Haftarah The First Day of Rosh Hashanah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
September 21, 2017 / 01 Tishre 5778
It is again time for Rosh Hashanah. And like all habitual activities, there is potential for boredom and neglect. Boredom, born of routine, is not just a modern malady; it is a timeworn concern which the rabbinic sages were well aware of. They noted, though, that this very human problem was remediable and in their creative (midrashic) reading of a phrase from the following verses about Elkanah, the prophet Samuel’s father, they found a means for rectifying this problem: “This man (Elkanah) used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts in Shiloh.” (1:3) And further on it says: “And so he did, year after year (shana b’shanah)” (1:7)
Elkanah’s yearly pilgrimages were almost routine. Year in and year out he did the same thing. Rabbi Zera, however, takes the words “shana b’shana – year after year” which are formed from the root: “shin nun hey” to mean “change after change”, adding a startlingly ‘different’ perspective to the biblical story: “Said Rabbi Zera: ‘What did Elkanah do? He guided the people to make the pilgrimage to Shiloh. Each year he would follow a different (shoneh) path to remind [different communities of] people to make pilgrimage, as it is written: ‘And this man went up and out of his city year after year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord in Shiloh.’” (1:3) (adapted from Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5 14d and Midrash Shmuel 1:1, Lipshitz ed. p. 2)
According to Rabbi Zera, Elkanah maintained his routine by varying his routine. There were two elements to this change. Not only did he continually alter his path from year to year; he also made a point of inspiring others to his experiences as well. In doing so, he both enhanced his own experience and helped others to get involved. Religious life is both an individual and a communal experience. We gain by doing new things and learning new things. But we gain even more when we share our religious life with others. In this way that which seemed habitual remains ever new.
Elkanah’s enthusiasm, as expressed in this midrashic anecdote, is crucial to our lives as Jews and as human beings. Important things in our lives should be enhanced by our enthusiasm and shared with others. This is an idea clearly meant to bring light and spirit to our lives as we enter into this new year.