The scroll rolls on and the saga of Joseph, the ‘Know It All’ who has risen to power in Egypt continues, paralleling the famine in the entire region. This week’s Torah episode, VaYigash, follows the long and winding road on which Jacob’s clan, hungry and scattered, is traveling, back and forth between Egypt and Canaan – a road that will soon lead to a tearjerker family reunion. While the main characters in this tale are Joseph, his brother Judah and their father Jacob – according to Jewish legends the real hero of the day is actually a little girl – Serach, the daughter of Asher, grand daughter of Jacob. Her story, and how it is related to her grandfather near fatal cardiac arrest, is our focus this week:
A bit of background: The brother of Joseph are heading back to Canaan, having just met their lost brother, wept, shocked and urged home, by his command to tell their aged father the incredible news – Joseph is alive. In this fragile moment, when good news wash over years of mourning, delicacy is required – a delicacy the brothers were never famous for. And so, according to the telling – Jacob just can’t take the good tidings – and suffers a heart attack:
And they told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not. (Genesis 45:23, King James Bible)
Well, maybe it’s a heart attack and maybe not – the Hebrew word ‘PUG’ means ‘Pause’ and other translations and commentaries, perhaps not medically expert, take this to mean ‘failed’ or ‘numb’ or ‘rejected’. It is just one brief moment in the life of Jacob – and almost his last one – had it not been for the wisdom of his granddaughter, Serach, daughter of Asher, and her wisdom. According the legends, found in Talmud and Midrash, Serach was a skilled musician and singer, most famous for her harp playing. Her name is listed in the roster of the seventy Hebrews and accompanied Jacob to Egypt AND she is also mentioned in the list of Hebrew to leave Egypt four hundred years later. What’s her secret of successful living? Legend has it that she has lived so long because she saved Jacob’s life. While the brothers, her father and uncles, are hurrying back from Egypt, Serach dreams that her uncle Joseph is alive, and she sits outside her grandfather’s tent and plays a song with the words’ Joseph is Alive..’ Jacob dismisses the song as a girl’s fantasy, but later, when he hears the actual news – he is not as surprised. His heart skips a beat – but Serach’s song has helped him to overcome and survive the shock.
Thus the power of story, song, art to heal a broken heart, and to prevent an old heart from stopping. Jacob’s heart failure is a moment filled with dread, but also full of redemption. What, imagine, went through the minds of all-present as the old man clutches his chest and crumbles to the floor? And, what words of praise and relief when his eyes re-open and his lips mumble a song he didn’t know he knew? Joseph is alive…
At moments of great grief and sadness, may there always be the wise inner child, a harp, a guitar, restoring our old hearts to life, hope, faith, and future. If Jacob’s heart wouldn’t have skipped a beat, how would we know the tale of Serach?
More in 2007! Here’s to good music, healing songs, and the wisdom from the mouths of babes, all year long.