Our Wisdom Keepers

As we know, when Pharoah finally let the Israelites go, they lacked time for their dough to rise. But curiously, we find in our parashah that “Moses took Joseph’s bones with him, for [Joseph] had adjured b’nei Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you” (Ex. 13:19).

After 430 years, the Jews come back for Joseph to bring him home. How did anyone remember where Joseph was buried after so long? The Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael elaborates: It was Serah bat Asher who showed Moses the way.

Serah bat Asher is named in the Torah both in the list going down to Egypt and in the list standing at Moab after the Exodus – a span of 500 years! She becomes in the midrash a character of wisdom and ancient secrets: the secret of redemption was given to Abraham, passed on through the patriarchs until Joseph, who told it to his brothers. Asher told Serah. When all those generations later Moses arose, it was Serah who could recognize whether he was the true redeemer or not.

Leaving Egypt, Serah tells Moses that the Egyptians buried Joseph in a metal coffin at the bottom of the Nile. Moses writes the name of God on gold and throws it in the Nile, conjuring Joseph and his coffin by evoking God’s promise of redemption. The coffin rises, and Moses brings it with them—the Mekhilta later says Joseph’s bones are carried even beside the Ark of the Covenant.

From earliest times, we Jews have known what it is to be separated from our history, our people, our places. To be buried far from home. To not remember where we’ve put our most valuable things, lost to the generations. Yet among us are the secret keepers, the wisdom holders. Like Serah bat Asher, we must listen to their stories, to hear where we come from. Sometimes they can also point us where we are going—toward redemption. Who are yours?

Originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.

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