Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” — Genesis 18:13–14
The Torah portion for this week is Vayeira, which means “and he appeared,” from Genesis 18:1—22:24, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:1–37.
A story is recorded in the Talmud about a great Jewish sage to whom Elijah the prophet often appeared. In one instance, the sage was in the marketplace and posed the following question to Elijah: “Is there anyone here who is definitely deserving of an afterlife in heaven?” Elijah pointed out two men who were deemed worthy. The sage ran after them and asked, “What is your occupation?” They replied, “We are jesters. When we see depressed people, we make them laugh.”
Such is the value of bringing laughter to people. Out of all of the people in the marketplace, these two were singled out as worthy of great reward. It is so important for people to laugh!
Studies have proven that laughter has many benefits. It makes us healthier and allows us to make better decisions. Laughter helps us keep a positive attitude and facilitates feelings of gratitude.
However, not all laughter is good. In this week’s Torah portion, Sarah overheard the angels telling Abraham that she would give birth at that time the following year. Sarah laughed in response. Earlier on in Genesis 17, Abraham also laughed when he was told that he and Sarah, both in their 90s, would become parents. And yet, it is only Sarah who God scolded for her laughter. Why? Because her laughter was not the same as Abraham’s.
When the angels first entered Abraham’s house they asked where Sarah was. Abraham explained that she was in the tent. The sages comment that Sarah was always in the tent. She didn’t like to go out in public because people would whisper behind her back that she was the old woman who never had any children. As Sarah grew old, she withdrew even more from people. She grew weary of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled. She began to lose her joy and her laughter. When she laughed at the news she heard, it was a laugh of disbelief as if to say, “Yeah right! I can’t possibly bear a child!”
Abraham’s laughter, on the other hand, was a laugh of joy. He was laughing at the unexpected, the surprise of it all. This kind of laughter lifts up our spirits and helps us realize that nothing is as bad as it seems and that things can get better in an instant. It’s laughter that heals the soul.
Later, Sarah learned to laugh with joy again, and so should we. It’s not surprising that she named her son Isaac, which means “laughter” in Hebrew. No matter how tough life gets, we should never forget to look for the joy, the laughter in our situation. It’s never as bad as we think and there is always something to be joyful about.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President