Rabbi Yair Robinson
November 11, 2022
Plaut p. 132
This week, there’s a lot going on. This is among the richest Torah portions in terms of narratives, including but not limited to: Abraham tending to the three strangers and the announcement of Isaac’s birth (which Jack will read tomorrow), the whole Sodom and Gamorrah…thing and Abraham’s debate with God, Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment (which we’ll talk about at Torah study tomorrow), and the Binding of Isaac. What brings all these stories together is that first word in our portion: “He saw”. Each of the stories hinges on what a particular character sees—strangers in the distance, the destruction of a city, a spring that didn’t seem to be there before, a ram caught in a thicket. In the section we’re reading tonight, Sarah gives birth to Isaac and names him, famously, ‘laughter’, after her first reaction to being told that she would give birth, an impossible feat given her and Abraham’s age and the ‘state of their plumbing’, so to speak. Now, in this joyous moment, instead of laughing at her circumstances, she invites those in her midst to laugh with her.
Words of seeing or vision don’t really appear in this text; nevertheless, there is a sense of revelation to this moment. Before, Sarah’s laughter at the prophecy of her becoming a birth mother in old age seemed sarcastic, and perhaps despairing. She cracks jokes about her old age and her disbelief at least in part because of her own grief. In Sarah’s mind, we might imagine, there is no future as a birth mother, no future for God’s prophecy that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. There’s a bitterness, we might think, in her initial laughter. Now, the laughter is truly joyful, a laughter of radical amazement, an expression of, “can you believe it?” Before, it was impossible for Sarah to see any such possibility. That way was shut. Now, in this moment, as her laughter invites others into her celebration, anything seems possible.
Which provides a powerful reminder to all of us. Frequently, especially in moments of anxiety or stress or despair, we can only see what’s right in front of us. We can’t imagine a new day, a new opportunity, a moment free of whatever is weighing us down. But that day is possible, that moment of real laughter is possible. It does, as the old slogan said, get better. In the moment of our grief we can’t see it, because we’re not ready, but it’s there, waiting for the moment we can lift our eyes, and see, and laugh. So in our moments where we can’t see past what’s holding us back or keeping us stuck, when we think our world will come crashing down always and forever, remember how Sarah laughed at the thought of a better future, and then laughed rejoicing in how wrong she was. May it be the same for us as well. Amen.