Leading Idea: The Experience of Laughter

Download the leading idea description here: PDF pdf-icon


Leading Idea: The Experience of Laughter

In this text Sarah laughs be-kirba (בְּקִרְבָּהּ). What kind of laughter is this? The laughter is a ‘close’ laughter, translated variously as laughing ‘to herself’, ‘within herself’ or ‘at herself’. For Samson Raphael Hirsch it is “the natural, involuntary laughter which we can hardly keep back at the sight of some absurdity” (Hirsch, 1963, p. 352). The question is whether Sarah’s laughter is one of sheer incredulity or of irony, or something else. Two things happen later that further complicate things.

(i) She denies laughing (18:15). Why does she do this? What might this say about her laughter? (is she embarrassed? Is she in denial? Is it possible she was so amazed she was unaware of laughing? Or maybe, if she had worked to suppress her laughter, she now wanted to assert that she hadn’t really laughed because she had consciously controlled herself from doing so, keeping her laughter within.)

(ii) She speaks about laughter (21:7). When she gives birth to Yitzak a few verses later she says: “ God has made laughter of me, everyone who hears will laugh”. Here too the passage is open to different readings – is she saying that, in giving birth in old age, God has made her into a laughing stock and everyone will laugh at her (Hirsch), or that God has brought laugher to her and that everyone who hears will laugh with her in joy (Rashi)?

Those who read Sarah as fearing laughter tend to read her earlier reaction in the tent as a negative laughter, while those who read it as joy see her earlier laughter as incredulity or disbelief when told good but improbable news.
Sarah is not the only one who laughs. One verse earlier (Bereshit 17:17) Avraham ‘falls on his face and laughs’ when he is told he will have a child by Sarah. If Sarah’s laughter is inward, Abrahams laughter seems to be blatantly outward.

Several discussion plans and exercises explore the nature of laughter:

(i) One looks at how we laugh (where it happens in our body, the control we have over it, inward and outward laughter). This provides different resources for reflecting on how Sarah might have laughed be-kirba (בְּקִרְבָּהּ).

(ii) One looks at emotions that lie behind laughter and causes of laughter (insecurity, joy, embarrassment, etc). This looks at what Sarah might have been feeling as she laughed.

(iii) one looks at kinds of laughter (some distinctions to think about include whether the pictures shows people laughing with or at something, laughing as expression of joy, laughing inside or laughing openly, seeking to hide laughter, openly showing laughter, embarrassed laughter, laughing in amazement).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.