This week is the second wedding anniversary of my older brother Binyamin and his wife, Sarah Miriam. They were older singles and the joy at their wedding was palpable. A few weeks ago they were blessed with a baby girl! I have no doubt that it was due to the tefillos of all those at their wedding who davened for this perfect pair, who waited so long to be blessed with a healthy baby.
Parshas Vayeira was my brother’s aufruf Shabbos. The simcha and miracles in the parsha were good omens for things to come.
There is a common root word that is often mentioned regarding Yitzchak: “tzchok” loosely translated as laughter. Hashem informed Avraham that he and Sarah will have a child despite their old age. Avraham fell on his face “vayitzchak” (and he laughed) and said, “I am 100 years old and my wife Sarah is 90 years old and we will have a child!”
In the beginning of the parsha, three angels disguised as travelers came to Avraham, who invited them to a meal. They gave Avraham and Sarah a bracha that she will give birth to a child within the year. Upon hearing this, “Vatitzchak Sarah b’kirbah,” Sarah laughed to herself. She said, “Shall I have a child when I am already worn out and my husband is old?”
When Sarah gave birth, they named their son Yitzchak because Sarah said, “Tzchok asah li Elokim (Hashem made laughter for me) and all those who hear the news “yitzachak li”—will rejoice for me.”
As Yitzchak grew older, Sarah saw Yishmael “mitzachek.” The simple meaning is he was playing, but Rashi indicates that this word connotes a violation of the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder. This behavior proved he was corrupt and caused Sarah to insist that he and Hagar depart from the house.
What is the common concept/definition of the word “tzchok” that allows it to be used in so many contexts and is the source for the name of Yitzchak Avinu?
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch says the word tzchok describes when something absurd or ridiculous occurs—something totally out of the ordinary. When a person sees this, it’s natural to laugh at the unexpected.
“Vayitzchak Avraham”—Avraham laughed out of happiness at the news, for it was so out of normal bounds that they would have a child. Sarah also laughed. However, Hashem was upset with Sarah, for there was a tinge of disbelief on her part at the utter absurdity that they would have a child at their old age.
Yitzchak got his name as a testimony to the “absurd” miracle Hashem performed to grant Avraham and Sarah a son at their age. Yitzchak’s name is a sign to all people that while it may seem the Jewish people will not survive, just watch: Hashem will ensure they do. The nations of the world may mock and jeer, but it is klal Yisrael who will eventually laugh out of joy while the nations of the world look on in wonder. As Dovid Hamelech says, when Moshiach comes, “our mouths will be filled with sechok (laughter)” (The word sechok spelled with the letter “shin” is associated with the word “tzchok” spelled with a “tzadi.”)
My brother and sister-in-law named their baby after my grandmother, Mrs. Hansi Bodenheim, who passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 95. Oma (German for grandmother) epitomized the concept of tzchok. As a young girl she was sent to her cousins in Antwerp to escape the Nazis in Germany. She was eventually caught by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. On the selection line, she stared straight at Mengele, the demon, and he motioned with a flick of his hand to the right—to back-breaking labor. She survived the war through tremendous hashgacha pratis (divine providence).
The last laugh belonged to her, as the Nazis were defeated and she lived to raise a beautiful family, all committed to Torah and mitzvos. Now she has a great-granddaughter named after her.
May my new niece Eidan (Hansi) Bodenheim follow in her family’s tradition. May we all merit to speedily see the day of Moshiach’s arrival, when our mouths will be filled with tzchok (laughter) and joy from experiencing the miraculous journey of the Jewish nation to the time when the glory of Hashem is finally restored.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.