When perusing the list of the generations of Jacob found in Genesis 46, one gets a strange sense that there was a powerful genetic predisposition in Jacob’s family for male children. Jacob had thirteen children – twelve sons and one daughter. Among the 67 descendants traveling to Egypt with Jacob, there are listed 53 grandsons and one granddaughter: “The sons of Asher: Yimnah and Yishvah and Yishvi and Vriah and Serach their sister” (Genesis 46:17).
Most of the great Biblical commentators agree that there were other granddaughters. What distinguished Serach that she alone was listed along with all the sons?
Turning to the oral tradition, transcribed in the Midrash, one finds that Serach was quite a remarkable young lady. She is best known for her role in informing Jacob that Joseph was still alive. According to the Midrash, Serach and her grandfather had a very close relationship, and Jacob was particularly fond of listening to her musical talents. When the brothers returned from Egypt, they were uncertain how to tell their elderly father the remarkable news that his favorite son was still alive. It might be too much for old Jacob to handle. They recruited Serach, who took hold of her harp and melodiously announced that Jacob was still alive (Midrash Hagadol, Vayigash 45:26).
Serach’s name is actually listed twice in the Torah. Not only is she listed among the Israelites who went down to Egypt with Jacob, but she is also listed in Numbers 26 among those who came out of Egypt. (Another list with few women!) According to tradition, Serach’s uniquely long life allowed her to assist Moses in locating Joseph’s remains in order to transport his coffin to the Land of Israel (Sotah 13a).
Serach, who is said to have been extremely wise and pious, was rewarded with an exceptionally long life and, in fact, is considered to be one of the “nine [who] entered the Garden of Eden while yet alive” (Derech Eretz Zuta 1).
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