It’s so small you could almost miss it, just four words of Hebrew tucked away amidst the five chapters of Torah which make up this week’s parashah, Pinchas:
וְשֵׁם בַּת־אָשֵׁר שָׂרַח׃
“The name of Asher’s daughter was Serah.” (Numbers 26:46)
Remarkable as it might seem that this one woman would be listed among the names of all the men who are counted in the great census taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, there is more. Serah, the daughter of Asher, is also listed in the census taken in Genesis 46:17 listing all the souls who went down into Egypt with Jacob and his sons. Serah was the daughter of Asher, Asher was the son of Jacob, so Serah was Jacob’s granddaughter… which means Serah is the only member of the Children of Israel wandering with Moses through the wilderness who actually remembered the Promised Land. At the time of this census, Serah was 450 years old.
Because of her long life, Serah appears from time to time in Jewish legends teach us lessons about our past. A thousand years later, we are told, Rabban Yohannan ben Zakkai was teaching his students that the waters of the Red Sea looked like walls of sprouting bushes, when a voice called out, “No, it wasn’t like that at all!” “Who are you?” Rabban Yohanan asked. “I am Serah daughter of Asher. And I know exactly what those walls looked like because I crossed the Red Sea.” “They resembled shining mirrors in which were reflected every man, woman and child, so that it seemed like an even greater number crossed there, not only those of the present, but also those of the past and future as well.” And when Serah finished speaking, none dared contradict her.
The lesson Serah daughter of Asher teaches us is that all of us traveled from slavery to freedom as one. Until all of us are free, none of us are truly free.