Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22: 24) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, Isaac, and dedicate him there for a burnt offering [or a dedication; literally, a lifting up] on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” (Genesis 22:2) …

Read more

Yinon Ahiman

The Offering of Yitzhak; the Offering of Sarah Yinon Ahiman is the Director General of the Ohr Torah Stone network The Midrash offers two main explanations pertaining to the particular timing of Sarah’s death.  The first is related to the birth of Rivka, which appears two verses prior to the mention of Sarah’s death (Bereshit …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayera 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

From Derision to Redemption: The Journey of Laughter

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) 

From Derision to Redemption: The Journey of Laughter

Laughter: it can represent many things. It can be a response of pure joy, or amazement. It can be derisive and cynical, a response to a certain comment or an act. Laughter can be a response of surprise, of fear, of being scared, or something that is just unbelievable. Laughter can be a sign of optimism and of joy.

In this week’s parsha, we see laughter, “tzhok” being used in so many different ways – unprecedented in Tanach.

First, at the end of Lech Lecha, when Avraham is told that he will have a son through Sarah, he says the following: ויפול אברהם על פניו he falls on his face, ויצחק. (Genesis 17:17)

He bows down to God to acknowledge this amazing news. It creates a context for his laughter. It’s a response of joy and amazement.

In our parsha, when Sarah is informed by the angels, dressed as visiting strangers, that she will have a child, we’re told that “ותצחק שרה בקרבה” she has an inner laugh and she says, “How can I have a child? I’m old. My husband is old.” (Genesis 18:12)

There are no context clues. And therefore, some of the commentators define this laugh as incredulous, as cynical.


And therefore, Sarah is challenged about this response and she tries to explain: “No!” She laughed for a different reason. It was a laugh of joyful amazement.

When Lot tells his sons-in-law to escape with him from Sodom, because Sodom is going to be destroyed. “Leave this place because God will destroy it.”

They laugh at their father-in-law. This laughter is definitely one of derision, of cynicism, showing disdain of Lot and his comments. (Genesis 19:14)

And when Avraham and Sarah’s son, Yitzhak, is born, Sarah says “ותאמר שרה, צחוק עשה לי אלוקים”; God has made laughter for me “כל השומע”, all who will hear “יצחק לי” will laugh. (Genesis 21:6)

It’s unclear if Sarah is stating people are joyful, are amazed and all hear about my birth are happy for me, or she means people are mocking me.

They’re stating that I was most probably impregnated in Egypt, for how is it possible that Avraham, who is not given any more children to Hagar, now helps me have a child?

And that’s why the Torah goes out of its way to mention Avraham so many times when the birth of Yitzhak is announced in the Torah.

Then there is the situation with Yishmael, when we’re told in the Torah “ותרא שרה”, and Sarah sees that Yishmael “אשר ילדה לאברהם מצחק”, who was born to Avraham, is laughing with Yitzhak. (Genesis 21:9)

Sarah sees that Yishmael is here fooling with Yitzhak, laughing at him, making sport of Yitzhak, causing Yitzhak problems.

With all of these meanings for the word “yitzhak”, why is it that Avraham and Sarah call their child by this name?

What message does Avraham and Sarah want to communicate to us, their children, about the name Yitzhak?

I believe that they’re trying to share with us something about the enterprise of what it means to be part of the Jewish people.

After all, Sarah and Avraham introduced monotheism into the world, and now we’re transitioning from a couple, to a family, to a people, to a movement.

The Jewish people are here to share this ideal with society – our chosenness is our responsibility, and this child, Yitzhak, represents the first generation of the saga of introducing this ideal to society – a nation of monotheism, is now born.

He is called Yitzhak, laughter, to communicate to us the fact that sometimes Judaism will be Yitzhak, it will be met with cynicism.

It will be met with derision, incredulity, especially when we don’t live up to our responsibility. And sometimes “yitzhak”, the laughter, will be a dark laughter, a laughter of darkness.

And by calling him Yitzhak, Avraham and Sarah are also telling us: you know, this enterprise of Judaism really might work. It might really happen. It can happen.

This can be a laughter of surprising optimism. This can be an ideal that can become a reality.

“אז ימלא שחוק פינו”, people will have laughter, “ולשוננו רינה”, as the Jewish people return to their land with a mandate to matter, as the Jewish people move from the periphery of history to the center of history. (Psalms 126:2)

My father in law, Yitzhak, of blessed memory, was a single man in the DP camps, who had survived the Holocaust. He traded with someone to purchase the (Shabbat) candelabra, because he knew eventually he would get married and wanted his wife and his family to have the light of Shabbat. This was important to him.

Yitzhak Tambor, when he bartered for the candelabra, was met with “צחוק”, was met with laughter of cynicism, of derision.

“Seriously? Yitzhak, survivor of the Holocaust, single, this is what you need?”

But that candelabra was used by my mother-in-law, of blessed memory, created light in their home, and it now creates light in our home, in Jerusalem, 40 minutes from the Kotel.
The “צחוק” of derision became a laughter of hope and optimism, and that’s what defines the Jewish people.

When we are able to transform the laughter into a world of hope, of optimism and joy. That’s our responsibility.

That’s what it means to be a “yitzhak”, to be able to create laughter of redemption, the responsibility of what it means to be the children of Avraham and Sarah.

Shabbat Shalom.


Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And it came to pass…that God tested Abraham, saying to him, ‘Abraham,’ to which he responded, ‘Here I am!’ And He said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, offering him there …

Read more

Rabbi Shlomo Vilk

Still Relevant to Our Own Times Rabbi Shlomo Vilk is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva. The story could have played out differently.  Avraham could have turned to God in bewilderment with the question – how could God NOT destroy Sodom?  Where are You, the God who listens to all …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayera 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Yitzchak, Yishmael and the Roots of the Abraham Accords”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

“Yitzchak, Yishmael and the Roots of the Abraham Accords”

High-profile normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Serious reports about dramatic developments in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

What is going on in the Middle East?!

After years of underground contacts, relationships are emerging in full view of the entire world between the descendants of Yitzchak and descendants of Yishmael – all of us the grandchildren of Avraham, Av Hamon Goyim, the “father of many nations” Genesis 17:4

This breathtaking confluence of events certainly has far-reaching political ramifications, but I would like to highlight what I see as a much more significant aspect of it: the glimpse that this week’s parsha, Vayera, provides into this potential rapprochement between the children of Avraham after millennia of enmity.

The parsha contains some truly fascinating parallel narratives in the lives of Yitzchak and Yishmael as they relate to their father, Avraham.

Professor Uriel Simon, world renowned Torah scholar and former long-time head of the Bible Department at Bar Ilan University, reflects on the Torah’s juxtaposition of the two sons’ sacrificial experiences: Geirush Yishmael – the Expulsion of Ishmael – and Akeidat Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac.

The two events’ similarities are alluded to in their parallel language and potential consequences: 

  1. God specifically directs Avraham to carry out both acts.
  2. In both instances, Avraham wakes up early in the morning to escort them.
  3. There is a foreshadowing to the probable death of his sons.
  4. The rescue of the sons comes in the flash of a moment by an angel, an emissary of God.
  5. In the aftermath of these traumatic events, God promises Avraham that both Yishmael and Yitzchak will become great nations.
  6. And inevitably, the trauma that each son experienced deeply affected their respective relationships with their father.

But when Avraham passes away, both Yitzchak and Yishmael summon the inner strength to come together to bury him. Genesis 25:9

Similarly, in light of the recent happenings in the Middle East, we are now witnessing for the first time in this region a growing formal recognition of the relationship between descendants of Yishmael and the descendants of Yitzchak, aptly named the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.

B’ezrat Hashem – Inshallah – may we merit to live in a time in which the sacrifices of Avraham’s children – the descendants of Yitzchak and the descendants of Yishmael – can be overcome, as their namesakes did.

Perhaps together, we can help usher in the final redemption process, a process that begins in Parshat Vayera.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “For now I know that you are a God-fearing man, seeing that you have not withheld your only son from Me.” (Gen. 22:12) The akeda (“binding’ of Isaac) serves as a model for one of the most important questions in contemporary …

Read more

Dvir with donkey thumbnail

“Parsha and Purpose”

Insights from Rabbi Kenneth Brander into Torah and Contemporary Life

Parshat Vayera 5780

Sources cited

  • Genesis 19:27
  • Exodus 4:20
  • Exodus 23:1 – 24:25
  • Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 31