People never believe me, but it is always the most innocent of Rashi's commentary (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) that are the most revolutionary. When I quote Prof. Moshe Idel, in his book Kabbalah- New Perspectives, as saying that when Rashi says, "kif'shutow" (literally, "the literal meaning") he is actually masking secrets of the Kabbalah, then I at least get the rise of an eyebrow. Some are willing to even entertain the notion since I'm now supported by a renowned scholar. It is hard to embrace such a method of thinking since many of us have been trained to read Rashi as the one to offer us the most immediate and simple answer to our questions when reading the Torah or even the Talmud. And, no, I will not repeat my confession that I offered a year ago (when commenting on parashat Vayishlach) regarding almost flunking Rashi in tenth grade.
Nonetheless, I'm back to sharing an innocent commentary of Rashi that for me reveals secrets of a future unknown.
The Torah mentions all those that descended to Egypt with Ya'akov.
"And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had acquired in the land of Kena'an; and came to Mitzrayim, Ya'akov, and all his seed with him: his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, and all his seed he brought with him to Mitzrayim" (Breishit/Genesis 46: 7)
Rashi simply mentions that the daughters of the sons were no less than Serach, the daughter of Asher and Yocheved, the daughter of Levi. Seemingly Rashis comment seems to be an innocent interjection, informative in its' nature. These two women also, seemingly lived very long lives. Yocheved is Moshe's mother - the Moshe that took us out of Egypt after 210 years of slavery.
According to the Talmud (Sotah 13a) Serach was the one that Moshe turned to when the time of Exodus came for help. Yoseph was promised that upon leaving Egypt his bones would be taken for burial in Israel (already then dying to be buried in Israel...). But the question remained, 'Where were his bones buried?' The Talmud tells us that Moshe turned to Serach, for she was alive in Yoseph's lifetime - she came down to Egypt with her father Asher and grandfather Ya'akov, and she undoubtedly would remember where he was buried.
The Midrash, in Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, asks why Serach merited such longevity. We hear very little of her in the Torah itself, so what secret is she hiding in her biography?
The answer to this question lies in a memorable night that I experienced at LIMMUD (yes, the original one in the England...), in Manchester almost fifteen years ago! It was Friday night and five Jewish educators and artists were summoned to choose an understudy for the Mashiach (Messiah). The premise of the evening was that the Mashiach clearly is a bit late and maybe the time had come to call to the stage of history the one whom had been the designated understudy. The evening was held on the nexus of 'serious' and 'entertaining'. It is therefore that among the many suggestions that our panel came up with, you could find Sir Isaiah Berlin and Natan Sharansky on the one hand, and Glinda (the good witch in 'The Wizard of Oz') on the other hand. One panelist suggested his mother (you could tell how attached he was to his mother...), while another staggered across the stage, as one who was assassinated the moment before he was to reveal the true identity of the Mashiach's understudy.
I was the last to voice her opinion and I offered my five (!) runners up... Among them you could find the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) - I chose him because of his questionable opinion of women. In a moment of sweet revenge I realized that in order for the Rambam to be the Mashiach's understudy he would have to first be resurrected, and the thought that a woman caused his resurrection was a sweet temptation that I could not allow to slip through my hands... I also suggested Prof. Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) - I wanted to honor the revolution that she created in the study of Torah; and my teacher and Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) - for the manner in which he brought God's light to so many people that seemed to feel invisible. But Serach, the daughter of Asher was a serious runner up! (If you want to find out who I chose as the ultimate understudy, you'll have to ask Rabbi Marc Soloway).
The midrash teaches us that the brothers came back from Egypt with the knowledge that Yoseph was alive; they did not know how to tell Ya'akov. Yes, Ya'akov was never consoled with the loss of his beloved son. Yes, he most probably prayed every day that the day would come and he would see his son again. But did he believe in the depth of his heart that these were prayers that would be answered? The brothers were afraid that when they told Ya'akov that Yoseph was alive he would have a heart attack from the shock. They didn't know how to tell him in a way that he would be able to assimilate the greatness of the moment and the reality that his prayers had been answered. The Midrash tells us that Serach was three years old at the time and she started dancing outside her grandfather Ya'akov's tent singing "Ode Yoseph chai" / "Yoseph is alive." It was understood that her singing outside her grandfather's tent planted in him the thought and possibility that impossible is indeed possible!
It was for this reason I suggested that Friday night, she should be the understudy! I shared that what was crucial was that we had someone to help us assimilate the magnitude of the reality that we were yearning for as it was actualizing in our lifetime. That the most crucial step in redemption is actually the moment before redemption! It is the preparation needed to be able to entertain the notion that years (or generations) of suffering were coming to an end. Serach created the space in Ya'akov's heart to hear the proclamation of the brothers that indeed Yoseph was alive and to live to see him. It is for this reason that she merited a life of longevity. A life that saw the famine of Kena'an, that experienced the enslavement of Egypt and that danced with Miriam at the moment of redemption with the splitting of the Red Sea.
Rashi, in his commentary on our quoted verse as the Torah was taking inventory as to who was descending into the darkness of Egypt with Ya'akov, was already planting the seed in our mind and hearts as to how we were going to return back Home to the Land of Israel. Redemption was going to come through Yocheved, the daughter of Asher in the same way that Ya'akov's personal redemption came through Serach, the daughter of Asher.
I write these words as the light of the fifth night of Chanuka is still burning, and as the blazes that engulfed the Carmel Mountains have been contained. I pray that the legacy of the people that were consumed by the fires will manifest as source of comfort for those left to continue living. And I pray that the international community of firefighters that came together to save life and lives, will be our Serach, teaching us to hold on to a vision of a future we still pray for.
May the light of the future merge with the light of the Shabbat candles.