God commands Moses and Elazar to carry out a new census of the entire Jewish people. Although the list of tribal families may seem a little repetitive and dull, the statement that Asher’s daughter was Serach is a subtle and yet unusual deviation from the pattern.
The Midrash recounts that when Joseph’s brothers returned from Egypt, they were concerned about informing Jacob that Joseph was still alive. Breaking such extraordinary news might be dangerous to the health of an elderly man. Serach, who had come to greet the brothers, was known for her gentle character so the brothers instructed her to break this remarkable news to Jacob while playing her harp. In turn, Serach was blessed by Jacob with longevity and became the only surviving grandchild of Jacob at the time of Moses.
Over 200 years later, shortly before the Exodus Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of the children of Israel and performed signs and miracles in front of them. The Midrash explains that these signs included coded language, which had been passed from Jacob to Joseph, from Joseph to his brothers and from Asher to his daughter Serach. It was only when Serach verified the signs that the people had faith that redemption was imminent.
Serach was a unique witness to a vast period of Jewish history. As a young girl she witnessed the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt, but in old age was also decisive at the beginning of their redemption. We, too, must look to our elders to learn about our past. While books and historical artefacts are interesting, it is the living testimony of those who witnessed the previous generation which has the power to inspire us for the future.