Avraham ben Yaakov


The beautiful and evocative tale of Hannah and God's answer to her prayer and vow with the birth of the prophet Samuel is familiar as the Haftara of the first day of Rosh HaShanah (Gevurah, "might"), anniversary of the birth of Isaac (Gevurah) and Shmuel the Levite (Gevurah). It was Shmuel - Samuel - whose Gevurah brought about the appointment of Israel 's messianic king.

Like the story of PILEGESH BE-GIV'AH, the story of the birth of Samuel begins with a Levite from Mt. Ephraim , but whereas the Levite husband of the Pilegesh brought great suffering to Israel , Elkanah brought great TIKKUN (repair). It is said that "the sons of Korach did not die" (Numbers 26:11), from which we learn that "when Korach descended into hell, a place was formed for them where they stood and sang" (Megillah 14a). Elkanah was a grandson of a grandson of Korach. At a time when the Israelites were neglecting to go up to Shilo for the thrice-yearly pilgrim festivals, our rabbis teach that Elkanah made it his personal mission to go from town to town - each year to new towns - encouraging the people to go up with him to the Sanctuary, thus reviving the national consciousness of the divine plan for a Temple "in the place that He will chose". It was in this merit that Elkanah, himself a prophet, was worthy of his son Samuel. Hannah was one of the seven outstanding prophetesses of Israel .

Kabbalistically, Elkana is the partzuf of ABBA ("Father", Chochmah, wisdom) and Hannah is IMMA ("Mother", Binah, understanding, as alluded to by the Gematria of her name, Hess 8 + Nun 50 + Heh 5 = 63 = the second Milui of HaVaYaH -- SaG corresponding to Imma/Binah.) Elkana and Hannah had to come together in ZIVUG to bring Shmuel - ZEIR ANPIN (Gevurah in relation to Abba) - into the world. (ARI, Likutey Torah Shmuel). Thus it was Shmuel who played the key role in establishing the kingdom, MALCHUS, by appointing Saul and then David as the first kings of Israel . In the reign of David and his son Solomon, God's kingship was completely revealed in the world (GADLUS of Zeir Anpin) through the successful establishment of the earthly kingship which perfectly reflected and served the Kingship of God.

Samuel - Shmuel - was the last of the Judges and first of the Prophets who led Israel . Thus in her prayer Hannah invoked "the Lord of Hosts", HASHEM TZEVAKOS (I Samuel 1:11), being the first in Israel to use this appellation. The kabbalistic writings teach that this name signifies the attributes of NETZACH and HOD, the "breasts" from which the prophets suckle. Thus the later prophets from the time of Shmuel onwards repeatedly invoke this Name.

Hannah's magnificent and profoundly allusive prayer was elicited through the constant taunting of her rival, Peninah, who appears as the villain of the piece yet is said by our rabbis to have acted purely LISHMOH in order to stir Hannah to prayer. Hannah's whispered prayer is the very archetype of silent prayer and is darshened in great detail in Talmud Berachos 31b as a lesson in many of the most fundamental HALACHOS (laws) of prayer, in particular those relating to the daily AMIDAH prayer.

As discussed in the commentary on Yiftah (Jephthah), Hannah is one of the examples of those who vowed successfully. Her son Shmuel proved to be the "seed of men" that she requested. Eli had been appointed judge on the very day that Hannah came to the Sanctuary to pray ("And Eli the Priest YOSHEIV, was sitting, on the chair." v. 9, i.e. now but not before), and on that same day God granted Hannah's prayer for a son - a son who was to come to prophesy the doom of Eli's house. While Eli was a true Tzaddik who had received the tradition from the Beis Din (court) of Pinchas and of Shimshon, he nevertheless showed that he was lacking in RUACH HAKODESH - he mistook Hannah for a drunken woman, causing her to say, "LO ADONEE" (v. 15), as if to say, "You are not my master!".

When the young Shmuel was brought to the Sanctuary as a two year old boy, he already showed his child-prodigy Torah genius by darshening that the ox did not need to be slaughtered by a Cohen specifically, unlike the ensuing sacrificial rituals, which could only be performed by a Cohen - thereby incurring Eli's wrath for "ruling in front of his teacher". Eli wanted to curse the boy to death, and when Hannah protested, said he would give her a better son. Until Hannah cried out, "It was for THIS lad that I prayed" (v 27; see Rashi on v 25).

"This lad" was to become the towering leader of Israel at a time of searing national crisis within and from external enemies like the Ammonites and Philistines etc. - a prophet who is mentioned in the same breath as Moses and Aaron: "Moses and Aaron among His priests and SHMUEL among those who call upon His Name" (Psalms 99:6).

* * * I Samuel 1:1-2:10 is read as the Haftara on the First Day of Rosh HaShanah * * *



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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