A Laugh of Joy

Yael Eckstein  |  October 31, 2023

Young boy with his hands by his face laughing.

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

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayeira, which means “and he appeared,” from Genesis 18:1—22:24.

Observing the Sabbath is an important part of my spiritual life. It’s my weekly check-in with God and provides me with an infusion of spiritual inspiration. However, one of my favorite parts of the Sabbath is simply sitting around the table with my family and guests. We sing, we talk, and we laugh a whole lot. It is so healthy for the heart and good for the soul.

Studies have proven that laughter has all kinds of 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 ideal. In this week’s portion, we learn that when Sarah overheard the three angels tell Abraham that she would have a child, she laughed. Earlier on in Genesis 17, Abraham also laughed when he was informed that he and Sarah, both in their nineties, would become parents. Yet, Abraham’s laughter was different from his wife’s, and God only scolded Sarah’s laughter.


A Laugh of Joy

When the angels first entered Abraham’s house they asked where Sarah was. Abraham answered that she was in the tent. The Jewish sages explained that Sarah was always in the tent. She didn’t like to go out because people would whisper behind her back that she was the old woman who never had any children. As Sarah grew old, she withdrew from people. She began to lose her joy and laughter. When she laughed after hearing she would soon give birth, it was a laugh of disbelief as if to say, “Yeah, right! I can’t possibly bear a child!”

In contrast, Abraham’s laughter was a laugh of joy. He was laughing at the unexpected, the surprise of it all. This is the kind of laughter that 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.

Ultimately, Sarah learned to laugh again. Appropriately, she called her son Isaac which means “laughter” in Hebrew. His name is an everlasting reminder that no matter how tough life gets, we must never give up or lose our joy. There is always something to be grateful for—and always something to laugh about.

Your turn:

What gives you joy and makes you laugh with delight? Share in the comments below.