Avraham ben Yaakov



As mentioned in the commentary on the Song of Devorah (Judges ch 5), Hannah's song is the seventh of the ten outstanding prophetic songs of all times. The tenth, which we are now awaiting: will be sung when those in exile will come out of their exile (Targum Yonasan on Shir HaShirim 1:1).

Hannah is counted as one of seven outstanding prophetesses (with Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Avigail, Huldah and Esther) enumerated with the 48 male prophets who (besides the millions of other men and women who prophesied in Israel ) delivered prophecies that were relevant to all the generations (Megillah 14a).

As discussed in the commentary on the Song of Devorah, SONG connects together and gives deeper meaning to the apparently disconnected happenings in this world. Hannah turned her personal triumph over the taunts of her rival, Peninah, into a song of triumph over God's victory over the enemies of Israel . The theme is how He brings down those who are arrogant and raises those who lowly. Targum Yonasan in his characteristically expansive rendering of a prophetic passage of this kind specifies the enemies of Israel alluded to in these verses: the Philistines in time of Samuel (v 1); Sennaherib king of Assyria in the time of king Hezekiah (v 2); Nebbucadnezzar of Babylon, who destroyed the First Temple (v 3); Greece (Macedonia) overcome by the Hasmoneans (v 4); Haman and his sons (v 5); Rome, whose destruction will inaugurate the consolation of Jerusalem (v 6); The hordes of Magog at the end of days.

So important is Hannah's song with its many proverbial expressions that in some communities it is customary to recite this passage as one of the preliminary preparations for the daily prayer service.


Hannah's song was over the birth of a son descended from Korach. In the Wilderness, Korach (intense GEVURAH) had challenged Moses for apparently putting his own family interests over the national interest by appointing his brother Aharon as High Priest and founder of the line of Cohanim. Korach demanded that ALL the Levites should have a share in the priesthood (Numbers ch 16). It was God's rejection of Korach's rebellious challenge through the earth's opening her mouth to swallow him and his band alive (Numbers ch 17) that led to the subsequent reaffirmation of the priestly privileges in the Torah portion enumerating the various gifts they received, including specified portions of sacrificial animals, Terumah (the priestly tithe) etc. (Numbers ch 18). Yet while Korach went down to hell, "the sons of Korach lived" and his descendants were later to sing on the DUCHAN (platform) in the Temple . There is deep irony in the fact that now, in the generation of Eli, it was Korach's descendants - Elkanah and Shmuel - who were sent to reprove Eli's own sons, the descendants of Aharon, for abusing their priestly privileges. Indeed in the time of David, Shmuel reorganized the entire basis of the priestly and Levitical service in the Temple , establishing the rota-system whereby the various priestly and Levitical families took turns to serve there week after week throughout the year.

Eli's sons had become examples of precisely the kind of prosperous, fat, arrogant workers of evil that Hannah in her song had praised God for bringing down and humbling. "They did not know the Lord" (ch 2 v 12): "They had cast the yoke of Heaven from upon them - they said, 'There is no kingdom in Heaven'" (Toras Cohanim, Tzav). "And Yeshurun became fat and he kicked" (Deut. 32:15). Eli's sons were abusing their priestly privileges for their own pleasure and self-aggrandizement.

The service of the priests was intended to atone for Israel through the ritual consumption by the priests of specified sacrificial portions. However, Eli's sons were eating the meat for their own gratification, thereby shamefully exploiting the people. The Midrash (Toras Cohanim, ibid.) delineates their exact sin: (1) They took more than their fair assigned share of the SHELAMIM (peace) sacrifices, the meat of which was supposed to be shared between the priest who offered it on the Altar and the Israelite who brought it; (2) They took their priestly share by force even before the HEILEV-fat of the animal and the KOMETZ-handful of the grain offerings had been burned on the Altar - they consumed their own shares while leaving the KOMETZ to the flies and the HEILEV to get spoiled out in the hot sun!

In addition, our text tells us "that they would sleep with the women assembled at the entry to the Tent of Meeting" (verse 22). On this the Talmud states that anyone who thinks they did so literally is mistaken. The Talmud explains that their sin was to delay sacrificing the sacrificial birds brought by women who had either given birth or who needed atonement for a morbid non-menstrual flow of blood (ZAVA). This delay forced these women to stay overnight in the vicinity of the Sanctuary, thus being unable to return home and be with their husbands that night. The sons of Eli thus impeded their ability to "be fruitful and multiply", which was considered as if they had adulterously slept with other men's wives (Yoma 9a; Shabbos 55b).

Eli's sons were thus guilty of "immorality" and despising the very Sanctuary ritual and sacrifices over which they were appointed as priests. It was thus "measure for measure" that God rejected them from the priesthood. Pinchas, the previous High Priest and son of Aharon's third son, Elazar, had himself been rejected in favor of Eli, who was from the descendants of Aharon's fourth son, Itamar. The rejection of Pinchas came about because he had failed to go from city to city to reprove the people, with the result that in the days of the Concubine in Giv'ah they abandoned most of the commandments (see commentary on Judges 12). After Eli rose to be High Priest instead of Pinchas, we see from our text that he did indeed reprove his sons for their misdemeanors. However, he was at fault for not being more forceful. Eli had shown himself capable of severely cursing the little boy Samuel for ruling in front of his teacher (see commentary on Samuel 1), yet when it came to his own sons he merely chided them when he should have dismissed them from the priesthood. This was why Eli was considered guilty of putting his own family dignity before the honor of Heaven and for this reason his descendants were fated to die young and to be in the humiliating position of having to practically beg for a small coin and a loaf of bread. (v. 36). In the time of king Solomon, Eli's descendant Eviatar was rejected from the priesthood in favor of Pinchas' descendant Tzadok.


According to rabbinic tradition, the "man of God" who came to reprove Eli (I Samuel 2 vv 27-36) was none other than Shmuel's father Elkanah. In the meantime, Shmuel was growing. We must remember that Shmuel was a boy of only two years old when he first came to Shilo. Our text goes into precise details about his clothing. First we are told that he went in a linen EPHOD (ch 2 v 18); immediately afterwards we learn that his mother would bring him a "small coat" (small because it was to fit a small boy) each time she came to Shilo for the fesivals (v 19 - the boy was growing fast).

Shmuel's EPHOD was somewhat different from the EPHOD of the High Priest, which had been imitated by Gideon in his time and by Michah, maker of the idol. RaDaK (on v 18) provides a detailed explanation of the different kinds of garment to which the word EPHOD refers in various different contexts in NaCh. Shmuel's EPHOD was NOT an imitation of the High Priest's (Shmuel was a Levite). Shmuel's EPHOD was a simple linen robe that was typically worn by those truly given over to divine service regardless of their pedigree (cf. I Samuel 22:18; II Samuel 6:14).

The account of Shmuel's growth and his childhood clothing is bound up with the mystery of the KATNUS ("smallness" or "childhood") of the divine Partzuf of ZEIR ANPIN, who is nurtured and bedecked by IMMA (=Binah, "understanding"), and thus Shmuel's wears a succession of garments corresponding to his spiritual growth.


In those days the word of God was "precious" (YAKAR, ch 3 v 1) because it was so rare. The ascent of Shmuel signified the revelation of a new level of prophecy out of the "womb" of Imma -- a birth accompanied by great pangs of travail.

The commentators are at pains to point out that despite the apparent simple meaning of the text (ch 3 v 3), Shmuel WAS NOT SLEEPING IN THE SANCTUARY when the call to prophecy first came to him. Those familiar with the cantillation notes (trope) will readily see that there is an ESNACHTA ("resting note") under the word SHOCHEIV, "was lying", separating it from the next words "in the Sanctuary of the Lord", which begin a new phrase. It was strictly forbidden for a Levite even to enter the Sanctuary itself, let alone lie down to sleep there. Shmuel was lying OUTSIDE the Sanctuary Courtyard by the gate, performing his Levitical guard duty. The prophetic voice did indeed come forth from the Sanctuary, and REACHED Shmuel in the very place where he lay despite the fact that it by-passed Eli. God is perfectly capable of making His voice heard to one and not to another, regardless of where they are situated (see Rashi on v. 3).

It is very noteworthy that when Shmuel first heard God's call, he thought it was Eli, for "your fear of your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven". Before one can be a prophet, one must first be the assiduous student of a Torah sage and a Tzaddik. Yet now Shmuel was ready to ascend to a new level beyond that of his teacher: from now on God would speak to Shmuel directly.

The fate of Eli and his sons was sealed. Shmuel's ascent to prophecy came on the eve of a terrible storm that would be so shocking that "the two ears of all who hear of it will ring and tremble" (v. 11). Shmuel, while modest, eventually showed himself fearless in delivering his message to its intended recipient, Eli. God was with Shmuel and all Israel from Dan to Beer Sheva knew that he was God's faithful prophet.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved