And God Took Note?

Joy and laughter, often embodied in children, can help us begin to live again after extreme disappointment and tragedy.

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Why did Sarah name the baby Isaac?

By the Way…

"And God took note [pakad] of Sarah." The sense of the verse is that the Eternal remembered Sarah. The Rabbis said (in Tractate Rosh HaShanah 32b), "Biblical verses that mention pakad are equivalent to verses that mention divine remembrances." (Nahmanides on Genesis 21:1)

God said, "Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac." (Genesis 17:19)

"Abraham gave his newborn son…the name of Isaac [Yitzhak]." Isaac's name is derived from the word tzohek ["laughter"] for by all laws of nature the very idea of his birth was laughable. (Samson Raphael Hirsch)

"Abraham gave his newborn son…the name of Isaac [Yitzhak]"--joy at an astonishing event. (Rashbam)

"Who (mi) would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children!" We do not find the word mi used in expressions of distinction and honor. Instead, we find it used only in a derogatory sense. The correct interpretation appears to me to be that Sarah said, "Everyone who hears will laugh at me. There is not a person in the world who would have told us this, even merely to console us, for the possibility would never have occurred to them." (Nahmanides on Genesis 21:7)

"Who [mi] would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children!" An expression of praise and esteem, as in Mi hamohah--"Who is like You, God…." (Rashi on Genesis 21:7)

I once asked a person, "Where do you find the strength to carry on?" And the person responded, "Life is a heavy burden to carry…but I do find strength in the ashes." "In the ashes?" I asked. "Yes," said the person. "You see, each of us is on a journey. A difficult journey. And during this journey, we may feel that we are alone. But in the process of our journey, we must build a fire--a fire for light, for warmth, and for food. When our fingers scrape the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find are ashes. And in those ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony. Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night. Somebody else has bent to build a fire. And somebody else has carried on. And sometimes that can be enough." (Noah ben Shea)

Your Guide

Nahmanides and Rashi disagree on the importance of the Hebrew word mi. What is the essence of their disagreement?

Both Nahmanides and Rashi imply that a close reading of the Hebrew text proves that God had a role in Isaac's birth. On which Hebrew words do they focus?

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Rabbi William Dreskin

Rabbi William Dreskin is the rabbi of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY.