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When Sarah Laughs, God Rejoices

Adults study Torah commentaries in Mishpacha Family Learning

While studying about Sarah’s laughter in response to God’s announcement of her imminent pregnancy, I came across this gem from Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker. The adults in our Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program, who explored commentaries from Rashi, Onkelos, and The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, agreed that this was by far the best interpretation. Rabbi Dunsker, a 21st Century Rabbi in Washington State, wrote this first for the URJ Ten Minutes of Torah commentary on Vayeira. Rabbi Dunsker teaches:

As I read this though, Sarah’s laughter seems just as joyful and faithful as Abraham’s. What I see in these two moments is that God gave each of them the news in a way that they could each enjoy it alone. This child will be a gift to both Abraham and Sarah, they will conceive and raise him together, yet they still each must process this information personally and privately.

Abraham was alone with God and had the freedom to fall down and laugh out loud, but Sarah’s experience was different. She overheard a conversation (that it seems she was meant to overhear) in which this information was revealed, and so she laughed in her own way. Inwardly, quietly, to herself, or at herself—it doesn’t much matter to me which of these ways she laughed, just that she laughed. She laughed for the joy of receiving the blessing of a child after being denied for so long. She laughed at the miracle this birth would be. She laughed at the idea of the sexual experience she would enjoy with her husband conceiving this child. And she laughed at her poor old body experiencing pregnancy so late in the game. 

As many people do when they are caught doing something, Sarah denies it. I imagine Sarah denying her laughter while at the same time struggling to wipe the smile off her face, perhaps even snorting a little from the effort. But that lie brings her a reward. It brings her a direct communication from God. I imagine God trying to hide a smile as well when calling her on the lie, the way a parent does when he or she catches a young child in a small lie or a moment of absurdity. If God were truly angry with Sarah, this prophecy may have been rescinded or she would have been punished in some way. It seems to me that God rejoices at her laughter and rewards her with more as we read in Genesis 21:6 – Sarah says, “God has brought me laughter; all who hear will laugh with me.” Of course Isaac (Yitzchak) is named for all this joy that he brings.

I just love it when new perspectives bring forth poignant lessons from Torah. As Ben Bag Bag said (I paraphrase), when we keep looking at Torah from different angles and different perspectives, we discover even greater depths of wisdom than we ever imagined.

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