Thursday, 10 November, 2022 - 9:00 pm

“We always hold hands.
“If I let go, she shops.”—Mr. Goldberg
it is an enigmatic story.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, relates how three men, who later turn out to be Divine messengers, visit Abraham and promise that his wife Sarah will bear a son.
Sarah's response is skeptical.
And Sarah laughed inside of herself…
G-d is perturbed by Sarah’s skepticism.
“G-d said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh…
Is anything too difficult for G-d? At the designated time, I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’
“Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ because she was afraid. But He said, ‘No, you laughed indeed.’”
Why would Sarah deny the truth? The Torah says, “because she was afraid.” Afraid of whom? Of Abraham? Why was she so afraid to tell Abraham that she laughed? After all, she was 90 years old, and she was cynical!
Generally, Sarah stood on her own in the presence of Abraham; she does not seem scared of him.
Maybe the Torah means she feared G-d. But that is senseless. Did she believe that G-d does not know the truth that she laughed?    

Can you really hide from G-d?
Even more strange is the response to her denial. “But He said, ‘No, you laughed indeed.’” Who is he? Probably Abraham. So, what was this all about? The story does not continue with any resolution!
Does it perhaps mean that G-d told her these words “No, you did laugh!” Okay, perhaps what was the point? Was G-d just telling her: Hay Sarah, I know the truth. Don’t deny the facts.
The biggest question is this. When this miracle child is born, what name would we expect for this child?
Well, Abraham gives him the name Yitzchak, which means LAUGHTER!
Strange or what?  
If that is not enough, the Torah then says:
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me!”
Wait a moment. The plot thickens. When Sarah hears she will have a child, she laughs. G-d gets upset over the fact that she is laughing. He confronts Abraham about her laughter. She denies it. Then Abraham, or G-d, says: No, you did laugh Sarah! And then when the baby was born, they give him that very name—laughter!
There seems to be some strange theme unfolding here. What is it?
The Talmud states that if repentance is a result of awe and fear of G-d, then your sins are considered inadvertent mistakes and accidents; but if a person’s return to G-d is done out of love, then the sins are now deemed as merits; they are retroactively defined as mitzvot.
But what’s the logic? This seems so unfair. How can a sin, a mistake, a betrayal of the Divine will, become a merit? I could understand that when a person repents, we dismiss his or her previous errors and sins. When someone hurts me and then says I’m sorry, I can forgive him and dismiss the wrongdoing considering it an unfortunate mistake. But how does it suddenly become a mitzvah?
The explanation for this has first been articulated in the holy book of Tanya. When I repent out of love, not just out of fear, what happens is that my very negative experience becomes part of my new relationship with G-d, with truth, with my soul. The very sin allows me to experience a more mature, sober, deeper love and appreciation for the truth.
Take an addict who undergoes real recovery and truly surrenders to the Higher Power. What happens in the process is that the very addiction, the very negative experience, confers upon the recovering addict a depth and a sensitivity that another person who has not endured the pain of deception and addiction can never experience.
Once Rabbi Levi of Berdichev met an infamous sinner in the street. So, this sinner, trying to mock the good innocent rabbi, says to him: So Rebbe, you have any nice and kind words to say to a sinner like me?
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak told him: "You know something? I am jealous of you! After all, the Talmud says that after you return to G-d with love, your deliberate sins will become merits! Imagine how many merits you will have!"
The man replied: "Really? Come back to me next year, and you will have much more to be jealous of!"
But in the end, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s words touched the person. He truly repented and lived up to the hope for him.
This is true in each of our lives. We make mistakes, we fail, and we sometimes make the wrong choices. The first step is called “teshuvah out of awe.” We realize how foolish we were; we regret what we have done, and we try to open a new chapter in our lives and move on.
But there is a second, deeper step in growth. And that is when we can turn around and redefine the very sins and mistakes, we made into unforgettable teachers that continue to inspire our newly discovered commitments and changes. Our very downfalls then become springboards which prove to be sources of elevation for us. I become much stronger than I ever was because I have tasted the other side and have emerged.
A story: A young chemist had been working for some time at developing a new bonding agent, a glue. After years of hardship, the work was complete. He tried it out. It did not stick. What is the use of glue that does not stick? Most people would have called this a failure. Time wasted. Efforts were spent in vain. The young chemist thought otherwise.
Instead of deciding that his work was a failure, he asked, “What if it is a success? What if I have discovered a solution? The only thing left to do is to find the problem.”
He refused to give up. He kept asking himself, “What is the use of an underachieving adhesive?” Eventually, he found it. It became a huge commercial success. They're little and they stick — but not too hard. That is how the “Post-It” Notes were invented!
This is true concerning every negative experience in life. A missed flight cannot be unmissed; a harsh word uttered to a loved one cannot be unspoken. But the MEANING of these events can be changed. We can literally travel back in time to redefine the significance of what occurred. I can’t change past events, but I can reframe them.
Sarah was cynical. Is cynicism a sin? No. But it undermines the foundation of love, dedication, and spiritual connection. When I become cynical, I am living in a desperate world, in a fixed world, in a world devoid of the awareness that every moment is a miracle.
And for a mother—and the mother of the Jewish people—to be cynical? That’s tough. The Jewish mother is the backbone of the family, of the community, and of the Jewish people. She is the “momma bear”—who not only protects her children and will fight for her children, but that does believe in the impossible when it comes to her children and the Jewish people.  
Sarah had a weak moment (relative to her level). But she confronts it. She does teshuvah. And repentance obliterates the sin. Hence, she said, “I never laughed.” My repentance obliterated my sin.
Says the Torah, “because she was afraid.” Her teshuvah was done out of fear, and such a teshuvah removes the sin.
But G-d says to her: No, you did laugh. You are capable of much more in life. You need not obliterate your past mistakes; you need to transform them. You and Abraham represent the path of love—and with love, you transform the past. Your laughter and cynicism become your great allies. You can reach a place where your very setback becomes a source of strength. Your very failure becomes a springboard for deeper success. Your very flaw becomes your path to growth.
Sarah, no need to run away from your laughter and cynicism. Do not deny that part of yourself. Embrace it and learn how to turn it into your greatest asset and blessing.
She does it so well to the point that the very new child is given the name “laughter.” Now her laughter becomes her greatest blessing, manifested in the very miracle child who is given that very name Yitzchak. Sarah says, “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me!” My original laughter has been metamorphosed into Divine laughter; into the laughter and joy of so many.
At that moment, Sarah did not only obliterate cynicism, she transformed it! She turned cynicism into laughter, skepticism into the deepest clarity, and doubt into empowerment.
And with that Sarah created the quintessential Jewish mother—who will not accept “no” when it comes to her child. When all cynics in the world say there is no future, she will say: There is always hope.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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