Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayigash
Heroes exist in all walks of life. They come in all shapes and sizes. Often, though, the greatest of heroes are the ones who work behind the scenes in relative obscurity while others get the kudos and the press. Bette Midler sang, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She was talking about just such a person. These are the linemen who make superstar running backs. These are the instrumentalists backing up the lead vocalist. This is the front office staff that makes the executive most efficient. Hopefully someone remembers these people even while the masses may not know they exist.
There are other heroes who were known in their day, perhaps well known. As time passes, though, memories of them fade. Big names pass from generation to generation, but for a host of reasons, some names get lost. We read of a woman in this week’s Torah portion who holds a really unique status. She is the only woman listed in the census of the seventy of Jacob’s family who entered and lived in Egypt. Her name is Serakh, and she was the daughter of Asher.
Why she is listed, the text does not say. “That” she is listed speaks volumes. Serakh is listed again in Numbers, as Moses counts the census. The Book of Chronicles lists her again, so she is not an accident. Still though, scripture says nothing about her. Lore accounts to her longevity and piety. Midrash tells us that she was the one to gently and poetically tell Jacob that Joseph was alive. In return, Jacob blesses her, saying “May you live forever and never die.” According to this line of commentary, Serakh was eventually permitted to enter Heaven alive, something that the Judeo-Christian world says is achieved only else by Enoch and Elijah.
Allegedly, she is the one who confirms that Moses is the redeemer, when he first comes back to Israel in Egypt. She is also given credit with being the one to show Moses where Joseph’s bones are buried, in order that he may carry them out during the Exodus. Serakh is also the unnamed wise woman who saved King David from the revolt led by Sheba ben Bikhri (II Samuel). According to legend, she lived over 1000 years (making her the oldest woman in scripture), dying only when her father’s tribe was exiled by Shalmaneser V in the late 8th century B.C.E. Serakh is thought to be the guardian of Israel’s memory.
So, why is it that most Jews never heard of her before? Yes, for some, it is as simple as not reading, but even for those who are well studied, hers is just another name on the list. Perhaps there is an ultimate lesson to be learned from her story: Regular people do amazing things. Yes, it is mostly (if not all) midrash, but the Rabbis went to great lengths to take an oddity from scripture (the listing of a woman in a census) and create a legend. All this, because her name was mentioned in a list.
When we give names, we hope that in some way, we are blessing our children with a call to developing an individual identity. They thought enough of us to designate us separately from everyone else. That we have a name is reason enough to want to live up to it. It is incumbent on each of us to acknowledge this gift by so doing. From our teachers, our parents, our friends and our mentors, we learn to value the blessings of life, as we garner the skills to fulfill our dreams. The list of names on the family census and the names on his workforce rosters carried forward the blessing of living each day.
Yes, it is important to have the folks who lead us from the high places, but their leadership lacks intimacy. It is hard to identify with people who live in the eye of the paparazzi. We really get caught up in hero worship. We clamor to be seen in the company of celebrities. We are awed when we know someone who “knows” someone. he truth is, though, each of us is that someone. Each of us has the chance to change people’s lives just because we show up. Our names show up on class rosters, work details, volunteer lists, and on a host of other compiles sets of names. . Our tradition teaches that it is better to be a tail to the lion than the head to the fox. We don’t need the headlines to do great things, we need the relationships that drive us to do and be more. To that end, Serakh may not be as well known as was Joseph, but in the eyes of our tradition, she might have been more important. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Marc A. Kline