This is my father’s sermon on the name of my new daughter, Serach Cherut Farber. Literally “Extra Freedom Farber”. I will add my own insights after this post. The literal translation “Extra” has no special significance. The name is based on a biblical character, see below. But “Extra” may be appropriate here since she is, thank God, our 4th בלי עין הרע and my father’s 14th grandchild.
Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus
June, 2017 – Rabbi Ed Farber – The arrival of Serach Cherut
As you are all aware Laurie and I just returned from a three week trip to Israel which was scheduled for the beginning of June so we would be there for the birth of our 14thgrandchild – the 4th child of our youngest son Rafi and his wife Natasha . Although the timing was off – our daughter-in-law was 8 days late – everything went just fine. She ended up giving birth at a different hospital than planned but with the socialized medicine in Israel it really doesn’t matter. You don’t know which Dr. is going to be there when you give birth anyway so not much of a difference.
A week later we were able to celebrate the baby naming ceremony in their synagogue in Katzrin – which is in the Golan – and it was a wonderful and warm group of people and they put out a beautiful Kiddush afterwards. A few days later we were on a plane back home to Miami and after driven back and forth from Zichron Yaakov near Haifa -where our eldest and his family lives to Katzrin on the Golan – helping with the planning of our granddaughter’s wedding as she thinks I might know a thing or two about planning weddings especially on the beach – and giving special attention to each of the other 9 grandchildren there – we came home feeling very blessed and very tired. And by the way – they say that dry heat is not as bad as the humid heat we have in Miami – it’s a myth – don’t believe it – at least you realize it’s warm here – there it dries you up so quickly that if you aren’t drinking every few minutes you find yourself ready to plotz. Yes we might sweat more here – but we plotz a lot less!
The fact that there were already 13 other grandchildren on the Farber side and on the mother’s side very few people needing to be names meant that all the bases had been covered. Everyone who needed a name to be perpetuated had already been taken care of – some of them multiple times. So Rafi and Natasha found themselves as free agents in choosing a name. The name they chose – while being a biblical name – is not that well known. As someone who has been a Torah reader on and off over the years I heard of the name. But quite frankly I had no idea of any particular significance to the name – There is no story behind the name as it appears in a genealogy list in the book of Genesis and again later in the book of numbers with no explanation – no story behind the name.
But as is often the case the story is hidden in the sense that it is untold but if one is sensitive to the text – one realizes there is some kind of story behind this name. Rafi and Natasha had dug deep to find the story and that story so intrigued them that they ended up choosing that as the name of their fourth child and third daughter. It is that story which her father taught to the congregation at Serach baby naming that I want to share with you today because of its deep meaning and the lesson it teaches. Let’s start with the first appearance of the name Serach. It is as I said in a genealogy list in the book of Genesis. The list is important as it contains the names of all those who went down to Egypt from Canaan with our ancestor Jacob.
Remember the circumstances behind Jacob’s decent to Egypt. Famine had seized the land of Canaan as well as many surrounding lands and Jacob’s sons had gone down to Egypt to buy food. That is when they encounter the brother they had sold into slavery – Joseph. After some fascinating twists and turns the brothers reconcile and they return to Canaan to bring the entire family down to Egypt where they could live and avoid starvation. Little did they or Joseph know it would turn into slavery. In this list of those who went down to Egypt we find the following: “Ahser’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, and Beriah and their sister Serach.”
Ok – sounds pretty straight forward. But when you look at the rest of the list you realize that it doesn’t mention the birth of daughters – just sons – except here – it bothers to tell us that the daughter of Asher also went down. She is referred to as the sister of Asher’s sons. In other words the appearance of her name in the first place is unusual and the way it is mentioned is also unusual. That in biblical literature terms is a red flag that says – dirshuni – check this out. So we look and ask if her name appears elsewhere and what might we learn. Well it does in the book of Numbers. What are the circumstances – it’s another genealogy list. This one lists those who entered the land of Israel. Well – do the math. If she is in the list of those who went down to Egypt and those who entered the land of Israel you have at least four generations! That means she lived for hundreds of year which before the flood might have not been unusual but after the flood 120 is supposed to be the maximum.
It also means that in addition to the very famous twosome – Joshua and Caleb – who didn’t die in the desert – we also have Serach. The Rabbis noticed these very strange seeming contradictions and concluded that since she is the only woman mentioned in these genealogies the Torah must have been trying to hint at something important. That’s where the Rabbi’s imagination and creativity takes over and through the midrash they fill in the ‘blanks’ of Serach’s life. Since we actually know nothing about Serach’s life from the Torah other than that she apparently lived a very long time the Rabbis were free to create pretty much any narrative they chose. In one Midrash we are told that Serach – Jacob’s granddaughter -was asked by the brothers to play music that would calm Jacob while telling him that Joseph was alive in Egypt and he would be able to go see him.
The brothers had two fears – one was that the dramatic news of Joseph being alive after so many years could cause the elderly Jacob to have a heart attack. Another reason was that the brothers feared their father’s wrath when he realized they had lied to him about Joseph’s demise. Serach succeeded according to the midrash at her task. Another midrash says that it was Serach who told Moses where to find Joseph’s bones allowing Moses to fulfill the promise made to Joseph to take his bones to Canaan when the Israelites would finally leave Egypt. She was alive when Joseph died and still alive when they people left Egypt so she had firsthand knowledge of where he had been buried.
The Rabbis did not mean for us to take these stories literally. They were using the mysterious mentions of Serach in the Torah to teach some very important lessons. One is very basic. Sisters would never have done to Joseph what his brothers had done – sell him into slavery – and a granddaughter has a special ability to calm an aggrieved grandfather – something the sons could never have done. On a more global level however Serach really represents all Jews. According to the Torah’s subtle mention of her as having gone down to Egypt and also having left Egypt she becomes every Jew. Every Jew needs to remember what it was to have lost one’s freedom and be enslaved by Egypt. Every Jew needs to remember what it meant to finally leave Egypt and enter the land of Israel. And every Jew needs to remember his/her commitments to the past and bring it with them to the future as Serach did with Joseph’s bones.
Isn’t that what the holiday of Pesach and the seder experience is meant to convey. “Every Jew is obligated to see him/her self as having gone out of Egypt.” Serach experienced exactly what all future Jews would need to experience to understand the Jewish journey from slavery to freedom to independence on our own land. To forget that experience is to forget what it means to be a Jew. And Serach doesn’t just experience the history of the Jewish people’s formation – slavery to freedom – Serach is active in that history. She is a peacemaker within the family by successfully preventing a fall out between Jacob and his sons after learning about Joseph being alive in Egypt. She moves Jewish history forward by telling Moses of the whereabouts of Joseph’s bones making sure that the past is not forgotten or left behind. The Rabbi’s wanted all of us to be Serach – to feel what Serach felt and to experience those key moments in Jewish history.
We are also told that Serach is like Elijah in that she never died. How could the Rabbis say that? Like Elijah there is no recording of her death in the Bible. She therefore comes to represent the eternity of the jewish people. As long as jews remember and internalize the experiences of slavery to freedom – as long as Jews seek to heal the family as Serach did – then we are like Elijah and Serach – an eternal people. Our Serach will be known mainly as Serri – the preferred nickname for Serach in Israel. She has a middle name as well. That name is Cherut which means freedom. Serach went from freedom to slavery to freedom. Only in freedom could she stand at Mt. Sinai and accept the Torah.
That is the lesson of Jewish history – in fact it is the lesson of all of human history. Without freedom there is no possibility of moving history forward –without freedom there are no ten commandments – without freedom there is no human dignity. Our little granddaughter – the 9th girl of the fourteen grandchildren – bears a name that is filled with history, meaning and hope. That is not just what every Jew needs – it is what every human being needs if humanity is to continue its move from slavery to freedom – a movement that began over 3000 years ago and is still incomplete. Only people with the awareness and experience of the Biblical Serach can achieve and hold on to freedom. All this – the Rabbis learned from the mysterious mention of a daughter and sister named Serach who lived Jewish history and in her quiet way helped move it forward. May her life experience reflect the beautiful name she has been given and may she always know freedom and the sense of Jewish history that her namesake represented.