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    When Abraham laughed – Vayyera

    Sarah laughing that she will give birth, by James Tissot

    Sarah laughing that she will give birth, by James Tissot

    The name Yitzchak (Isaac) comes from a root that means to laugh.

    When God told Sarah that she would bear a child she laughed (Gen. 18:12). It does sound funny for a woman as old as Sarah to have a baby. Yet her laughter brought her a Divine telling-off.

    In contrast, when Abraham laughed at receiving the same news (Gen. 17:17) he was not censured.

    The Targum Onkelos gets out of the difficulty by translating the verb differently – “laughed” in relation to Sarah and “rejoiced” in the case of Abraham.

    It implies that Abraham had faith in God and thought how wondrous it was that the Almighty was prepared to perform a miracle for an elderly couple.

    Sarah on the other hand thought the whole thing was a big joke. In her mind the idea of a serious Divine miracle was so far-fetched that she did not entertain it for a moment.

    Whatever the true explanation, we can learn from this interpretation of the Targum that when God wants something out of the ordinary to happen he can choose to work a miracle.

    In regard to childbirth the possibility of miracles applies whatever age the couple are. Having a baby – even for young parents – is one of the Creator’s greatest miracles, not just bringing an embryo to birth and ushering the child into the world, but being blessed to mould the child’s heart, soul and personality and, to use the Yiddish phrase, machen menschen von kinder, “making people out of children”.

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