Kenneth Cohen

Chana and Eli

The Urim Ve’tumim were considered a type of adornment to the breastplate worn by the Kohein Hagadol.

The Rambam describes it as magical in its nature. When the High Priest wished to get a direct message from Hashem as to what Israel was supposed to do, certain letters lit up on the Choshen. It was the task of the Kohein Hagadol to unscramble the letters.

On one occasion, all of the letters of the name “Yehuda” lit up. Four more letters lit up spelling the word יעלה. The interpretation was that the tribe of Yehuda shall go up (Ya’aleh) and fight the enemy.

The Vilna Gaon had an original interpretation of what took place in the dialogue between Chana and the Kohein Hagadol, Eli. He consulted the אורים ותומים to find out why Chana was swaying in such an extreme manner. The letters ש כ ר ה, lit up. Eli thought the letters שכרה spelled “Shikora,” meaning that she was drunk, (as in the Yiddish word, “Shikkur.”)

When Eli reprimanded Chana for coming into the Temple intoxicated, she accused him of not possessing the Holy Spirit. She told him that he did not unscramble the four letters correctly. The word was meant to spell, כשרה, that she was like Sarah Imeinu. She was praying desperately for a son, just as our Mother Sarah did.

Eli apologized for misjudging her, and blessed her that she be granted a son. A year later, the great Prophet Shmuel was born.

This is yet another example of the brilliance of the Vilna Gaon.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at