Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


Oct. 23, 2010/15 Cheshvan 5771


KOSHI: WHAT do we learn from Sarah’s laughter…about the miracle of life/birth—about God?

REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection

 V.10            Then one said, “I will surely return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son!”

RAMBAN…  “shov-ashuv—Surely shall I return” might be interpreted in the causative, “I will surely bring back to you when I return this time next year new life.”

RASHI…Surely the angel was not announcing that he would return, but was speaking only as God’s agent [to indicate the God would return with new life.] 

V.12             And Sarah laughed to herself saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, with my husband so old?”

TANCHUMA “Sarah laughed”—Looking at herself and saying ‘Is it possible that these insides could bear a child….that these breasts, long dry, would draw milk?’

RADAK… Sarah laughed in disbelief for she thought that the guest’s statement was simply the courteous blessing of a human prophet…Such a miraculous rejuvenation would be as great a miracle as the resurrection of the dead. 

V.13-14        Then the Lord said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I bear a child, old as I am?”Is anything too wondrous for the Lord?

MALBIM… Since the Creator alone holds the key to conception, it is He who will cause her to give birth.  That being the case, age was never a factor… 

COHN ESKENAZI… Some interpreters have concluded, erroneously, that Sarah’s laughter was derisive.  When Abraham heard that he would have a child with Sarah, he “fell flat on his face and laughed, thinking ‘Can a child be born to a man of 100?  Can 90 year-old Sarah bear a child?’[17:17] Thus Sarah is now accused of Abraham’s earlier actions?  Is the deity questioning Sarah, or testing Abraham?

R. M.ZLOTOWITZ…A fundamental question arises.  Abraham was already assured[17:19] that Sarah would have a son. Why then does Sarah respond with incredulous disbelief?…

RAMBAN concludes that Abraham did not reveal what God told him before his circumcision.  Perhaps Abraham thought God would undertake nothing until He spoke to Sarah…Or, is it possible that in his convalescence, Abraham neglected to mention it?…It appears that Abraham felt he had no right to tell Sarah because he had not been commanded to do so. Perhaps Sarah was meant to hear the news as Abraham, suddenly, from God, so that she would laugh, just as her husband did, and then they would always bear in mind that the birth of a child seemed to them an utter impossibility.

SARNA“Yitschak—he laughs”—It is almost certainly an abbreviation of the original, fuller theophoric form “Yitschak-El—El Laughs,” after the pattern of Yishma-El.  This full form is never found in the Bible, nevertheless, all three traditions relating to Isaac’s birth emphatically connect his name with laughter…The repeated laughter of humans in connection with Yitschak is, in a sense, the inverse of God’s laughter…Isaac, therefore, represents the triumph of God over nature.

HIRSCH…There is nothing astonishing in Sarah’s behavior.  She cannot bring herself to believe something so improbable, and smiles skeptically…She does not suspect, however, that this smile will accompany her descendants throughout their history…

 GOTTLIEB-ZORNBERG…As the incredible is promised Abraham, he laughs; and the age of Isaac—laughter, begins.  This is the age of bounty and trusty and infinite possibilities.  But, significantly, to laugh is to make a choice; laughter is two-faced: “here for mockery, there for joy.”  Abraham and Sarah represent the dialectics of laughter.  When she laughs in response to that which is hidden, yet to be uncovered, the text has her laugh inwardly…Such is the laugh of hysterical tension: Efshar—How can it be?  How can I find a place for possibility in an inner space that is totally defined?… God is effectively hidden in her world; hers, therefore, is a more difficult faith than Abraham’s, which is based on promises and transcendent intimations.[The Beginning of Desire, pgs 112-113]


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