Haftarah for The First Day of Rosh Hashanah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
September 14, 2015 / 1 Tishre 5776
The central prayer of the three prayer services that a Jew prays daily is call the Amida or standing prayer. This prayer is also known by the number of blessings it once contained in its weekday recitation – Shmoneh Esrei (Eighteen, despite the fact that for most its history it had another blessing appended and now contains nineteen blessings). The various special prayer days of the year have different numbers of blessing. Shabbat, for instance has seven blessings, in keeping with the special significance of the number seven for Shabbat. In line with this, Rosh HaShanah has nine blessings – three blessings at the beginning and another three at the end which are common to all of the Amidot and three in the middle unique to Rosh HaShanah.
What accounts for the number nine? On this count, the Talmud gives us the following explanation: “These nine of Rosh HaShanah, on account of what? Said Rabbi Yitzhak from Cartigen: ‘[These nine blessing on Rosh HaShanah are] on account of the nine uses of God’s name that were said by Hannah in her prayer’ (See 1 Samuel 2:1-10) For a Master has said: On New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited..” (Berachot 29a)
Why should Hannah be associated with Rosh Hashanah and what might have drawn Rabbi Yitzhak to this association? The Talmud records a tradition that the matriarchs, including Hannah, who was the mother of the prophet Samuel, conceived on Rosh Hashanah. This is in line with the one of Rosh HaShanah’s central themes, which is remembrance, namely, that God remembers those in need. This also would account for our reading the story of Samuel’s birth and childhood on Rosh HaShanah.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Chapter 4 Halacha 3 8a) offers another explanation for associating the Rosh HaShanah Amida with Hannah: “Since it is written at the end of Parshat Hannah (Hannah’s prayer), ‘The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.’ (1 Samuel 2:10)” The verse used in this explanation comes at the end of Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving over having given birth after her long bout with childlessness. As is the way with ancient epic poems, it veers from its immediate subject to deal with larger less personal issues as well, culminating in a paean praising God’s ability to exact judgment upon His foes. This explanation embodies another of the major theme of Rosh HaShanah, namely, its role in crowning God as King over the world that He created and as King and Judge over the world, His ability to exact justice over His world.
These two themes mark two qualities of the day: justice and mercy, both of which we pray are soon restored to the chaotic world we live in.