There have been a few people throughout history that have reached such an outstanding spiritual level that they were taken alive to Gan Eden (Garden of Eden). Examples of this marvelous feat include Chanoch, Eliyahu HaNavi, Yonah Ben Amitai (who was swallowed by the big fish) and, surprisingly, Batyah the daughter of Paraoh. These are individuals that have ascended the spiritual rungs until their physicality literally no longer weighted them down. And, of course, one of these figures is Serach Bat (daughter of) Asher.
Being one of the most mysterious female characters of all Scripture, Serach is known as the woman who sang allusions to Yaakov Avinu that his son Yosef was alive. She revived Yaakov’s spirit and was blessed by the Patriarch with eternal life. Presumably she got other gifts other than simply living a very long life as that alone does not guarantee one will succeed in ascending to Gan Eden. According to Abarbanel (based onthe book of Kings) and the Midrash, she was the woman from the city of Abel with whom Yoav (King David’s general) consulted with, and at least 684 years old. Yet, we also find in Pesikta D’Rav Kahana that she was alive much later, after the destruction of the Second Temple, still teaching strong!
But, what can we learn from Serach and how can we derive inspiration from her long life?
Serach’s role in Jewish History
Contrary to popular knowledge, Serach played a much more important role in Jewish history than it appears at first sight. In fact, there’s a discussion among the commentators whether Serach or Yocheved (Moshe’s mother) should be considered the 70th soul that came with Yaakov to Egypt.
The Gemara in Sotah 13A writes that Moshe didn’t know where Yosef’s bones were laid. It was only when Serach revealed to him that the Egyptians had put them in a metal casket and thrown to the Nile that he was able to locate them and bring them up.
In fact, it is known from the Zohar that the 5 double letters ם ן ץ ף ך contain the secret of each of the 5 redemptions. The letter ף (or its usual form פ) is associated with the redemption for the Egyptian bondage. Her righteous father Asher gave to her specifically the secret code of redemption with the words Pakod Pakadti (a double expression of the idea that the Jewish people will be remembered and saved). This secret had been handed down from Avraham to Yitzhak, to Yaakov, to Yosef and his brothers and to Serach, which is tacit proof of her outstanding spiritual level.
Interestingly enough, The Persian Jews of the city of Isfahan believed that Serah bat Asher actually lived among them until she died in a great fire in their synagogue in the twelfth century CE. And they named the synagogue after her.
Kabbalistic secrets from Serach
The Zohar 3:167 teaches that Serach will be the leader of one of the Women’s chambers of the Olam HaBah. She will be teaching Torah to all the righteous women that merit the eternal reward. This is also brought in the Midrash.
One of the mystical meditations from the Arizal before one goes to sleep includes reciting the pasuk (verse) 3 times in the regular and inverted order: “V’Shem Bat Asher Serach / Serach Asher Bat V’Shem” (“The name of the daughter of Asher is Serach”). This verse contains one of the holy names of Hashem written in it and is said to be a powerful segulah against ayn har’ah (evil eye). Supposedly it also helps our soul ascend while we sleep.
One can wonder how come we have so little revealed about Serach. But we know that, according to Kabbalah, sometimes big heroes stay behind the curtains outside of the limelight. They live in the shadows, doing their holy work without people’s knowledge in order to be protected from the forces of evil.
Sometimes these heroes can even be despised or unknown completely. Serach teaches us that, no matter how small other people might think of us, we could actually be doing great things. And, that even simple good things can have rewards beyond our imagination.