Laughter and Happiness
Our Torah places great significance on the names given to children. It is
therefore appropriate that we examine the background of the names that
were given to our great leaders.
In the case of Yitzchak, however, the origin of his name seems to elude a
simple explanation. It is not that we do not have pointers from our Torah
as to the reasons given for selecting the name Yitzchak. Quite to the
contrary, there seems to be too much information.
At first glance, things seem to be rather straightforward. In last week’s
parsha, (Bereshis 17:19), Hashem gave Avraham a direct command to give the
name Yitzchak to the son that he would eventually have together with Sara.
That would seem to close the case on this name. Not so simple, though.
Rashi attributes the reason for the name to the response of Avraham –
VaYitzchok (Bereshis 17:17), generally translated as laughter – when
Hashem informed him that he and Sara would have a son despite the fact
that they were so advanced in years (100 and 90, respectively). Sara, in
this week’s parsha (Bereshis 12:12) had a similar reaction and laughed.
Hashem’s reaction to the laughter of the two parents is strikingly
different. Sara was admonished for laughing (12:13) while Avraham was not.
The Targum Unkolus (See Rashi 17:17) offers an insight into this matter.
He translates the ‘VaYitzchak’ of Avraham (17:17) as ‘Vachadi, and he was
happy (similar to the word chedvah). Sara’s ‘VaTizchak’, (12:12) on the
other hand, is translated as ‘Vchaychas, and she laughed.’ Two very
different responses – Avraham was overjoyed and celebrated, while Sara
laughed in disbelief.
I would like to suggest that a careful reading of the pesukim that
describe the actual birth and naming of Yitzchak (Bereshis 21; 1-6) reveal
a striking change in the approach of Sara. Our great Matriarch adjusted
her views on this subject after she internalized the guidance of Avraham.
An initial reading of these pesukim raises a difficulty. Things seem very
much out of order. Here is how they appear in the chronological order of
the Torah (Perek chof alef):
* Pesukim alef-beis : Describe the birth of their
* Pasuk gimel : Avraham names the child Yitzchak
* Pasuk dalet: Avraham gives Yitzchak a bris milah
* Pasuk hey : The Torah informs us that Avraham was one
hundred years old at that time
* Pasuk vav : Sara says, “Tzechok asa li Elokim”, Hashem
made ‘laughter’ for me.
Two questions arise. Firstly, if the quote of Sara in pasuk vav is to
explain the rationale for the name Yitzchak, it should have been mentioned
earlier – before pasuk gimel? More difficult to understand is why Sara
would mention the word laughter after her previous admonition for laughing?
I would like to suggest that the order of the pesukim informs us of the
teshuvah of the tzadekes Sara. This time (21:6), Unkelos translates
the ‘tzechok’ of Sara as ‘chedvah’. Happiness not laughter. Faith in
Hashem, not irreverent amusement.
With this insight, things seem to be perfectly aligned. After Yitzchak was
born, named, and given a bris; we are informed of Avraham’s age. At that
point the proud mother Sara is given the opportunity to recalibrate her
response to this miracle – and demonstrate her Faith in Hashem’s word. She
states, “Hashem brought me happiness.” And as Rashi notes, her happiness
led to great simcha for many others who were in need.
With this in mind, we can understand Sara’s response to the
dangerous ‘tzechok’ of Yishmael (21:9) a few short pesukim later. When
Yishmael displayed the crudest form of laughter, symbolizing the three
cardinal sins (see Rashi 21:9), she banished him from their home. Perhaps
that is why Sara stepped in (and not Avraham) to demonstrate her
understanding of the ‘golden path’ that we need to follow in our service
Reckless, derisive laughter removes our focus from our spiritual pursuits.
Happiness, a true simchas hachayim, helps us serve Hashem properly and
fulfill our purpose in life – b’simcha u’vtuv levav.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.