the RBSO. Ober, who transmitted that code to them? Says the medrish (Midrash Shemois Rabbah” 5:13): “Yaakov gave the code to Yoisef, and Yoisef to his brothers, and Usher, son of Yaakov, gave the secret to his daughter, Serach, and she was still alive! What did he say to her? ‘Any potential Redeemer who presents the Code, ‘I have surely remembered you,’ is the true Redeemer.’”

The bottom lines: Serach, about whom we know nothing from the RBSO, has a stellar resume bestowed upon her by the medrish who gives her a sweet and gentle voice, possibly also musical talent in the form of a harp. Serach is another Toirah mentioned women whom the medrish loves and credits her with myriad critical events in Jewish history. She was, according to them, a significant part of the master plan. Ober, if all these things are emes, where is Serach today?

Nu, in hyntige tzeytin (todays times), the first place to look when searching for someone is not in heaven but on Google, and that’s’ just what the Ois did: Serach was Googled, guess what? Google found her:

The bad news: it’s not the Serach described in the heylige Toirah. This one from  Google and a few others, are long dead.

A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman


















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1 Comment

  1. Myriam Fuchs
    December 25, 2020 - 12:00 am

    Dear Yitz Grossman. I love the way you explain the parsha in depth with modern dialogue. This is the first time I have read your posts and I am elated.


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