Midrash teaches about Serach, the daughter of Asher, who is the keeper of collective memory for her people. Legend has it that Serach is the one who breaks the news to Jacob that his beloved son Joseph is still alive in Egypt, when Jacob has long believed him gone. This life-altering news could have been too much for Jacob to bear, but Serach delivers it in song so that Jacob can hear it. In return for her gifts in communication, Serach is rewarded with the ability to live forever.
In our parsha this week, we read the end-of life accounts of Jacob and Joseph. As the family of Israel settles into life in Egypt, Joseph has one final instruction. “We will not be in this place forever,” he tells his relatives. “The moment will arrive for us to return to the land of our fathers and mothers. When that time comes, take me with you. Remember to carry my bones out of Egypt.” For generations, Serach bat Asher holds the memory of the location of Joseph’s burial and that of his final wish. As the people of Israel cross the Sea of Reeds, the remains of Joseph and the stories of their ancestors are a bridge to carry them across. The memories of who they have been hold the promise of who they may become.
Today, when we see the endless stream of images of gun violence in our nation, when we mourn the loss of life and lament how little has changed since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary one year ago, the stories of our ancestors can hold a life-affirming power for us. The resilience of the Jewish people can remind us of our own resilience. In the stories of those who came before us, we can find the life force gifted to human beings to survive the unthinkable and the courage to reshape society. May we hope in one another and in our ability to bring songs of healing to a world that is hurting.