Vayera: Genesis 18: 1-22:24

Vayera: Genesis 18: 1-22:24

Don’t Laugh, Sarah!

A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

In Vayera, we learn not to laugh at what seems impossible in our limited human perception. “Why did Sarah laugh?” a very present Adonai asks Abraham in the tersely worded Torah account (18: 9-15).“I didn’t laugh,” she lies, frightened. “Yes, you laughed,” God corrects her, with the implication: “You think you are too old to have a child, that your husband is impotent?” You do not know the extent of my powers.”

According to Rabbi Gunther W. Plaut, Abraham is indeed Isaac’s father. “There is no hint of superhuman paternity as in similar myths of the Greeks [and, one might add, the later Christians]. The announcement is supernatural but not the conception” [1]. Today we know that male potency can be revived with little blue pills. We know that women past their prime child-bearing years can be helped by assisted artificial reproduction. But the Source of Being doesn’t need frozen sperm or embryos, harvested eggs, or petri dishes to multiply the species.

Yes, there are things in this world of which we humans have not even dreamed. At the beginning of the 20th century, my mother and her brothers marveled at being able to put together a crystal radio set. As my sister and I welcomed television into our mid-century home (ca. 1950) as a near miracle, did my generation imagine that by the end of that century we would be printing out itemized records of every phone call? Did my children’s generation predict that the then newly invented World Wide Web would facilitate global electronic communication, that the fax would be superseded by the increasingly miniaturized computer, and then by the i-phone whose small screen could hold much of the information in the world. Did we imagine that printed books would become almost a thing of the past as electronic readers took over? Or that electronic privacy would become a real concern?

As the present generation wirelessly streams music – and even religious services — or connects on multiple social media websites or twitter feeds in nano-seconds and minimal keystrokes, do they conceive of undiscovered marvels that will in turn replace their ubiquitous, hand-held, digital devices faster than anyone could imagine? Could I have imagined that a 21st stranger in Brazil would check out my Los Angeles house and garden on Google Earth and even see my car in the driveway before coming to enjoy the hospitality of my modern day tent? In a future century – maybe even this one – will we communicate through mental concentration, without any electronic tools?

So don’t laugh, Sarah. When you looked at the moon (in a cosmos of countless moons) in biblical times, did you imagine that a human being would walk on that surface in 1963, and that we would be able to see Mars and Jupiter with a Hubble telescope that has already been surpassed? As words like “bio-tech” and “genetic engineering,” and “Crispr” (technological gene editing “scissors”), and “Big Data” flow off our tongues, who can count the many wonders that are already here in the world we humans inhabit – or in the multiple universes created by Adonai, or where the boundaries between religion and science – and medicine – merge?

And don’t laugh, all the wireless Sarah of the next generation. Technological science has “proven” what the Torah has taught for thousands of years: We are all One, truly One, each linked to the other, all of us connected to the Source of Life. Did God really speak the world into being? The Shema uses only six words – and the underlying math of the Hebrew letters – to enunciate Oneness. Connection.

As humans, however, we love to complicate things, perhaps to transfer our allegiance to concepts like data flow and algorithms. Yet as we try to find answers to age-old questions, Vayera is a key passage in our Jewish understanding of Divinity. The power beyond us transcends the boundaries of our human imagination. We have only to believe. “Life is sacred,” writes Isaac Klein. “Its beginning and its end are mysteries” [2. I believe with perfect faith in that Mystery.

And I am secure in my belief that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Every single day.

My sky has stars to whisper


will pattern day with rainbow breath.

Wrapped in pale blue water,

I inhale its formless vapor [3].

[1] ] The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised edition. Ed. W. Gunther Plaut (New York: Union for Reform Judaism), 138..

[2 ]Isaac Klein.  A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (USA: JTS; Ktav, 1979,1992), 270.

[3] This poem, originally titled “And I Am Me,” first appeared in Corinne Copnick Spiegel, Etreinte/Embrace: Une Poeme D’Amour/A Love Story in Poetry (Montreal: Editions Guy Maheux, 1981) 77. Copies of this limited edition of bilingual (English-French) poems can occasionally be found in rare book sites online.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2014, 2017. All rights reserved.

* * * *