This week we read of the members of Jacob''s family who went down to Egypt. There were 53 grandsons listed, but only a single granddaughter – Serach, the daughter of Asher. The commentators wonder, what was so exceptional about this girl that her name was recorded? The Midrash spills forth with stories portraying an image of a unique and endearing Biblical heroine. Serach stands as a trusted, beloved sage of the people. She possessed an uncommon gift of healing through poetry and music. Somewhat as Orpheus is to Greek myth, so is Serach to the Biblical myth – the archetypal poet and bard. 


 The Midrash on this week''s parsha tells of the brothers'' concern that their father Jacob would die from shock upon hearing the astounding news that his son Joseph was alive and well in Egypt. Their solution – to appoint Serach to the task of sharing the news with him. In one version Serach masterfully waits until Jacob is praying and then relays the news to him through the poetic form of three rhyming lines.1 In another rendering she sings the news to him gently and wondrously with a harp.

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 Both versions reveal a girl with psychological insight into just how to approach Jacob with the potentially lethal news. Serach intuits how to tend to Jacob''s emotional wounds with song. Even though she was sharing a truth with him, sometimes the sharing of truth with someone can be even more shattering than a lie. Where the bald facts could have killed Jacob, Serach''s simple almost child-like rhyme and song healed him, opening him to hope and possibility after decades of despair. 


So what is it about song and rhyme which is able to impart such promise and soothe such wounds? Voltaire is famous for saying, “Anything too stupid to be spoken in words is sung.” And this might be true enough if one were to survey song lyrics for their intellectual content. But God forbid the purpose of music would be deliver intellectual points. No, the great gift of song rests in its stirring of sentiment, its arousal of spirit, its curative catharsis of emotions. Serach, with her ample emotional intelligence and creativity knew how to utilize song, rhyme & poetry for their subtle therapeutic properties. 

May all of our artistic endeavors likewise access healing and inspiration, offering hope and the possibility of betterment in the face of any despair. The poem below is a prayer and request to Serach to instruct us in how to do just that.


Serach, teach us please
 your therapy of harmony 
 - that exquisite technique
 that you work with your speech

Reveal to us, ancient sister
 your mesmeric tincture
 of lyric and meter
 
And mix us well a word elixir
 to soothe the wounds of 
 injured listeners
 
Just the way 
 you sung your way 
 and stood in the way 
 of the heart-halting parade
 of gold-laden wagons 
 sent to stun an old man 
 too fast from his depression

For even one''s despair can be 
 a precious thing
 to those who cling to their misery 
 as if it were a love letter
 to the ones they''ve lost

But you with your harp
 loosened that knot
 on the yarn of a lie 
 that had so long bound

Jacob''s beguiled mind
 - as you applied 
 the cautious remedy
 of a child''s rhyme2

 Plucked hope back 
 into a ruptured heart 
 and strummed him 
 through the sting and stun 
 of loss 

Suddenly reversed 
 through your verse
 - with the touch of a song 

 For is not the crowning goal 
 of creative endeavor
 to heal the bereaved
 and herald in a better reality? 

So teach us more-loudly your 
 chemistry of composition
 to make what''s written
 glisten from the page
 to release vast repositories of pain

To make space for 
 the joyful reception of miracles
 of salvation and spiritual accumulation 
 like wagons laden with bread
 and corn, and a child reborn
 in the midst of a famine

And a lie overturned
 and a family re-fashioned

 So teach us Serach 
 your eternal talent
 of healing hearts with harps 
 and the ancient art 
 of rhyme 

And let it start 
 with these faltering lines
 - a prayer 
 for the gentle unraveling
 of our long-held 
 lies

*

1MidrashHaGadolon Gen. 45:26
  "ויגדו לו לאמר ''עוד יוסף חי''" (בר'' מה:כורבנן אמרו אם אנו אומרים לו תחלה יוסף קים שמא תפרח נשמתומה עשואמרו לשרח בת אשר, "אמרי לאבינו יעקב שיוסף קים והוא במצריםמה עשתה? המתינה לא עד שהוא עומד בתפלה ואמרה בלשון תימה:יוסף במצרים/ יולדו לו על ברכים/ מנשה ואפריםפג לבו כשהוא עומד בתפלה. כיון שהשלים ראה העגלות, מיד "ותחי רוח יעקב אבינו" (שם).  [מדרש הגדול על בר'' מה:כו]


  [The brothers said:]If we tell him right away, "Joseph is alive!" perhaps he will have a stroke [lit., his soul will fly away].  What did they do?  They said to Serah, daughter of Asher, "Tell our father Jacob that Joseph 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, "Joseph is in Egypt/ There have been born on his knees/ Menasseh and Ephraim" [three rhyming lines: Yosef be-mizrayim / Yuldu lo 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 Jacob came back to life.(Translated by Avivah Zornberg in Genesis, the Beginning of Desire, p.281).


 

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