Nelly Shulman

The two laughs

In Genesis 18:12, Sarah laughs, hearing the news about her unexpectedly returning fertility. In the next verse, God asks Abraham, לָ֣מָּה זֶּה֩ צָחֲקָ֨ה שָׂרָ֜ה 

The rabbis have noticed the discrepancy. God’s reaction in this chapter is in stark contrast with the lack of it in the previous one, where Abraham also laughs, hearing the same news, only concerning himself. וַיִּפֹּ֧ל אַבְרָהָ֛ם עַל־פָּנָ֖יו וַיִּצְחָ֑ק Genesis (17:17).

Or HaChaim asks the logical question, “Why did G’d react differently to the same word, צחק when used by two different people?”. It goes further to explain that Sarah’s laugh, unlike Abraham’s was not spontaneous. While a simple man Abraham, cannot help not to snort on hearing the ridiculous, in his opinion, news, the scheming woman Sarah cunningly waited until the return of her periods and only then started to laugh.

God is angered by this trust issue. As Or Ha-Chaim puts it, “This proves that she did not believe G’d’s promise until after she experienced proof on her own body. It was this that G’d objected to”.

The casual reaction seldom offends. It’s the calculated one that hurts the most.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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