Tonight our family will gather with friends around the dining room table to begin the Passover seder. During the course of the evening, we’ll tell the story of our ancestors’ experience of being redeemed, reading from the haggadah, a book that includes blessings, songs, and stories compiled by rabbis over centuries. This year, we’re adding a new narrative voice to our seder, that of Seraḥ bat Asher.
Seraḥ daughter of Asher, granddaughter of Jacob, is mentioned twice in the Torah, in a genealogy (Genesis) and in a census list more than 400 years later (Numbers). Even by biblical standards this is surprising longevity! The rabbis generate a rich life story for Seraḥ, crediting her with musical talent, wisdom, and emotional intelligence.
My favorite legend imagines Seraḥ offering an eyewitness account of the splitting of the sea:
According to the biblical narrative, “God drove back the sea with a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry ground, and the waters were split, and the Israelites came through the sea on dry ground. And the water was a wall for them at their right and at their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)
Many centuries later, we find Rabbi Yoḥanan sitting in the academy and expounding on these verses, while Seraḥ is listening from outside the classroom.
“How did the waters appear to Israel like a wall?” Rabbi Yoḥanan explained, “It was like a window lattice.” Seraḥ bat Asher poked her head into the room and said, “I was there and it was not like that; actually it looked like transparent windows.”
The rabbis teach about ten righteous people who did not die, who entered the Garden of Eden alive and merited eternal life. The most famous among them is Elijah the Prophet, who we invite to every Passover seder, opening the door for him. Seraḥ bat Asher also appears in this list.
Tonight we’ll invite her to join us at our table as we celebrate the promise of redemption.
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Want to read more about Seraḥ? Check out Selected Sources: Seraḥ bat Asher on Sefaria.
Want to tell Seraḥ’s Story at your seder? Visit P’nai Or Philadelphia’s website and download Serach at the Seder: A Haggadah Supplement by Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum.
Image: Drawing (ink over graphite) by Howard Pyle, via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain]