Vayeira 5773 – Why Sarah Laughed

This parsha records the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), the son of Abraham and Sarah.

His name is derived from the Hebrew word for laughter. It’s an appropriate name since both of his parents laughed when they heard that they would have a child.

Abraham Laughed

Abraham and Sarah did not hear this news at the same time.

In a major visitation from God (Genesis 17:1-15), Abraham was told:

  1. His name was being changed to Abraham
  2. To circumcise himself
  3. His wife’s new name would be Sarah
  4. Sarah would give birth to a son

Here is how Abraham reacted when told about his new son (Judaica Press translation):

Genesis 17:17

And Abraham fell on his face and rejoiced, and he said to himself, “Will [a child] be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?”

The word translated here as “rejoice,” is “va’yitzchak” often translated as “laughed.”

Our Sages understand that Abraham was rejoicing when he heard this news. The translators have chosen to reflect that understanding in their translation.

There is no record that Abraham was chastised by God because of his laughter.

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Sarah Laughed

The events recorded at the beginning of this week’s parsha happened three days later.

As I wrote previously, Abraham was visited by three angels who appeared to him as travelers.

Here is part of what happened as the strangers were enjoying Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality:

Genesis Chapter 18

9 And they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold in the tent.”
10 And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold, your wife Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah heard from the entrance of the tent, and it was behind him.
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, coming on in years; Sarah had ceased to have the way of the women.
12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master is old.”

As verse 12 says, Sarah also laughed. It’s the same Hebrew word as Verse 17:17, but not translated as “rejoiced.”

Sarah Rebuked

We also read that Sarah was rebuked:

Genesis Chapter 18

13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?’
14 Is anything hidden from the Lord? At the appointed time, I will return to you, at this time next year and Sarah will have a son.”15 And Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you laughed.”

Why Did Sarah Laugh?

What is different between Abraham and Sarah’s laughter?

Here’s how I understand the story.

1. Sarah didn’t know who the visitors were. She may have never even seen them.

She certainly didn’t know that they were angels.

2. She probably thought that the person speaking in Verse 10 was giving Abraham some sort of a blessing the he and Sarah should be blessed with a child.

She would have considered such a blessing as mere empty words that could not be fulfilled.

3. Abraham never told Sarah everything that God had told him.

Certainly, he had to tell her about the commandment of circumcision and the name changes.

However, he did not tell her about the promise of a son. He probably didn’t see any point in telling her that. This is especially the case since God did not tell him to pass on the message to Sarah.

If my approach is right, then Verse 13 is a slight rebuke to Abraham. He should have told Sarah immediately about the good news that they would have a son together.

I also think that if Sarah would have known who was speaking, then her laughter also would have been the laughter of rejoicing.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.

2 thoughts on “Vayeira 5773 – Why Sarah Laughed”

  1. A further support to your theory (which is supported by the Ramban, who says that Avraham did not tell Sarah of God’s promise) is verse 14, where God asks Avraham if anything is beyond Him. Surely, if Sarah was at fault, God would have told Sarah that nothing is beyond Him, or at the very least told Avraham to tell Sarah. But there is no need for God to tell Avraham — except if Avraham did not previously tell Sarah the news because he was skeptical. If Avraham was skeptical about God’s promise and therefore did not tell Sarah about it, then it makes sense for God to ask Avraham if anything is beyond Him.

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