Laughter’s Power by Jesse Friedman


When Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, she based his name on the assumption that others would laugh along with her just as God made her laugh when telling her she would have a son.  Rashi, citing the Midrash, states that there was much rejoicing on that day as many barren women conceived and many sick people were healed.  Why does Sarah’s miracle affect others and what is the significance of the laughter (as opposed to mere rejoicing)?

Rav Shach notes that we can learn about a man’s potential for good from his potential for destruction.  Just as one man can be terribly destructive, he can be equally constructive.  Similarly, Sarah’s laughter illustrates this lesson of positive potential from negative potential.  The early subject of the Parashah flows from Sarah’s mocking laugh at God’s promise of a child (a year before Yitzchak’s birth) despite her old age, to Avraham escorting his enigmatic guests to look at Sedom, then to God’s questioning of Sarah’s laugh through Avraham.  The middle episode, of Avraham escorting his guests, seems to interrupt a logical progression of Sarah’s mistake followed by rebuke.  The interruption seems to link Sarah’s laughter with Sedomite behaviors.  But how is laughing at a seemingly impossible prophecy related to the sins of a thoroughly wicked city?

Laughing is more than just a noise from your mouth; it is a representative of your feelings.  Laughing at a command shows complete cynicism and a lack of belief in the one issuing the command.  By laughing, Sarah essentially questioned God’s presence and abilities for a brief moment.  The repercussions from such a denial are enormous.  When one believes God is before him, it is almost impossible to sin.  Conversely, denying God’s existence opens the doors to sinful behavior.  

Sarah’s second laughter, after giving birth to Yitzchak, represents a Tikkun (correction) of her first mistaken laugh.  Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:1) states that ultimate repentance occurs when one is faced with the same opportunity to sin and does not repeat the sin.  Sarah at first laughed sinfully when she heard she would give birth, and then laughed for positive purposes when she gave birth.  Since laughter is visible to everyone, Sarah’s first laughter spread her negative feelings about God to everyone else.  But the second time, she showed her complete repentance and trust in God’s absolute authority to everyone else.  Thus, others were able to share her joy and be healed from their ailments and woes.  It is one thing to rejoice; it is something else to laugh and show it to others.  May we all realize the repercussions of our actions, as Sarah did.

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