Today was a sort of grandparents’ day in my Hebrew school. The kids, grades K-2, were to learn about welcoming guests. I invited many of our senior congregants to visit and tell a story from their childhood. We made place mats, prepared a welcome song, set dishes and cups, and decorated a cake to be served with green and blue sparkly gel. We acted out the Torah drama of an elderly Sarah and Abraham running to serve travelers who were really Messengers on high, delivering news of impending parenthood. Their laughter turned real with the birth of their son, Isaac. We read a story of a boy and spider traveling to Israel, welcomed upon arrival and return. And then our guests began to arrive, and the excitement was in the air. Each child greeted adults, showed them to a chair, served them refreshments, and listened to stories of another generation. One guest shared a photo of her own grandmother with whom she lived in a small apartment shared by many. Another was born in Palestine, before it was Israel, and grew up in Buffalo NY, where a rite of passage for the boys in his synagogue was to climb a nearby church spire. Many shared warm memories of Shabbat meals and afternoons. And a connection was made across generations that I will remember well. I really miss my own grandparents, they were my messengers on high. Telling stories, creating holiday meals, making me feel like a princess, like the world was for me. My own daughters are approaching an age that makes grandparenthood a potentiality in my own life, and it’s a sea change in prespective…
I did not realize when I set this program up, that the Torah portion for the week is about grandparents, parents and children. The parashah, Veyechi, opens with Jacob/Israel’s second life, the one in Egypt, after he’s found out that Joseph was alive, and his soul was restored by knowing this. He lived in Egypt for seventeen years, (same number as Joseph’s years when he was abducted) when the days of his death were drawing near. He not only has found his beloved, favored son again, but now has two grandsons by Joseph: Ephraim and Menasheh, and he tells Joseph he is adopting them as his own(!) and will bless them. It must be happiness squared for Jacob who never expected to see Joseph again. Jacob has many other grandchildren, but none are accorded this honor.
Among all Jacob’s grandchildren, one girl is listed, Serah, daughter of Asher. The legend of Serah is extraordinary: it is said she is the one who told Jacob that Joseph was alive by creating lyrics and playing the harp so the shock would not be too great. She was then blessed by her grandfather, with the blessing of immortality! She moved to Egypt with her family, saw Joseph’s bones buried in the mud beneath the Nile, and then when the generation freed by Moses 400 years later needed to exhume Joseph’s bones to fulfill that promise to return him to Canaan, it was Serah who told Moses where to find the casket.
So after grandparents’ day, I tried to imagine what that scene in the tent was like, with Serah playing the harp. I imagined she was a favorite of her sad grandpa, playing to soothe the demons of this man with only half a spirit left. Perhaps she had already known that Joseph was still alive, but feared to tell him. Perhaps there were scraps of rainbow cloth for her. As she began her song that day what did it sound like? A minor start, falling melody, changing to a gentle major?
A favorite son has father Jacob, fair or form, but he did part from us. Stronger even than death’s angel, a dreamer, alive within our hearts; Yes, Joseph our beloved dreamer was to Egypt swept. He rose and told the dreams of Pharoah, in majesty was kept. He rules the kingdom, saves from famine, and calls us to his side. Arise grandfather and rejoice, beloved Joseph is alive.
Slowly grandfather Jacob lifts his eyes, accustomed to only looking down. What is this you say, Serah, is your song true? I know you would not break my heart, little Serah, you have always served me well. Can it be? Oh my beautiful girl, (how did I never see that before) it is too incredible to believe! You have restored my very soul. You know once I was open to the voice and the ear of the Almighty – I saw a ladder where heaven and earth touched. By that power I bless you , a life for a life returned, may you live and never die, my Serah.