Parshas Vayeira opens with the angels coming to visit Avraham following his Bris Milah (circumcision). They were sent by Hashem, amongst other things, to tell Avraham that his wife, Sarah, would have a child within the year. You can imagine what an exciting reaction this must have caused from these two tremendous people who would finally have a child whom would carry on their legacy. What actually happened is a source of great discussion in the commentaries.
In Perek 18 Pasuk 10, the angels tell Avraham that he will have a son. The pasuk mentions that Sarah could hear the conversation, however, she was out of sight. Pasuk 12 says, “וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָהלִּי עֶדְנָה וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן” “And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have withered shall I again have clear skin? And my husband is old!” (Bereishis 18:12). Hashem immediately comes to Avraham and says, “לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי…” “(And God said…‘Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying: ‘Is it even true that I shall give birth, though I have aged?” (18:13). Rashi explains that Hashem changed her statement from saying that Avraham was old to commenting on her own age, to protect the peace between them. But how could Sarah laugh at this statement? She herself was a prophetess, higher than even Avraham, how could she not believe that Hashem could give her a child, simply because of her husband’s age? And to laugh at it!
Furthermore, while Avraham was making preparations to serve the angels, whom he did not realize were actually angels and therefore assumed they could partake of his feast, he asked Sarah to prepare bread. But when he actually serves the food, the bread is not served. Rashi explains that Sarah became a Niddah while kneading the dough, rendering it tamei (spiritually impure) and unfit to eat. According to this, it is even harder to understand why Sarah laughed, after all, only a child-bearing woman can become a niddah. So once Hashem has already made a miracle to turn a 90-year old woman’s biological clock backwards, why can’t he give her a child? Plus, having children does not have to do with the age of the man, so why did she laugh because Avraham was old?
The Kli Yakar answers that Sarah was certainly not laughing at the notion that Hashem could give her a child, she definitely believed that He could. Rather she was laughing at a different promise that Hashem had made to Avraham earlier. In Parshas Lech Lecha, where Hashem first tells Avraham that Sarah will have a son, Hashem precedes this piece of news by telling Avraham, “שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד” “Your reward is exceedingly great” (15:1). What is the great reward about having a child? Nothing other than raising him, marrying him off, and getting pleasure from grandchildren! However, a man of Avraham’s advanced age, while he could still father a child, would likely not live to see these milestones. For herself however, once Hashem has rejuvenated her body, she is once again young and will live to get pleasure from these moments. This is why she comments on Avraham’s age and not her own. But she certainly did not deny for one second the abilities of Hashem.
Some questions still remain, however. In pasuk 15, after Avraham confronts Sarah for laughing, the pasuk says, “וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי כִּי יָרֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא כִּי צָחָקְתְּ” “Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was frightened; and he said, ‘No, but you laughed.” (18:15) Asks the Ramban, how could Sarah deny what was being told to her by Avraham? He is a Navi; obviously Hashem told him that she laughed. So how could she expect to lie and get away with it? Secondly, how could she not believe that a statement said by angels on a mission from God could come true?
The answer lies in the wording of the pasuk. As we said earlier, Sarah could not see, she could only hear, the conversation between Avraham and the angels, so it’s very possible that she didn’t even realize that they were anything but regular humans giving an old couple a blessing to have children. However, that still did not give her the right to laugh at their blessing. She should have instead accepted their brachah with the thought that everything is possible when dealing with God. So when Avraham comes to confront her, she doesn’t think that he had spoken to Hashem about the fact that she laughed since she hadn’t done anything against Him, and the reason he accuses her of laughing is just because she didn’t seem excited about the news, not anything more. The only reason she denied what happened was out of fear of Avraham’s reaction, especially since he probably was very excited by the news. However, when Avraham reiterates to her, “וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא כִּי צָחָקְתְּ” “and he said, ‘No, but you laughed.”, she realizes that he knows exactly what happened and does not try anymore to deny it.
This story taken at face value can be very confusing. The mother of the entire Jewish People, one of the greatest people who ever lived, someone who was on a higher level of prophecy than even Avraham, denied God’s ability? God forbid! This same mistake can occur many times throughout the Torah; every time there is a story about one of our illustrious ancestors it seems as if they are doing something against Hashem and the Torah. The reason the Torah does this is to show that we are not afraid of our mistakes. The Torah is teaching us that we are not perfect, none of us, and we all have our struggles. This is one of the proofs of the Torah, the acknowledgment that even the greatest people who ever lived, the builders of our nation, made mistakes, even if we sometimes overestimate what those sins actually were.
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