Rosh Hashanah: Chana's Prayer
Traditionally, the readings for the first day of Rosh Hashanah are about the birth of Isaac and then those for the second day are about the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac. Since we only have services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we decided to read the passages for the second day because the Akedah more directly relates to the day. So tomorrow morning our Haftorah reading is from Jeremiah chapter 31 instead of 1 Samuel chapter 1. But I’d like to discuss tonight this passage and its message for Rosh Hashanah.
1 Samuel relates the story of Chana, Samuel’s mother. She is married to Elkanah who also has a second wife, Peninah. Peninah has children but Chana is childless. Most likely the situation here is that Elkanah first married Chana but they had no children. Jewish law requires a man to marry a second wife, if after ten years they are childless. So he married Peninah who does indeed produce offspring.
The Torah tells us that Elkanah gave a double portion of food to Chana because he especially loved her. This sounds very similar to Jacob and his four wives. He had a special love for Rachel and therefore doted on her and her sons. Apparently Peninah resented this and taunted Chana about her childlessness. This drives Chana to pray to God, vowing that if He gave her a son, she would dedicate him as a Nazir. The priest Ay-li sees her and assumes she is drunk and then blesses her when he finds out otherwise. She then gives birth to Samuel who is not only a Nazir, but also a prophet and the last Judge of Israel, anointing first Shaul and then David as king.
This is a nice story but why is it the reading chosen as the haftorah for Day 1 of Rosh Hashanah? Our Sages give us a few reasons. Some say that she was praying in the Mishkan on Rosh Hashanah itself. Others state that she gave birth to Samuel on Rosh Hashanah. And yet others assert that it simply demonstrates the power of prayer, especially fitting for a day spent in prayer in judgment before Hashem.
There is another reason given in a midrash that I think can bring us comfort as we enter these Days of Awe. It says that Chana went to pray on Passover, saying, “Master of all the worlds, this is a propitious hour. Remember me, O Lord, by the merit of Your people, take note of me in Your salvation.” This is playing off of two verses in the Torah. In chapter 1 it says that God remembered her and she conceived Samuel. In the next chapter it says that God took note of Chana and she bore more children after she had already given Samuel to the priest Ay-li.
God is indeed a God who remembers and takes note. He remembered and took note of Chana’s plight. He remembered Rachel and opened her womb. He remembered Noah and his family and saved them from the coming judgment. And since then He looks upon the rainbow and remembers His promise to not destroy the world with water again. God heard the pleas of our people while they were in bondage in Egypt and remembered His promise to the Patriarchs.
And He remembers us; He takes note of us. Yeshua expressed that aspect of His Father in his mashal, parable, about the lost sheep. God is the shepherd that goes after the 1 out of a 100 that goes missing. He also uses a kal v’chomer argument that if God is concerned about the birds and flowers, how much more so is He concerned about and remembers us; children created in His image.
In Leviticus it says that Rosh Hashanah is “A solemn rest, memorial proclaimed with the blast of a shofar”. Because of this the Talmud calls Rosh Hashanah the Day of Remembrance. It is a day in which Hashem remembers us and takes note of us. He also remembers and takes note of the sacrifice of His son, who died for our sins, the sins of Israel, and the world. It is because of this that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.
In our davening, we rely zechut avot v’imahot, on the merits of our patriarchs and matriarchs. As we enter these Days of Awe, we should draw great solace from the story of Chana’s persistence and bravery. We come before Hashem expecting judgment but also depending upon grace. As we approach the Mighty King, we also know that He is our Loving Father. We can have confidence that He remembers and takes note of his dear children. And we also can rely upon the fact that we have a great advocate in Messiah Yeshua, His son, who is not only the Perfect Sacrifice, but also our Heavenly Kohen Gadol.
Gut Shabbes. Shana Tova. And Ketivah VaChatimah Tovah. May we all be sealed in the Book of Life.