When G-d informed Abraham that his wife Sarah will bear him a son, He immediately tells him that he will be should name him Yitzchak-Isaac: "Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall call him Yitzchak."
Rashi informs us that the name Yitzchak is because of the laughter. The selection of this name was clearly G-d’s way of saying that Isaac’s miraculous birth—when Abraham was ninety and Sarah a hundred—would certainly evoke laughter and unparalleled joy.
However, the name Yitzchak does not mean laughter or joy. It is written in the future tense and should be translated literally as: “he will laugh.”
Two questions arise upon reflection.
First, why did G-d have to tell him a year before the child was born what he should name him?
Second, why is the future tense used for his name? He could have been called “tzchok,” which means simply, laughter.
Third, it is not clear who will laugh? Was it Isaac that would laugh? Or perhaps it refers to everyone who will hear about this miraculous event, as Sarah exclaimed, upon giving birth to Isaac: “whoever shall hear will laugh.
A simple way of answering the these questions is that Isaac would laugh at those cynics who declared the Abrahamic cause dead. With no heir to Abraham’s legacy of spreading monotheism, justice and righteousness, all of Abraham’s contributions will disappear. Thus Abraham’s very life’s work, for which he was willing to sacrifice his life, was called into question.
G-d thus says to Abraham, when your wife Sarah will bear you a child, he will be the next link in the chain of your tradition, and keep it alive and well.
Thus, Isaac will laugh at those critics and cynics because he will demonstrate the fallacy of their thinking.
We too are confronted with cynical remarks from our detractors, and frequently we may harbor these sentiments ourselves. Of what avail are our efforts today, when the changing world of tomorrow will no longer accept our Jewish values.
The birth of Isaac and his naming was intended not just for that generation but for all times. Whenever we have a foreboding sense of doom, whenever we become pessimistic about our Jewish future, G-d says to us in effect: “Yitzchak!” You will yet have the last laugh. You, the Jewish people and your teachings and values that we inherited from our ancestors going all the way back to Abraham, will endure.
There is yet a deeper dimension to all this. Some pessimists might concede that the Jewish people will survive and some version of the original Torah will be preserved. But, whatever will be salvaged will in no way come close to the glory of the past. What we will have is a adulterated and compromised Jewish existence.
To these “moderate” pessimists G-d declares: Yitzchak! He will laugh. The Jewish people and the Jewish way of life will not degenerate G-d forbid, it will not be diminished in any way. On the contrary, the greatest joy and excitement is yet to come. As the Psalmist says: “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter.” Referring to the future Messianic Age, the Divinely inspired Psalmist assures us that our future will not only guaranteed, but it will be guaranteed to be one of joy and exhilaration.
However, G-d informed Abraham about the birth of his son in conjunction with the commandment to circumcise himself and his children. The connection between the birth of Yitzchak and Abraham’s circumcision was intended to eliminate any notion of complacency. By linking the glorious future of the Jewish people—Yitzchak, he will laugh—to Abraham’s circumcision it underscores that Judaism is not a sit-back-and-wait-for-all-the-fun-to-unfold religion.
Judaism demands of us to be active participants in the process of making the future joyous and glorious by removing all the impediments to our true Jewish souls.
Furthermore, the fact that circumcision is performed on the procreative organ symbolizes that our involvement is crucial for the future. It also conveys the message that we must impart to our children and their children the same unadulterated Jewish beliefs, feelings and practices, absent all the obstructions that come from the outside. As soon as we water down the Judaism of the past generation, the child is deprived of some of the joy, the Yitzchak of being Jewish.