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Vayeira(Genesis 18-22)

The Mistaken Laugh

Parshat Vayeira tells about an angel - disguised as an itinerant traveler - coming to Abraham and Sarah to inform them that they'll finally have their first child together. This was a big surprise, given that Abraham was 99 years old, and Sarah was 90!

In response to this startling news, Sarah laughed in disbelief.

Nachmanides says that it was a mistake for Sarah to laugh. Rather, she should have answered "Amen" - "so shall it be" - because when somebody gives us a blessing, we should never treat it lightly.

We learn this principle from an incident that occurred to Rabbi Yishmael, the high priest in the Temple who entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. It was there that God Himself asked Rabbi Yishmael to give Him a blessing! (By the way, Rabbi Yishmael blessed that God's mercy should overcome His strictness.) Yet we see from here the idea of not taking anyone's blessing lightly.

So what is the proper response when someone gives us a blessing for good health, or for success with one's family? We must believe in the power of every human being to be a conduit for God's blessing. So we graciously say, "Amen." And we add: "So shall it be for you, too."

November 13, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 6

(3) Anonymous, March 29, 2014 12:11 PM


This is great! Thank you so much for posting it!

(2) Louis, November 7, 2009 5:40 AM

I'm not so sure. Since different people may "laugh" for different reasons: Some laugh out of nervousness, or from relief, or other reasons. True laughter is uncontrolled or uncontrollable. I thinks there's something deeper to that "laugh" business.

David Gr, November 12, 2011 4:38 PM

Nervous laugh

My thoughts exactly. Many times we don't laugh from humor or ridicule but from nervousness. It just comes out and is difficult if not impossible to control. Can you imagine Sarah at 90 years being told she was going to have a baby and not having some emotional response?

Alex, November 17, 2016 4:01 AM


Yes, totally agree. I react in what may be seen as "inappropriate" ways to news: this does not reflect my inner feelings, of respect, gratitude( or others)....merely that it's my outward reaction to something I am taken by surprise by. I'm autistic, which has something to do with it. And I know G-d understands, so it's ok.

J LaLone, November 20, 2016 8:15 PM

Who can not laugh at an absurdity?

If you were an 90 year old woman and told you were going to get pregnant and have a would laugh, if you did not faint!!!!

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