Hey God, I Matter Too (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)

In the rabbinic tradition, Rosh Hashanah is known as Yom HaZikaron – the Day of Remembrance. This theme explains the choice of Torah and Haftarah readings for this day. In particular, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read of our childless matriarch, Sarah, whom God remembers and grants a child. Similarly, in the haftarah, we read the story of Hannah who is also childless. During one of her family’s yearly pilgrimages to the Sanctuary in Shiloh, in her desperation, she offered what the rabbinic sages viewed as among the sincerest prayers ever offered before God. And, here, too, God heard her prayers, and answered them. The sages used Hannah’s prayers as a paradigm for how prayer should be offered before God and drew a number of significant lessons from Hannah’s prayer, some theological and others practical.

Hannah’s prayer to God opens with this promise: “O Lord of Hosts (Tzvaot), if you will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant. And if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” (1:11) In Hannah’s oath, she addresses God as the “Lord of Hosts”, an appellation which the sages thought unusual.

In one midrash, this formulation for God’s name led to a radical challenge to God: Said Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon: “Hannah said before the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘There are Hosts in the heavens and there are Hosts down on earth. The Hosts in heaven do not eat or drink, nor do they procreate or die but rather live forever; the Hosts on earth eat and drink, procreate and die. I do not know which group I belong to, to the Hosts in heaven or to the Hosts on earth. If I belong to the Host in heaven, I should not have to eat and drink, nor procreate or die. I should live forever! But if I belong to the Hosts on earth, then I should eat and drink, procreate and die. Just as I eat and drink, so should I procreate and die!'” (Pesikta Rabbati 43 Ish Shalom ed. 179b) As we can see here, the sages enhanced Hannah’s challenge to God. In their imaginations, she demands that God make a semblance of order out of His creation and allow her to play what she discerned to be her proper role. Some might think her plaint outrageous, but for Jews, such prayers are normal and Hannah is a role model.

The Talmud seeks to make this point even more directly: Said Rabbi Elazar: ‘From the day that the Holy One Blessed Be He created His world no one had ever called God: ‘Hosts”, until Hannah came along and called Him by this name. Hannah said before God: ‘Master of the World, of all the hosts that you have created in Your world, is it too difficult in Your sight to give me but a single son.'” (adapted from Berachot 31b)

What is evident from both of these passages is Hannah’s acknowledgement that God’s mastery extends over all of creation, on high and down below, things large and things small, the significant and the seemingly insignificant. (See Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, Yemei Zikaron, pp. 41-42) This awareness gives us the ability to address God with our concerns and needs in this season of remembering and to have a sense that we are remembered and cared for. For all of thus, Hannah serves as our role model.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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