Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayera
To dedicate this lesson

She Who Laughs Last


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Cheshvan 19 5780
One of the Torah’s more (most?) difficult incidents occurs in our sedra. Avraham & Sara are told by an angel that Sara will have a child & then comes this exchange:

"And Sara laughed ‘b’kirba’ (within herself): ‘After I am old, will I have pleasure (‘edna’), & my husband is old?! And G-d said to Avraham, why did Sara laugh, saying ‘Will I, who am old, have a child?!’ Is anything too hard for Hashem? Then Sara denied & she said, ‘I didn’t laugh,’ for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you laughed."

A multitude of questions come pouring out:

- Why is only Sara criticized for laughing, when Avraham does the same (17:17) with no reaction at all from Hashem? - Rashi notes that Hashem omitted Sara’s comment – "and my husband is old" – in the interest of shalom, but if G-d wanted shalom between the couple, why did He have to say anything at all?! - Plus, Sara never claimed she was too old for a child; she talked about ‘edna," pleasure! - And finally, if laughing is apparently such a negative thing, then why is Yitzchak stuck with that name forever?

Let me try to suggest an approach that sorts all this out.

Sara, like all the Imahot, clearly has a heightened sense of ruach ha-kodesh over & above her husband (as we see in the expulsion of Yishmael, when Hashem says, "All that Sara says, listen to her voice"). She intuits deep in her soul ("b’kirba") that there is "edna," another (as in "Od") challenge ahead; her family will have to undergo the traumatic episode of the Akeida, & that will sorely test Avraham’s courage, for "he is old." Can he handle that?

That is why she denies laughing out of a sense of disbelief & states, "Lo, tzachakti ki ya’reah," no, I laughed because of fear – fear that perhaps the Akeida will end disastrously. Hashem then reassures her that all will be well, that she & Avraham will come out of this daunting nisayon with only joy & happiness. That is why G-d brings Avraham into the conversation at all.

And this is exactly why Yitzchak bears the name he does; it is a timeless message that ultimately we, Yitzchak’s descendants, shall rejoice with laughter, despite all the trials & tribulations we will face in our history. Ultimately, the name "Yitzchak" will be read – as we do today at the brit of every Jewish boy – as "Yischak," with a sihn, & not with a tzadi. For that name denotes a higher level of happiness, as we say, "Az y’malay s’chok pinu; when we return to Israel, then our mouths will be filled only with unadulterated joy & jubilation (Jew-bilation?)."

When the angel tells Avraham about the impending birth, the pasuk mysteriously says, "and Sara heard behind him." Sara is the prime mover behind all of this, operating at a stratified spiritual level. She truly epitomizes the truth that, "behind every good man is an even better woman."
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