Asher (ca. 1563 B.C.E. – ca. 1440 B.C.E.)

February 4, 2014

Asher was the eighth son of Yaakov Avinu, and the second son of Zilpah, the handmaiden of Leah. He was born, according to the Midrash “Yalkut Shimoni” on the 20th of Shevat, and lived 123 years.Upon his birth, Leah said, “…It is my good fortune! For women have called me fortunate! And she called his name ‘Asher.’ ” (Bereshit 30:13) The Prayer “Ashrei,” that begins “Ashrei Yoshevei Vaysecha” “Fortunate are those who dwell in Your house.” (Tehilim 84:1) reflects the meaning of the common “shoresh” or “root” of the word “fortunate” and the name “Asher.”

The most famous of Asher’s children was his daughter Serach, who was the one who gently revealed to Yaakov that Yoseph was still alive in “Mitzrayim” (Egypt), and was the viceroy to the Pharaoh there, after Yoseph had revealed his identity to his brothers.From the blessings of Yaakov and of Moshe, we learn that Asher’s inheritance in “Eretz Yisrael” was very abundant in olive groves, and flowed with oil like a fountain (Rashi).In Parashat “Ve-Zot HaBerachah,” Moshe says of Asher, “…May he be pleasing to his brothers…”

Rashi explains this in two ways: the first, that there was economic cooperation among the Tribes of Israel; the Tribe of Asher provided oil to the other Tribes, while they provided Asher with grain. The second is that the women of the Tribe of Asher were exceptionally beautiful and virtuous, very fit to be wives of High Priests and Kings. Asher, Son of Yaakov, the Founder of the Tribe, was buried in the area of Israel called “Kedesh Naphtali.”The Tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali camped and marched together in the Wilderness (BaMidbar 2:25-31), and were called the “Camp of Dan,” that was the “Me’aseph lechol HaMachanot,” the “Camp that trailed behind and gathered in the stragglers from all the other Camps.” (BaMidbar 10:25)

In so doing, they also served as the rear-guard of the Jewish People, having learned the bitter lesson of Amalek, who in a cowardly fashion had attacked the stragglers when the People of Israel had just crossed the “Yam Suf,” the Sea of Reeds. In their hatred of the Jewish People and its G-d, Amalek was willing to sacrifice itself, knowing full well that it could not defeat the Jewish People, which was fighting with HaShem on its side. It only wished to “cool down” the terrifying image that the People of Israel had cast upon the entire non-Jewish world at that time.The inheritance of the Tribe of Asher lay in the western part of the western Galilee, and its border was on the Mediterranean. In the Book of “Yehoshua,” the area of the Tribal inheritance is described as containing 22 cities. But in the Book of “Shophtim,” we see that the Canaanite nations continued to reside in six of the largest cities that lay on the coast in the inheritance of Asher, whom they were unable to conquer. “But the Asheri dwelt among the Cana’ani, the inhabitants of the Land; for they did not drive them out.” (Shophtim 1:32)