Posts Tagged ‘Yitzhak’

New Year’s Laughter!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009
The year’s weekly cycle of Torah portions gets a bit confuzzled during the Days of Awe. We skip over, slide back, and do all sorts of things to make the readings coincide with the season.  With Rosh Hashanah falling on Shabbat this year, our weekly reading coincides with the holiday’s reading: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6.
Let’s have a look at what Divine inspired laughter can induce!
“Laughter has G!d made me;  whoever hears will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6)
Here is the context: Sarah has almost impossibly (inconceivably?!) given birth to Yitzhak, whose name means laughter. The text reads in typical Biblical ambiguity that “whoever hears will laugh with / at me.” If you heard that someone of Sarah’s age had just given birth, which would you do? Would you be joyful for them? Or would you laugh at the challenge of raising a newborn? Here’s what the sages suggest:
R. Berekiah, R. Judah b. R. Simon, and R. Hanan in the name of R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: If Reuben has cause to rejoice, what does it matter to Simeon? Similarly, if Sarah was remembered, what did it matter to others? But when the matriarch Sarah was remembered [gave birth], many other barren women were remembered with her; many deaf gained their hearing; many blind had their eyes opened, many insane became sane. For ‘making’ [HATH MADE] is mentioned here, and also elsewhere, viz. And he made a release to the provinces (Est. II, 18). As the making mentioned there means that a gift was granted to the world, so the making mentioned here means that a gift was granted to the world.  R. Levi said: She increased the light of the luminaries: ‘making’ is mentioned here, viz. GOD HATH MADE FOR ME, while elsewhere it says, And God made the two lights (Gen. I, 16).
Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LIII:8
What does all this mean, in literal terms? What is the p’shat?  Simply, that the event of Yitzhak’s birth – or more precisely, Sarah’s joy around it! – made other barren women fertile, allowed the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the insane to become sane. Moreover, even the sun, moon, and stars shone more brightly!
Do you believe in such miracles? Can joy really change the fate of others, especially fate that is described as unchangeable? Here is at least one way in which I believe such miracles take place:
Have you, or someone you loved or were close to, ever been pregnant? Remember how, during those days, there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere? Surely your pregnancy didn’t cause the pregnancy of others, but equally certainly it altered your perception of the world in dramatic fashion. Laugh, and the world laughs with you.
Of course, the opposite is true. We may not be able to conceive on demand, or shed the burdens that life places on us with a simple smile. But we can change how we approach them, and I can tell you – from direct personal experience – that that makes all the difference in the world.
Literally.
May you each be blessed with a sweet and prosperous New Year, and inscribed in the Book of Life for good!

The year’s weekly cycle of Torah portions gets a bit confuzzled during the Days of Awe. We skip over, slide back, and do all sorts of things to make the readings coincide with the season.  With Rosh Hashanah falling on Shabbat this year, our weekly reading coincides with the holiday’s reading: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6

Let’s have a look at what Divine inspired laughter can induce!

“Laughter has G!d made me;  whoever hears will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6)

Here is the context: Sarah has almost impossibly (inconceivably?!) given birth to Yitzhak, whose name means laughter. The text reads in typical Biblical ambiguity that “whoever hears will laugh with / at me.” If you heard that someone of Sarah’s age had just given birth, which would you do? Would you be joyful for them? Or would you laugh at the challenge of raising a newborn? Here’s what the sages suggest:

R. Berekiah, R. Judah b. R. Simon, and R. Hanan in the name of R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: If Reuben has cause to rejoice, what does it matter to Simeon? Similarly, if Sarah was remembered, what did it matter to others? But when the matriarch Sarah was remembered [gave birth], many other barren women were remembered with her; many deaf gained their hearing; many blind had their eyes opened, many insane became sane. For ‘making’ [HATH MADE] is mentioned here, and also elsewhere, viz. And he made a release to the provinces (Est. II, 18). As the making mentioned there means that a gift was granted to the world, so the making mentioned here means that a gift was granted to the world.  R. Levi said: She increased the light of the luminaries: ‘making’ is mentioned here, viz. GOD HATH MADE FOR ME, while elsewhere it says, And God made the two lights (Gen. I, 16).

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LIII:8

What does all this mean, in literal terms? What is the p’shat? Simply, that the event of Yitzhak’s birth – or more precisely, Sarah’s joy around it! – made other barren women fertile, allowed the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the insane to become sane. Moreover, even the sun, moon, and stars shone more brightly!

Do you believe in such miracles? Can joy really change the fate of others, especially fate that is described as unchangeable? Here is at least one way in which I believe such miracles take place:

Have you, or someone you loved or were close to, ever been pregnant? Remember how, during those days, there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere? Surely your pregnancy didn’t cause the pregnancy of others, but equally certainly it altered your perception of the world in dramatic fashion. Laugh, and the world laughs with you.

Of course, the opposite is true. We may not be able to conceive on demand, or shed the burdens that life places on us with a simple smile. But we can change how we approach them, and I can tell you – from direct personal experience – that that makes all the difference in the world.

Literally.

May you each be blessed with a sweet and prosperous New Year, and inscribed in the Book of Life for good!