It is common among rabbis to exchange ideas for High Holiday sermons. Often one will call a colleague to hear something of interest which can be developed as sermonic material.

A few days before Yom Tov, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a rabbi in California. Unfortunately, his synagogue does not meet our standards, but in his personal life he claims to be adhering to Torah and mitzvot to the best of his ability. When I asked him what he planned to say in his sermon for the High Holidays, he told me that the first day of Rosh Hashanah when he attracts quite a large crowd who come to hear the shofar, his subject of discussion would be “The Vanishing Jew.”

Quite perplexed I asked him, “I thought your operation was successful. What made you pick such a morbid subject?” He told me that though he had recently completed a four million dollar edifice in addition to his existing facilities, it is only fully used during the High Holiday season. Listening to him, I decided that today I will speak on the opposite: “Flourishing Judaism.”

We have been privileged to witness a renaissance. After the holocaust wiped out six million of our brethren and destroyed the citadels of Torah learning which were flourishing throughout Eastern Europe, today in America again Torah observance is on the rise and Jewish children are receiving an authentic Torah education. I venture to say that there are as many Torah institutions and young Torah scholars in America and Israel as there were pre-war, and maybe more. The statistics and predictions for the future of Torah Jewry are encouraging and uplifting.

In the reading of the Torah for today, we read of the birth of Yitzchak. The name “Yitzchak” was given to him as a command from Hashem. It is derived from the word “tzechok” which means “laughter.” The laughter memorialized in this name was that of Avraham when Hashem told him that he would indeed have a child with Sarah (Bereishit 17:17). In fact Sarah too laughed when she heard the angel telling Avraham that though by all laws of nature they were not able to bear a child, nevertheless their wish for a child would be realized (18:12).

It is puzzling, however, that instead of calling him “tzachak” (he — Avraham laughed) or “tzachakah” (she — Sarah laughed) or “tzachaku” (they — Avraham and Sarah — laughed) Hashem said to name him Yitzchak (17:19), which is in the future tense — “he will laugh.” Who will laugh and why?

Avraham and Sarah had undertaken to change the course of the world by educating people about Torah and G‑dliness. They had encountered great difficulties, and Avraham had even been cast into the burning furnace by King Nimrod, for destroying the idols of his father Terach and propagating that it was Hashem who created the world.

As Avraham and Sarah aged and remained childless, those who previously feared them began to laugh and rejoice. “Soon Avraham and Sarah will die,” they thought to themselves, “and without a child to continue their work, they will be gone and forgotten, and so will the ideas and ideals they propagated.”

Avraham was concerned about this and prayed to Hashem for a child who would continue the work he had started. Hashem promised him, “Your wife will bear you a son. Name him “Yitzchak” because he will follow in your footsteps, and ‘he will laugh’ at all those who think that the efforts of Avraham and Sarah will go to waste and be forgotten.”

We read this morning that when Yitzchak was born Sarah said, “Tzechok asah li Elokim, kol hashomei’a yitzachak li” — “G‑d had made laughter for me, whoever will hear will have laughter for me.” Interestingly, first she says “tzechok” (צחק), without a yud,” and then concludes “yitzachak” (יצחק), with a “yud.” According to the Midrash Rabbah (53:7), the“yud” in the name “Yitzchak” stands for the ten commandments, which all the Jewish people would hear on Mount Sinai. The tzaddik represents the fact that Sarah was 90 years old when he was born. The “cheit,” which equals eight, is for his brit. He was the first Jewish child to have abrit on the eighth day. The kuf represents the fact that Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzchak was born.

When the baby was born, Avraham gave him the name “Yitzchak.” When Sarah was asked by her neighbors the meaning of her son’s name, she replied, “Tzechok asah li Elokim — “G‑d has made laughter for me.” What the 'צ' and the 'ח' and the 'ק' represent, Hashem already did for me. However, due to “kol hashomei’a” — ‘everyone who will hear’ — all the Jewish people will be at Sinai and hear the ten commandments; therefore, 'יצחק לי' — I have a child named ‘Yitzchak.’ ”

Our matriarch Sarah was actually saying that when her children will hear — accept, follow, and observe — the ten commandments as well as the rest of the Torah which is included in it, then she will merit “Yitzchak” — a child who will laugh at those who are predicting the vanishing of Judaism — and through his laughter she will experience true happiness and joy.

We are living in a time and age when, thank G‑d, there are many Yitzchaks, American born and bred Jewish children who are staunch supporters and advocates of Torah true Judaism, and thanks to them another generation of little Yitzchaks — young children — are being educated to follow suit. They are the Yitzchaks who laugh at those who have predicted the demise of Judaism. Because of them, historians such as Arnold Toynbee who have declared that Judaism is a fossil, will be forced to admit their erroneous forecast for the future of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

So, dear friends, on the West Coast someone is talking of the vanishing Jew, and on the East Coast I am talking of the flourishing Jew, and in your minds you may be wondering are both speakers on target or is one of us in error?

I will answer your dilemma with a little story. There was once a genius who became renowned for his knowledge and expertise in every subject. There was not a question which was put to him that he was not able to answer. He would appear in public and people would flock to hear him and pay an admission fee. Once he visited a city and a public gathering was arranged. Many residents of the town attended and whoever desired was given the opportunity to ask him a question.

In the crowd sat a young man who was known as the town jester who decided that he would stump the genius. In his hand he held a little pigeon, and he stood up and asked, “If you know the answer for every question, please tell me if the bird in my hand is alive or dead?” The genius realized that whatever he said he would be proven wrong. For if he said it was alive, the jester would smother it to death, and if he said it was dead the jester would open up his hand and let it fly out. He thought for a moment and then said, “Young man, the answer to the question depends on you.”

My friends, if you want to know whether Judaism will vanish or flourish, the answer to the question is; it depends on you.