One of the most interesting questions on this parsha relates to the reaction of Sara Imeinu (Sarah) upon discovering that she is pregnant. In last week’s parsha, Parshat Lech Lecha, when Avraham (Abraham) was informed that he will have a child, he responded by laughing. His response is understandable as he and Sara were 100 and 90 years old respectively, and with her no longer having a menstrual cycle, they had clearly given up hope on having children. In this week’s parsha, when Sara was informed and reacted with laughter–similar to the reaction of Avraham— the response from G-d is decidedly different. Sara is admonished for her laughter, where Avraham was not. The question is clear: Why would Hashem (G-d) be upset at Sara’s reaction, but not Avraham’s?
Targum Onkelus (The interpretation of Onkelus) explains that although their reaction of laughter was the same, the nature of their laughter was different. He explains that Avraham’s laughter was out of joy, while Sara’s was out of a sense of disbelief. However, instead of simply viewing Sara as having reacted inappropriately, there is a beautiful lesson here, and one that can be understood through her behavior.
Avraham already had a son with Sara’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar. It is therefore possible to understand that his reaction to hearing the news that he would have a child would not be doubtful, but simply joy. However, as Sara had been barren up until this point, her doubt is understandable. What we see from the text is that as Sara had time to process this news, her reaction changed accordingly. After Yitzchak’s (Isaac) brit milah (circumcision), her reaction is described as one of happiness, and demonstrates her faith in Hashem. Rashi, a prominent commentator on Judaic works, even goes as far as to point out that her happiness led to great happiness for others who were in need. We further see that Sara understands the detrimental effects of inappropriate laughter as she had Yishmael, the son of Avraham and Hagar, removed from her home for a laughter that is described and the crudest and lowest form of laughter.
We all love to laugh and have a good time, and we should all continue to do so. However, I think the lesson we can learn from Hashem’s response to Sara’s laughter is to teach us a very important lesson. When you are laughing make sure you are laughing in a way that is joyous, and not in a way that can interpreted as being offensive. Make sure you are laughing with someone not at someone. Shabbat Shalom!
By: Rabbi Jeff Ney