She was in the tent when she heard one of the three guests outside say her name. It was odd to hear her new name, Sarah, after 90 years of being Sarai. She wasn’t even sure how he knew her name; not only was he a stranger, but it had only been her name for a couple of days, when the man she had always known as Avram had come home with the news that his name was now Avraham, and her name was now Sarah. He explained that this was part of G-d’s brit – covenant with them, and that all the men of the household needed to be circumcised.
Some women might have been shocked by such behavior, but Sarah was used to it by now. Avraham was spontaneous and enthusiastic, and she loved that about him. Everyone they knew could be on one side of a river, or a theological question, and Avraham would be across it, doing what he believed in, no matter what other people said. She supported him through it all. Like today, when he spotted three travelers and rushed over to her with instructions to start baking immediately.
Avraham and the guests were just outside the tent, eating the cakes she had baked. She was in the tent; not part of the conversation, but the subject of it. “Sarah your wife will have a child,” said the man with his back to the tent. Even Sarah, who was not easily shaken, was surprised. This stranger was speaking of her deepest desire as if it was possible, but Sarah had given up hope thirteen years ago.
וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן.
And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' (Genesis 18:12)
She could only respond to the absurdity of it with sarcasm. It was a laugh of disbelief that didn’t even escape her lips. It stayed within her, expressed only as an ironic smile.
She thought no one noticed her, but Avraham saw her face through the opening of the tent. He also heard G-d’s voice speaking to him.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד--וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי.
And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Why did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I really bear a child, when I am old? (ibid. 13)
“I told you Sarah would have a child when I changed your names, and you also laughed with disbelief, remember:
וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָהָם עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּצְחָק; וַיֹּאמֶר בְּלִבּוֹ, הַלְּבֶן מֵאָה-שָׁנָה יִוָּלֵד, וְאִם-שָׂרָה, הֲבַת-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה תֵּלֵד.
Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart: 'Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?' (Genesis 17:17)
“You were surprised by the news. But Sarah should not be surprised. Why didn’t you share the news with her when I told you?”
“Ribono shel olam – Master of the universe” said Avraham, “She would have laughed at me.”
Sarah objected: “I didn’t laugh out loud!”
G-d responded: “You did laugh, but you stifled it within you.”
“I didn’t want them to hear me,” Sarah said, “because I wasn’t supposed to be listening! My response would have interrupted their conversation.”
Hashem responds: “Al Menat kein- Therefore you should have laughed out loud.”
* * * * * * *
It is written:
…הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים. אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה …
…We were like dreamers. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing… (Psalms 126:1-2)
This refers to Sarah, who heard the unbelievable, dreamlike news that she would have a son. Then when Yitzchak was born, her stifled laugh of disbelief burst forth from her mouth, changed into joyous laughter and song.
וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה--צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים: כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי.
And Sarah said: 'God has made laughter for me; every one that hears will laugh on account of me.' (Genesis 21: 6)
“Laughter should not be hidden. I want communicate my happiness, so others will laugh with me.”
It is also written:
וַתִּשְׂחַק לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן פִּיהָ, פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה;וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד, עַל-לְשׁוֹנָהּ.
…and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom; and the law of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31: 25-26)
This refers to what G-d said to Avraham, when Sarah suggested that he send Hagar and Yishmael away. “Remember what happened when Sarah hid her laugh behind the tent. Her laughter is followed by wisdom.
כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ: כִּי בְיִצְחָק, יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע.
…all that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice. Because through Isaac will your seed be called. (Genesis 21:12)
“For the sake of the child you have together, and all your future descendants, you need to listen to each other!”