Parshat Pinchas

Close up of senior hands giving small planet earth to a child over defocused green background with copy space

Recently, South Korea changed how it counts birthdays.  Up until now, a newborn baby was considered one year old and each birthday added another year.  In other words, while we count a newborn in months until their first birthday, a baby in South Korea born at the same time would be counted as one year older.  Numbers can be tricky things, especially in a modern society that attributes rights to age –whether someone is a minor or a senior depends on the number of years they’ve lived, not their experiences.  We assume numbers to be equalizers.  

In this week’s Torah reading, parashat Pinchas, we read of numbers: the census.  Every man is counted to create a national tally.  The assumption is there is strength in numbers and therefore we want to see how many we are.  Yet, in the midst of the census of men is the name of one woman: Serach, the daughter of Asher.  She is the daughter of the original Asher, one of the sons of Jacob, one of the brothers who originally went down to Egypt.  How is this possible? 
According to the Sages, Serach is indeed the granddaughter of our patriarch, Jacob, and she went to Egypt with her family during the famine.  She was among the those who met Joseph and settled in Egypt.  She is hundreds of years old at this point.  Tradition tells us that she was a woman of extraordinary compassion and empathy, and was thus chosen to be the keeper of all our living memories. 

Serach becomes the witness of all our eras, all our transformations and growth.  Her name means ‘abundance’ and we understand that she was granted an abundance of years in balance with her abundance of compassion.  The focus of her life was to create the memories that will ground us, the anchor of our past as we move into our future. 

Only Serach lives a life that begins in Canaan, moves to Egypt, leaves in the exodus, and survives the wilderness to enter Israel.  She is the unbroken thread from covenant to exile to redemption.  She is the soul of each of us. 

By mentioning Serach in the middle of the census, the Torah reminds us that we are never to focus on numbers and statistics –they are tools, not goals.  Strength does not lie in numbers, it lies in compassion and integrity.  We are always shaped by our experiences, which form our memories, which shape our legacies that create paths for the future. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Rachael