Talking with Yourself

November 5, 2020

Sarah laughs, God wonders, and I argue

Earlier in the year, I learned that some people have an internal monologue while others do not. An internal monologue, or inner voice, is the “voice” of your thoughts in your head. Do you have one?

I am definitely in the internal monologue category. I know this because I’m continuing decade-old arguments with people I don’t talk to anymore while I’m in the shower. I’m not suggesting anyone should do that. When I read, reflect, or imagine, I’m often hearing that inner voice and talking with it. Exploring my own thoughts.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, God visits Sarah and Abraham through the guise of three men who might be angels. They tell them that, despite their old age, they will have children and that they will become a great nation.

Sarah’s response, a reasonable one, is that she laughs. In Bereshit 18:12, it says:

וַתִּצְחַ֥ק שָׂרָ֖ה בְּקִרְבָּ֣הּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אַחֲרֵ֤י בְלֹתִי֙ הָֽיְתָה־לִּ֣י עֶדְנָ֔ה וַֽאדֹנִ֖י זָקֵֽן׃

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

Sarah “laughed to herself” is the key phrase, which in Hebrew is signified with b’kirbah, within herself. Rashi explains that she reflected on the ridiculousness of it. Sforno says that she assumed it was a blessing.

Either way, this internal monologue appears as Sarah reflects with herself about her situation.

A few verses later, Abraham walks with the “men” towards the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, where his nephew Lot and his family live. And then we’re told this, Bereshit 18:17-19:

וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃ וַֽה׳ אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה׳ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא ה׳ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה׃

Now the LORD had said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right, in order that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what God has promised him.”

God also manifests an internal monologue, or so it seems!

Let’s break this down into a few big questions with a few answers:

  1. What does it mean for God to have an internal monologue?

  2. Why would God be concerned about hiding something from a mortal being?

  3. What does this tell us about the relationship between Abraham and God?

God, like us, is not static.

I think more than anything else, we often imagine the Divine as one who is always the same. God is unchanging and rigid. This is part of how we regularly define perfect. Instead, what we learn from the fact that God has an internal monologue is that God is reflective, changing, and growing. This should radically change what we think we mean by a perfect God and what our expectations are for ourselves.

God was getting input.

The commentaries are not as convinced as I am about this internal monologue. Ramban argues that instead, God was speaking to the angels headed down to Sodom or perhaps the “hosts of heaven.” Either way, if this is not an internal monologue, God is still seeking out the opinions of those around. We can learn that we should seek input and advice from those around us. No one is expected to have all the answers.

God has obligations towards us.

In the context of the verse itself, God is trying to evaluate the decision of telling Abraham what God plans to do. One of the major structures of relationships that appears in Judaism is the idea of obligation. We are responsible to and for one another. One framework to think about it is: in Jewish law, we have obligations as opposed to American law, we have rights to and from things.

The Midrash suggests that perhaps God has an obligation:

Why did the Holy One give a revelation to Abraham? R. Judah the Levite spoke a parable: To what is the matter comparable? To a king who had an orchard and gave it to his friend as a gift. After some days the king needed to cut down < some > beams from it. The king said: Although it was mine, I gave it to my friend. I shall not cut them until I consult with my friend.

According to the Midrash, when God gives us something, the Divine cannot just take it away but must consult with us first. Abraham should be consulted before something happens. At the end of the story, Abraham convinces God to spare the righteous from Sodom and Gomorrah, thereby saving Lot and his family and ultimately Abraham’s familial legacy. And it probably is the moral thing to do too.

More broadly, we can explore the idea that God feels a sense of responsibility for us. If that is so, how might that change or impact our relationship?

God cares what we think.

And to take the previous point more broadly, it shows us that God might actually care what we think. That this connection, whatever it is and however you want to define it, isn’t indifferent but interactive. One of the important lessons I learned was about the word, emunah, faith. Emunah is the source of the word, amen, which we say at the end of blessings, usually translated as, “me too!”

Emunah, faith, is interactive, it is multidirectional. It isn’t just our faith in God, but also God’s faith in us. Don’t necessarily get caught up in the word faith, but rather understand that this connection is in both directions. We impact God and God impacts us. The relationship isn’t one-sided.

God could have said, “I’m going to do what I want and too bad for Abraham if he thinks less of me.” But God didn’t say that! God says, “should I hide this thing from Abraham?” An act that we’d probably agree isn’t so great, to destroy a whole town of people.

We matter.

In the end, I think the takeaway is that we matter. That our role in this world is to make an impact, to be in relationships with others, to make connections, and to be responsible to and for one another.

Sometimes, for those of us with internal monologues, we can tell ourselves that we don’t matter. We can convince ourselves that no one cares what we do. We can stoke up the fears, like I wrote last week, that can control us.

But instead, we can tell ourselves that God cares what we think and what we do. And even if you don’t believe in a God like that, perhaps we can understand that our impact ripples out from us and that our presence on earth makes a difference.

So internal monologue or no, you can keep telling yourself that you matter.

Thank you for reading! In my With Torah and Love newsletter, I write about Torah, Talmud, self-awareness, and becoming our best selves as students of life and Judaism.

About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.

He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.