This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, (Gen. 18:1 – 22:24) continues the story of Abraham, Sarah and the rest of their complicated family. In last week’s portion, after Sarah had been unable to bear a child, she urged Abraham to take her Egyptian servant, Hagar, as a concubine. Hagar bore Abraham a son named Ishmael, but God assured Abraham that he would also have a son by Sarah, and that son would be his spiritual heir. Abraham fell flat on his face and laughed before God at the thought of his 100 year old self and his 90 year old wife having a child, and God did not rebuke him for it.
In this week’s Torah portion, three strangers come to Abraham’s tent bearing news: Sarah overhears them telling her husband that at this time next year, Sarah will bear a son. She, too, laughs, although only to herself. But God knows it, and calls her to account for it. (Gen. 18:10-15)
Bible scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky interprets the difference between God’s reaction to Abraham’s and Sarah’s laughter as follows: “God ignores Abraham’s laughter but reacts to Sarah’s. After all, Sarah should understand how important she is…Sarah’s importance in God’s scheme means that God will have zero tolerance for skepticism from her.” [Women in Scripture, quoted in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary]
Throughout Genesis, we repeatedly see that the matriarchs are the ones who ensure the spiritual heritage of Israel by collaborating with God to make sure that the “correct” son is chosen to lead the next generation. In this week’s portion, Sarah begins that tradition.