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בַּת־אָשֵׁר | Seraḥ bat Asher, a Havdalah Song by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

Some communities have a practice of singing a song about Miriam alongside the well-known Havdalah song about Elijah the Prophet. But Miriam isn’t really a parallel to Elijah — she’s a parallel to Moshe and Aaron. When we’re talking about distaff counterparts to Elijah the clearest example is Seraḥ bat Asher. Seraḥ, the daughter of Asher, is mentioned only a handful of times in the Tanakh, but is given great significance in the midrash. Like Elijah, she is said to have never died but entered Paradise alive, and comes around to the rabbis to give advice or teachings. This song, which includes several references to midrashim about Seraḥ, is meant to be sung to any traditional tune of “Eliyahu haNavi.” It is dedicated to Ḥazzan Joanna Selznick Dulkin (shlit”a), who introduced me to the legends of Seraḥ bat Asher.

Source (Hebrew) Transliteration Translation (English)

בַּת־אָשֵׁר הִיא, סֶֽרַח שְׁמָהּ.
בַּת־אָשֵׁר שֶׁרָאֲתָה.
בַּת אָשֵׁר, הַבַּת אֲשֶׁר
הִצִּילָה עִיר בְּחׇכְמָתָהּ.

Bat Asher hi, Séraḥ sh’m-ah
Bat Asher she-ra’ata
Bat Asher, ha-bat asher
hitssila ȝir b-ḥokhmat-ah.
Daughter of Asher, Seraḥ her name[1] The name of Asher’s daughter was Seraḥ. — Numbers 26:46 
Daughter of Asher who saw
Daughter of Asher, the daughter who
saved a city in her wisdom.[2] ”She opens her mouth in wisdom” (Proverbs 31:26) refers to the wise woman, who said (II Samuel 20:16) “Listen, listen, say to Yoav, come to here, that I may speak with you,” who saved the city with her wisdom, and this was Seraḥ bat Asher. — Midrash Mishlei 31 

הִיא נִחֲמָה אֶת־אָבִֽינוּ,
וְתִנָּחֵם אוֹתָֽנוּ,
בְּפֵרוּשֶֽׁיהָ בַּתּוֹרָה,
וּבְשִׁירָתָהּ הַחֲדָשָׁה.

Hi niḥama et avínu
v-tinnaḥem otánu
b-ferush-éha ba-Tora
Uv-shirat-ah ha-ḥadasha.
She comforted our patriarch,[3] And the sons of Jacob went to the land of Canaan in joy and happiness to Yaȝaqov their father. And they came to the border of the land and said one to another: “What shall we do with this matter before our father? For if we go to him suddenly and tell him the matter, he will be very shocked by our words, and will be unwilling to listen to us.” And they went and came closer to their houses and met Seraḥ the daughter of Asher who came out to greet them, and the girl was very beautiful and wise and knew how to play the lyre. And they called to her and she went to them and kissed them, and they took her and gave her a lyre, saying: “Come, please, before our father, and sit before him, and strike the lyre and speak, and say these matters before him.” And they commanded her to go to their house, and she took the lyre and hurried and went before them and sat by Yaȝaqov. And she tuned and played the lyre and spoke with a sweet tone: “Yosef my uncle lives, and he is ruling over all the land of Egypt, and is not dead.” And she continued and played and spoke these words, and Yaȝaqov heard her words and it pleased him. And he listened again to her words, two, three times more, and happiness came to the heart of Yaȝaqov from the sweetness of her words, and a divine spirit came upon him, and he knew that her words were truth. And Yaȝaqov blessed Seraḥ for speaking these words before him, and said to her: “My daughter, let not death ever, ever rule over you, for you have brought life to my spirit. Just, say it again before me as you have spoken, for you have made me so happy with all your words.” And she repeated and played in such a manner, and Yaȝaqov heard and it pleased him and he was happy, and the spirit of God came upon him. — Midrash Sefer haYashar, Vayigash 
and will comfort us
with her explanations of the Teaching[4] Rabbi Yoḥanan was sitting and explaining the waters that were made for Israel like a wall. Rabbi Yoḥanan explained, “they were like cancelli.” Seraḥ bat Asher came up and said then, “I was there, and they were not like that, but rather like glass windows.” — Pesiqta d’Rav Kahana 11:13 
and her new song.

Recordings

 
As sung by Becca Myers (accompanied by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer, piano)

 

Notes

Notes
1 The name of Asher’s daughter was Seraḥ. — Numbers 26:46
2 ”She opens her mouth in wisdom” (Proverbs 31:26) refers to the wise woman, who said (II Samuel 20:16) “Listen, listen, say to Yoav, come to here, that I may speak with you,” who saved the city with her wisdom, and this was Seraḥ bat Asher. — Midrash Mishlei 31
3 And the sons of Jacob went to the land of Canaan in joy and happiness to Yaȝaqov their father. And they came to the border of the land and said one to another: “What shall we do with this matter before our father? For if we go to him suddenly and tell him the matter, he will be very shocked by our words, and will be unwilling to listen to us.” And they went and came closer to their houses and met Seraḥ the daughter of Asher who came out to greet them, and the girl was very beautiful and wise and knew how to play the lyre. And they called to her and she went to them and kissed them, and they took her and gave her a lyre, saying: “Come, please, before our father, and sit before him, and strike the lyre and speak, and say these matters before him.” And they commanded her to go to their house, and she took the lyre and hurried and went before them and sat by Yaȝaqov. And she tuned and played the lyre and spoke with a sweet tone: “Yosef my uncle lives, and he is ruling over all the land of Egypt, and is not dead.” And she continued and played and spoke these words, and Yaȝaqov heard her words and it pleased him. And he listened again to her words, two, three times more, and happiness came to the heart of Yaȝaqov from the sweetness of her words, and a divine spirit came upon him, and he knew that her words were truth. And Yaȝaqov blessed Seraḥ for speaking these words before him, and said to her: “My daughter, let not death ever, ever rule over you, for you have brought life to my spirit. Just, say it again before me as you have spoken, for you have made me so happy with all your words.” And she repeated and played in such a manner, and Yaȝaqov heard and it pleased him and he was happy, and the spirit of God came upon him. — Midrash Sefer haYashar, Vayigash
4 Rabbi Yoḥanan was sitting and explaining the waters that were made for Israel like a wall. Rabbi Yoḥanan explained, “they were like cancelli.” Seraḥ bat Asher came up and said then, “I was there, and they were not like that, but rather like glass windows.” — Pesiqta d’Rav Kahana 11:13

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