For the week of October 30, 2004 / 15 Heshvan 5765
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37

The Impossible Hope

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Bereshit / Genesis 18:12).

Most of this section of Bereshit (Genesis) focuses on Abraham's interactions with God. As mentioned last week, Abraham is our prime example of a person of faith. In this week's parsha (Torah reading portion), we get a glimpse of Abraham's wife, Sarah, and the challenge she faced to accept the reality of what God was seeking to do in their lives.

Abraham and Sarah receive a visit from three personalities. These three come to Abraham and Sarah to confirm God's promise of a son, who would be born to them the following year. As they speak to Abraham, Sarah overhears what they are saying. From her reaction it appears that either this is the first time she is hearing this, or she really didn't believe it when she heard it before.

Whether or not this was fresh news to her, her reaction gives the impression that she had a lot of difficulty accepting that she, at this time in her life, could actually bear a child. When Abraham was first told about this in chapter 17, he also laughed, but the context indicates that his reaction was one of being overwhelmed by the promise. Sarah, on the other hand, appears to be ashamed of her laughter, thus revealing that she really didn't believe.

Can we fault her for this? The Torah clearly states in the verse immediately preceding the one quoted earlier,

Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing (Bereshit / Genesis 18:12).

Sarah was past the age of childbearing. Therefore it was impossible for her to have a baby. Yet God was saying otherwise. Her reaction was normal. She thought the promise was ridiculous, which as far as the natural world is concerned, the miraculous always is. Could you imagine being Sarah in this situation - an elderly woman pregnant, walking around with a big tummy? That would be ridiculous all right. It might be embarrassing. You need to laugh or cry. But however you react, it's pretty wild.

The craziness of this situation is compounded by the fact that she had never borne a child before. I am aware that this really doesn't make a difference, seeing that she was past the age to bear children anyway, but somehow the concept of a barren women becoming pregnant at age 90 is even harder to accept.

There is more to Sarah's reaction than her finding this hard to believe. Note how she refers to the possibility (or impossibility) of her getting pregnant: "…will I now have this pleasure?" This appears to be a hint that having a baby was something she always wanted. Those of you who have had difficulty having children understand her longing. Year after year of her long life went by with her anticipating the possibility of having a child, until the day came when she finally accepted that it would never happen. Then suddenly, when all hope of this desire ever being fulfilled is completely gone, God says that her dream will come true.

We should not be surprised, therefore, when God speaks to us in a similar way. A desire is birthed in our hearts, but then for reasons unknown to us, we come to a place where every hope of its fulfillment is dashed to pieces. Then some time later, God comes to us. He tells us that our dream will come true after all.

This is not to say that every dream and every desire of our hearts must die before they come to pass. Sometimes it happens in the way it did for Sarah; sometimes not.

But when it does, don't be surprised. Just because a dream or desire becomes impossible, that doesn't mean that all hope is gone. With God we can still hope for the impossible.

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