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by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales


Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Every boy who has studied Chumash knows the name of Serach, the daughter of Asher, who was one of Jacob's twelve sons ("the Tribes of Israel"). Serach is the only woman mentioned among the children of the twelve Tribes, Jacob's grandchildren. She must have been very worthy to be singled out for special mention, for Jacob had many other grand-daughters whose names we do not know, with the exception of another one. Only his grandsons are mentioned by name among the "seventy souls" that came down to Egypt. The other grand­daughter of Jacob mentioned later (in connection with the birth of Moses) was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, the Mother of Moses.

Serach, from her earliest childhood, was brought up in her grandfather's home. Old Jacob himself took care of her upbringing. She was an unusual child, very well-behaved and full of love for G-d, and very kind to all. As you can well imagine, she loved her grandfather dearly, and when her beloved uncle Joseph disappeared, and Jacob thought him dead and mourned for him for twenty-two years, Serach was a real consolation to her grand­father. Then that wonderful day came, when her father with her ten uncles came back from Egypt with the news that they had found Joseph in Egypt, not as a slave, as they had feared, but as the Viceroy and Prime Minister of Egypt! But Joseph's brothers did not know how to tell the good news to their aged father. They were afraid the shock might be too much for him, and they were terribly ashamed at having been the cause of their father's sorrow for such a long time. So they turned to the wise Serach to "break the news" to her grandfather. Serach took her harp, which she had not played in her grand­father's presence during all those years, and she began to play and sing. The strains of her harp reached old Jacob, in the midst of his mourning. For twenty-two years no sound of joy had been heard in his house. What was the meaning of this? he wondered. He began to listen to her words, and his heart began to leap for joy, for he clearly heard the words, "Joseph is alive; he rules over all Egypt..."

For twenty-two years no sound of joy had been heard in his house
Only then could his sons approach him and tell him the full story, how that "harsh" ruler in Egypt had only been pretending when he first met them on arrival in Egypt to buy food; he had wanted to test their love for each other, and for their father, and to find out whether they were really sorry that they had sold him. Then he revealed himself, and behold! Joseph had not changed, except that he had grown older and was the father of two wonderful boys.

It was wonderful news for Jacob in his old age, but he was still worried. It was hard for him to believe that the young boy who was torn from him at the age of seventeen had remained the same G-d-fearing and devoted son. But the brothers hastened to assure their father that Joseph had never allowed himself to be influenced by the Egyptian way of life, nor by his power and riches. On the contrary, Joseph was the true ruler and master of Egypt, and his good influence was everywhere, from the royal house of Egypt to the farthest corners of the land. This was even better news, and Jacob was happy again, and he felt the power of prophecy return to him.

In gratitude to his grand-daughter for bringing the glad tidings to him, he blessed her with the gift of long life and prophecy.

Serach saw one generation after another pass on. She lived through the two hundred and ten years of the Egyptian bondage, until the day came when the children of Israel were to leave Egypt. Moses remembered the oath given to Joseph before he died, that when the children of Israel would leave Egypt, they would take his bones with them and bury them in the Holy Land. But where was Joseph's coffin? There was only one person who would know; that was Serach, and to her Moses went. Serach told him that after Joseph died, he was placed in a coffin, and the Egyptians lowered the coffin into the river Nile. They hoped that it would bless the waters of the Nile, and that the children of Israel would never be able to find it and fulfill their promise to Joseph, so they could never leave Egypt. But Serach knew all about it. She led Moses to the banks of the Nile and he called out: "Joseph, Joseph, the time has come for us to leave Egypt and go to our Promised Land. We want to fulfill our oath to you and take you with us. Come up, and do not delay our departure!" And wonder of wonders! The coffin came up, and for the next forty years, during their wanderings through the desert, two arks were carried side by side, in front of them: one contained the two tablets of stone, with the Ten Commandments, while the other contained Joseph's remains, and it was said: "The one lying in here fulfilled that which is in there."


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[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second son of Adam and Eve, born on the Sixth day of Creation. Murdered by his older brother Cain.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
The Five Books of Moses.
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.