And Sarah Laughed
At Jewish Newport
November 16, 2019
Thanks to Beth Ginsburg Levine for editing
Thanks to the Temple Israel Sharon MA Minyan and
The New York Times
For sharing their joke collections
|Abraham Entertaining the Angels|
Rembrandt van Rijn 1656
National Gallery of ArtNotice Sarah in the door,
laughing to herself.
What a difference a week makes! After the hullabaloo last week with the visit from Congregation Shearith Israel, an aufruf, and the chance to see three sets of Myer Myers rimonim, we were back to our seasonal routine. A few hardy tourists and congregants braved the cold temperature.
But the parsha was far from routine. The Avot and Imahot (Patriarchs and Matriarchs) soap opera continued. Sarah laughed at the announcement that she would have a child, Lot’s sons-in-law (to their regret) shrugged off the bad news that the destruction of Sodom was imminent, Abimelach could hardly believe that Abraham passed his wife Sarah off as a sister, Sarah convinced Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, and Abraham was ready to obey the divine command to sacrifice his son Isaac, who willingly cooperated. After reading the parsha, I was eager for some schnapps at Kiddush.
During his words of Torah, Touro Synagogue’s Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about laughter,
“Does G-d play favorites? We can see in this week’s Parsha that when she [Sarah] heard that she was going to have a child in a year, she laughed. God said, ‘Why are you laughing? Don't you trust me?’
“But Avraham also laughed in last week’s Parsha, and there was no divine anger. This question is addressed the Talmud on Masechet Megillah page 9A.
“In the year 304 before the common era, the Greek king Ptolemy gathered 70 Jewish scholars in 70 different rooms and asked them to translate the Torah. Miraculously they all gave the same translation with a few changes. One of the changes was that instead of saying that Sarah laughed inside her head they wrote, ‘And Sarah laughed among her relatives.’ Why did they make this change? ‘They made this change to distinguish between Sarah’s laughter, which God criticized, and Abraham’s laughter, to which no reaction is recorded. Based on the change, Sarah’s laughter was offensive because she voiced it to others.’ They thought that the king would say, ‘God plays favorites because he was angry with Sarah not Avraham.’
“Why do people laugh? It's an interesting subject. You don't have to learn how to laugh. We are born with the capacity to laugh. It occurs unconsciously. You don't decide to do it.
“What makes a person laugh? Plato said it was connected to the superiority theory. A person laughs when they feel superior to someone else, and that's why many comedians will put people down and get a lot of laughs. Emanuel Kant noticed that there are many jokes that are not part of the superiority theory. According to Kant, people laugh because they're surprised when something unexpected happens. This could be the reason why Sarah laughed. She laughed because she was totally surprised by the idea that she was going to have a child at her age.
‘Let's hope this year will be a year of laughter, not laughter at someone else’s expense but because of good things and good news.
At kiddush, in addition to some schnapps, I got an earful from Mrs. Namel Chadash.
“Listen, mein kindele, ven Rebbe Mandel talks about laughter, it vould be nice if he vas funny. Doesn’t he know that people laugh when they hear other people laugh? Wus good are Plato and Kant if dey don’t know this?
“Our ima Sarah was in shock when the good news came from the ubershter. Fortunately, Avraham had some jokes ready. ‘Ven we tie the holy toira mit a belt, vos do we get? A safer toira.’ G-d laughed, and so did Sarah!
“And in last week's parsha do you think that Avraham laughed when he got de same good news? No vay. He cried out, ‘G-d, give me a break.’ But his ashas chayel, Sarah, vas ready, ‘Ven you play tic tac toe mit de Almighty, who gets the x’s and who gets the o’s? Hashem oz li’amo yitan, G-d will give strength (oz) to his people.’ G-d, and Avraham, cracked up.
“Vile I’m giving advice, Mr. Aaron, I vant to tell you, ‘You are longvinded. Ven you write for Jewish Newport, you don’t need to include the kitchen sink.’ Which reminds me, ‘Vus is the best day of the week to cook? Vat, you don’t know? Fry-day, so you can get ready for Shabbas Choidosh!’
“A gute Shabbos.”
And Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!