TORAH FOR THE TIMES

Shabbat schedule - Friday - Shabbat, October 30 - 31, 2015

Halachic Times
Earliest Tefillin (latest of the week, after the time change): 5:35
Latest Shma (earliest of the week, after the time change): 9:01

Torah reading: VaYera (Genesis 18:1 - 22:24)
Haftorah:
II Kings 4:1-37

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 5:36 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:36 PM

We change the clocks Motzaei Shabbat

VAYEIRA

LAUGHING OUR WAY TO REDEMPTION

Sarah’s Laughter

One of the enigmas of the Torah is the way in which Sarah received the news that she was going to be a mother at the age of 90. In this week’s parsha, the Torah states, “And Sarah laughed at her insides, saying, ‘After I have withered shall I again have clear skin? And my husband is old!’”

The Torah then recounts how G‑d expressed his displeasure with Sarah’s laughter to Abraham, “Why is it that Sarah laughed saying, ‘Is it even true that I shall give birth, though I have aged?’ Is anything beyond G‑d?! At this appointed time I will return to you at this time next year, there will be life, and Sarah will have a son.”

As it appears, from even a cursory examination of the text, Sarah was expressing doubts and even mocking her ability to bear a child. The question has been raised, how could a woman as righteous as Sarah express such misgivings?

Moreover, Rashi informs us that Sarah was an even greater prophet than Abraham. A prophet is one whose head is in the heavens but whose feet are on the ground. In other words, a prophet is in touch with the Divine and its message for us on earth. How could Sarah so miss or ignore G‑d’s message to her that she would have a child?

Sarah’s Defense and its Refutation

A simple defense of her laughter could be that she heard the news from pagan-looking wayfarers and not prophetically from G‑d. Why should she be faulted for doubting the blessing of a pagan?

This, however, does not seem to be a valid defense for Sarah. Her superior intuition (another form of prophecy) should have told her that there was something to the pagan’s message. The fact that these strange and unexpected guests “landed” in their home during the scorching heat of the day, when no human could possibly venture outside, should have alerted her to take their words seriously; they were G‑d’s conduit to deliver a Divine message.

Moreover, this occurred, as Rashi states, just three days after Abraham circumcised himself and entered into an eternal covenant. Shouldn’t that have alerted her to the reality that G‑d was using the guests to convey a special message? Sarah, of all people, should have seen through the veil of appearances and recognized that their blessing truly emanated from G‑d.

Now we are back to square one. Considering her heightened level of spiritual perception, Sarah could be justly faulted for her lack of seeing through the veil. The question thus arises anew, why did she laugh and express doubt?

Another question: When G‑d reprimands her He asks “Is anything beyond G‑d?” Rashi comments on the word used for “beyond-hayipalei” and translates it three ways: “Is there anything mufla-wondrous, muvdal-separated and mechusah-covered?” Why did he offer these three translations? And why didn’t G‑d just state “is it impossible for G‑d?”

When discussing truly righteous people we have to be cautious not to project our own sense of weakness and shortcoming onto them. Their “flaws” are on a completely different plane from our own. This is especially true with regard to the Patriarchs and, arguably, even more so with respect to the Matriarchs, who were in total sync with G‑d.

Never Doubted

Keeping this introduction in mind, one may suggest that Sarah never truly doubted G‑d’s ability to grant her a child at the age of 90. On the contrary, Sarah sought to magnify the miracle and extol its extraordinary and unparalleled nature to cause the greater excitement she needed to combat a nefarious syndrome that seeks to desensitize us to G‑d’s miracles.

To explain:

One of the tactics of the insidious force of Amalek (the nation that attacked the Jews upon their departure from Egypt and became a symbol of the internal evil force that seeks to destroy whatever warmth we experience for matters of holiness) is to diminish our excitement when we witness a miracle. To the more sophisticated souls Amalek’s reaction to the miracle is this: “Don’t get so excited about the miracle. After all, G‑d could do anything; what’s the big deal?!”

Sarah knew that if this miracle occurred there would be all sorts of cynics attempting to minimize her ardor and enthusiasm. Sarah therefore sought to emphasize the sheer impossibility of her becoming a mother. She was way beyond the age of child-bearing, and according to our Sages, she didn’t even possess a womb. In addition, Abraham too was old and past the natural age of siring a child.

The more she reflected on the sheer impossibility of her having a child, the more impressive the miracle would be for both the cynics and herself. By focusing on the impossibility of this miracle she sought to enhance her own excitement and utter amazement over the miracle of having a child.

There is a story told of the famous 19th century Sage, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (known for his classic work, Chasam Sofer), who made a loan to a business man who was on the brink of bankruptcy. When the man returned from his successful business trip he returned the money and also brought the rabbi a beautiful watch as a gift and token of his appreciation. In front of his assembled students the rabbi took the watch and expressed his admiration for its beauty and effusive praise for this exquisite piece of jewelry. Then he returned it to the astonished businessman saying that he was forbidden to take the watch since it would constitute interest which a Jew is forbidden to give or take.

Now it was the turn of the students to be puzzled. If he was forbidden to take it why did he show such admiration for it and relish holding and caressing it when he had no intention of keeping it?

The Chasam Sofer explained that not charging interest on a loan was a great Mitzvah that he would rarely have an opportunity to fulfill. He therefore wanted to magnify the value and beauty of this piece of jewelry to enhance the joy of the Mitzvah.

Here too, we may posit, Sarah’s incredulity was not “doubt,” G‑d forbid. On the contrary, it was her way of increasing the degree of wonderment at this miracle and demonstrating that it had absolutely no natural basis. At face value this was an admirable gesture.

It’s Beneath Sarah

Why was G‑d upset with her?

The answer may be that Sarah was expected to be at an even higher spiritual level, where the most incredible miracles should not elicit amazement. Sarah was at a level where she was in touch with G‑d’s transcendent order. She should have become excited and filled with joy without having to reflect on all the reasons why her pregnancy would be an incredible miracle. Sarah’s closeness to G‑d and sensitivity to His transcendence should have made this miracle seem normal. In other words, she should have been excited by her close proximity to G‑d and not to the extraordinary miracle.

Thus G‑d tells Abraham, “Is anything wondrous, separated and covered from G‑d?” Is there anything that would be considered unusual and miraculous for G‑d? Why then should Sarah, who was so in tune with G‑d’s transcendence, think it was wondrous?

The reason Rashi takes the word used here “hayipalei” and renders it with three translations, “wondrous, separated and covered,” is that G‑d manifests Himself in three ways, as will be explained next.

The Three Dimensions of the Aleph

The Rebbe frequently referred to the teaching of the Alter Rebbe that the difference between Golah-exile and Geulah-Redemption is the single letter Aleph. This letter has three meanings: On the lowest level it means Master, referring to G‑d’s role as the Force behind everything that exists. In the days of exile, G‑d’s presence within creation is hidden; with the advent of Geulah it will be revealed.

The second level represented by the Aleph is the dimension of G‑d as the Teacher of the world; the One whose knowledge is currently separatedfrom us. G‑d’s wisdom is unfathomable but in the Messianic Age even that dimension of G‑d will become accessible.

The third level rearranges the letters used to spell Aleph to read peleh, which means wonder. While G‑d’s intellect is elusive and separated from us it is still in some way connected to the world. In the Messianic Age we will be exposed to the most inscrutable aspects of the Divine which even transcend His hidden wisdom.

This, then, might be the underlying meaning of G‑d’s rebuke to Sarah. “Sarah, you are on such a high level; you are in touch with the concealed dimension of G‑d.” Sarah, like Abraham, would go around and reveal to people that there is a Creator and Master of this universe. For you, G‑d is not covered.

Moreover, G‑d intimates to Sarah, “You have even penetrated into the hidden knowledge behind creation.” Sarah, like Abraham, was exposed to esoteric knowledge. Abraham, our tradition informs us, was the author of the Kabbalistic work, Sefer Yetzirah, which contains Divine wisdom.

G‑d then alludes to Sarah’s connection to His most wondrous and esoteric dimension. On that level there ought to be no more incredulity about a miracle than there is about the most natural phenomena. Sarah should not have to have “psyched” herself into excitement about this miracle.

Sarah’s Humility, not Cynicism

When Sarah denied that she laughed she was sincere because her laughter was not, G‑d forbid, cynicism. Sarah, in her humility, could not imagine that she was at the level where laughing to enhance excitement for the miracle was considered a flaw. G‑d, who knew her true value, felt that it was out of place.

As we stand on the threshold of the Final Redemption through Moshiach, we will soon be exposed to, and elevated through, the three levels of the Aleph. We will uncover the Divine within creation; fathom elusive Divine wisdom and experience G‑d’s utter transcendent wonders. At that time we will all laugh, but not with incredulity. It will be with unmitigated joy at having gained the level where we no longer have to be amazed about G‑d and His miracles because we will be one with Him.

Moshiach Matters:

Rabbi Avraham of Trisk would calculate likely dates for the coming of Moshiach, based on verses from the Torah. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Orenshtein, the Chief Rabbi of Brisk, once questioned him about this. Rabbi Avraham explained, "The Talmud states that if one's father transgresses the Torah, he may not tell him, 'Father, you have disobeyed the Torah.' Rather, he should pose a question: 'Father, doesn't the Torah say so and so...?' This is what I am telling G‑d: 'Father, doesn't the Torah say in this verse that Moshiach will be coming in this and this year...?' "