A Midrash for Rosh Hashanah, Day Two
Genesis 21:3 And Abraham called his son, the one born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, by the name Isaac (Yitzchak, “He-Will-Laugh”).
9 Now Sarah saw the Egyptian Hagar’s son—the one she bore to Abraham— laughing. 10 And she said to Abraham: “Expel this servant-woman and her son, for the son of this servant-woman will not share the inheritance with my son, not with Isaac.”
I didn’t laugh for years after the day my father sent us out of our camp.
My mother and I survived, and we built a new life for ourselves.
And every once in a while, when I felt the weight of our burdens ease, or saw my mother rest comfortably for even a moment, I felt happy, but I never laughed.
You see, the last time I laughed, our lives collapsed.
The last time I laughed, my father’s wife, the woman who had helped draw me into this world, threw me into the wilderness.
My laughter had broken something in her, and her brokeness had ripped us to shreds.
And so I didn’t laugh. I couldn’t risk it.
After we had settled in our new home, after we were safe, my mother asked me if I was unhappy.
I shook my head and tried to explain that I was just being careful, walling myself off to protect us both.
My mother cried when she heard that I believed that my brother’s mother had decided that laughter belonged only to Isaac.
She cried even harder when I told her that I hoped that Aunt Sarah would let us come home if I could show her that I would never laugh, that I would never steal what belonged to my brother.
We didn’t go back.
Years passed. I was happy, but I never, ever laughed.
But then, one day, my mother and I were making bread, and there was flour all over our table.
An angel must have tickled her nose, because all of a sudden, she sneezed the loudest sneeze I had ever heard.
Flour flew everywhere, and I looked up at my mother, startled, only to find her covered in a layer of fine powder.
An angel must have ticked me as well, because instead of my usual, silent smile, came a hard, rusty laugh.
The moment I heard the sound, my face crumbled, and I burst into tears, devastated that I had failed and terrified of what this latest offense would mean for our lives.
My mother was as surprised as I was, and she rushed around the table, flour flying as she ran, and gathered me in her arms.
She promised me that my brother wouldn’t want me to be silent, that a boy named after laughter wouldn’t deny me a moment of joy.
I wanted to believe her, but I still watched the edge of our camp for days, waiting for my father to appear and tell us that we had to leave, had to flee.
Years later, when I saw my brother again. I walked to him slowly, head down, trying to show no emotion.
As I had grown, I had learned of the tensions in my mother’s relationships with my father and my brother’s mother.
Eventually I had come to understand that my laughter wasn’t the reason that we had been thrown away.
I was a father now. A husband.
I watched my children regularly collapse in fits of giggles.
I saw tears fall down their cheeks as they laughed so hard that they shook with it.
Their loud and unrestrained joy had broken the walls I had built inside of myself.
And my life once again rang with laughter.
But on the day I saw Isaac, I felt like a young boy again, scared of the joy that wanted to escape from my lips.
In the years since I had seen him, I had imagined his life often.
I dreamt of him living in a world full of laughter, a world overflowing with joy.
But when I lifted my gaze to his, I saw a man weathered and ancient.
His eyes did not dance; they swam.
His shoulders did not shake; they stooped.
What had happened to my brother, the boy named Laughter?
When he reached for me, I went to him immediately and embraced him gently.
As we held onto one another, I realized that he was weeping, and I gathered him closer, murmuring comfortingly.
“Little brother,” I said, “Why do you weep? You who were named for joy! You should never be sorrowful.”
He stepped back, looked into my eyes, and said, “Laughter left my life the day you and your mother went into the wilderness. I always assumed that you had taken it with you, and I was content knowing that even though I struggled, your life was filled with joy.”
I stared at him in shock, completely overcome as I realized just how profoundly our parents’ brokenness had impacted our lives.
I looked at the hollow man in front of me and felt the joyful fullness that I had discovered within myself. I reached for my brother’s hand, saying, “Come. Let’s sit together and watch the children play. Let’s be brothers again, and tell one another stories of our lives.”
We didn’t laugh for days after we reunited.
But we survived, and we built a new life, together.