Rabbi Zvi Teichman
A fascinating observation is made that when one compares the census taken at the beginning
of the book of ‘Numbers’ — Bamidbar, at the onset of their forty-year sojourn, contrasting it with the count taken in our portion, at the near end of their long journey, there is a noticeable discrepancy. Whereas some tribes diminished their ranks and others remained the same, two of the tribes increased more significantly than the rest. The tribes of Menashe and Asher swelled in number over that period by more than 20,000 and nearly 12,000 respectively. Rav Avraham Shain, in his marvelous Sefer, Birchas Ish, suggests a remarkable idea for this divergence. During the tumultuous years between these two censuses, many of the people had sinned during the various trials they faced. It is reasonable to assume that due to these sins people died, and that would contribute to the disappearing population. Why did some tribes fare better than others? Among the members of the tribe of Menasahe, there were yet alive two illustrious sons of Menashe who were born yet in Egypt — Yair and Machir. When issues arose, the populace inevitably turned to these seasoned ‘travelers’ of life, seeking their counsel and guidance. Certainly, Yair and Machir having absorbed the lessons of life directly from such inspired ‘sources’, as their father and grandfather, they were able to guide the members of their tribe wisely, steering them away from the pitfalls that others stumbled over. Additionally, Menashe — their father, remained in the metropolis of Egypt assisting his father Yosef, in contrast to Ephraim, who sequestered himself in the ghetto of Goshen, tending to his grandfather Yaakov.
It was in this more challenging environment amongst the cultural forces prevalent in Egypt, that Menashe developed the requisite skills to ward off temptation and challenge, educating his children — Yair and Machir by example. They successfully emulated those strengths and values years later in their own trials of life, instilling the legacy of their father in his descendants. No wonder this tribe flourished rather than floundering. But what was the secret weapon among the tribe of Asher that attributed to their growth? Although the census taken was purposed to relist the numbers of adult males over twenty, who would merit to inherit the land, nevertheless in enumerating the names of the sons who headed the families of the tribe of Asher, it arbitrarily mentions ‘the name of Serach, the daughter of Asher.’ (במדבר כו מו)
Why is she mentioned? Wasn’t the male progeny the sole recipient of an inheritance in the land?
Rashi enlightens us by simply stating: לפי שהיתה קיימת בחיים מנאה כאן — Because she was
still alive, she is mentioned here. Serach was Yaakov’s only surviving granddaughter, and this was worthy of mention. But why is this relevant and important? Rav Yissachar Berish Eichenstein from Ziditchov and the Rav of Veretzky, in his masterful work, Malbush L’Shabbos V’Yom Tov, questions the language of Rashi,קיימת בחיים as seemingly redundant, since קיימת translates as ‘surviving’, and בחיים also means ‘alive’, two terms emphasizing Serach was still around.
Why the repetition?
He answers that there are people who merely ‘exist’ but are not ‘alive’. Serach lived her life with vibrancy, an enthused existence fueled by an utter awareness of the Divine Presence that inspired every moment of life. She ‘lived’ with verve. The Targum Yehonoson on this verse records the tradition that Serach was from a select few individuals who entered Gan Eden ‘alive’ for eternity. This privilege was in reward for her famously informing Yaakov of Yosef’s being alive. Though her uncles feared Yaakov might die from the shock of the news, they had confidence that their talented niece would serenade her grandfather in song, subtly inserting the message of Yosef’s existence into the lyrics she sang. In merit of her deed Yaakov blessed her with long life, prophecy and to ascend, after living nearly seven hundred years until the days of King David, alive into Gan Eden.
I would like to think that it was not just her clever technique in gradually informing Yaakov that did the trick. I imagine she was an individual who wherever she went radiated an aura of joyful gratitude to simply being alive. Even in the face of sorrow she exuded appreciation for the privilege of being accompanied every moment of her life by the Divine Presence, in the spirit of the holy words of the Rav of Veretzky. It was in that uplifted atmosphere that Yaakov was able to process the exciting news without having heart failure. One who lives holding on to G-d’s guiding hand at every moment, can cross any road that may come in one’s way. The great Sephardic sage Rav Pinchos Zvichi suggests it was Serach’s grandmother Leah who bequeathed her this wonderful legacy. After Leah merited the birth of a fourth son, Yehuda, she expressed, “This time let me gratefully praise Hashem!” The next words in the verse report that she stopped giving birth. Why was she suddenly no longer granted children? He suggests that precisely because she only thanked G-d after her fourth child, neglecting to express thanks for every single one born prior, Leah revealed that she did not realize that one must be grateful for every blessing that comes one’s way — the small miracles, not just the large ones. Leah recognized she was being taken to task and immediately began a process of tikkun — correction. She generously offered Zilpah, her maidservant, to mother more tribes through Yaakov, subsequently adding two more sons. One was called Gad, extolling how, בא גד — ‘good luck’ has come her way, and the second Asher, expressing how, אשרוני — ‘fortunate’ she felt!
This newfound awareness of the constant and exciting privilege of G-d’s involvement in every detail of our lives, was inculcated through Asher, finding its enthused expression in his daughter Serach. (פז רב, פנחס) No wonder this tribe of Asher grew in number, never wavering in their faith, never succumbing to weakness, for a tribe inspired by the exuberant and spirited Serach would always maintain a level of gratefulness to G-d that would never let them lapse into dejection and sin. We are living in trying times. So much sadness surrounds us. During these Three Weeks, the Bein HaMetzarim — Between the Straits, are days devoted to diminishing personal happiness and to dwell on the tragic state of Galus we are still suffering from and living in. But the holy Magid of Koznitz teaches us otherwise. True, we must depict in our minds how the Holy Shechinah is, as it were, homeless, without a roof over His head, in agony over the plight of His children that he so desires for their return.
But, he says, our role is not to wallow in grief but rather to ‘cheer the King up’. Imagine, he says, a mortal king when times are good, he needs not the minstrels to play their music to lift his spirits. But when times are down, precisely then, those talented musicians will come to display their skill in singing songs to brighten his day. Similarly, it is incumbent upon us, to strip ourselves from personal sadness, to gladden the heart of our King by singing expressions of our allegiance, declaring loudly, “You have been our King from ancient days, now and forever, all is naught in comparison to You, the day will come when the saviors will go up to Zion, when all will come to serve You, placing upon Your head a crown of royalty!” (עבודת ישראל מסעי) It is with the joyous observance of His Torah and with the heartfelt prayers we express, that is the mission of these days. Our enthused happiness in His service will merit bringing the redemption speedily in our days!