Haftarah Rosh Hashanah I
(1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
September 7, 2002
Rosh Hashanah is known as Yom Hazikaron – the Day of Remembrance. Both the Torah reading and haftarah for this day were chosen with this theme in mind. In the Torah reading, Sarah, who is without child is “remembered” and under extraordinary circumstances gives birth to Isaac. In the haftarah, Hannah is faced with a similar trial. She too is faced with childlessness and her prayers to God are ultimately answered. Hannah’s prayers serve as the paradigm for the way that all Jews pray the Amidah (the standing prayer) which we recite three times daily on week days, four times on Shabbat and holidays, and five times on Yom Kippur.
Said Rav Hamnuna: “How many important laws [about prayer] can be learned from these verses regarding Hannah! ‘Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart’ (1 Samuel 1:13) – from her we learn that one who prays must direct her/his heart. ‘Only her lips moved’ (Ibid.) – from this we learn that one who prays must enunciate the words distinctly with her/his lips. ‘But her voice could not be heard’ (Ibid.) – from this, that it is forbidden to raise one’s voice in praying the Prayer (the Amidah)…” (Berachot 31a)
‘And Hannah, she spoke in her heart.’ – Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Zimra: [This means that] she spoke concerning what was in her heart. She said before God: ‘Master of the universe, among all of the things that you have created in a woman, you have not created a single one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with, breasts to nurse with? Give me a son, so that I might nurse with them…. And Rabbi Eleazar further commented: Hannah spoke brashly toward God, as it says: ‘Hannah prayed to [against] the Lord’ (verse 10) This teaches that she spoke boldly toward heaven’ (Berachot 31b)
Why did the sages choose Hannah as their paradigm for the proper way to pray the Amidah? Probably because they view her prayers as exemplary in their sincerity and in their expressiveness. She was not afraid to pray what she felt and like Moses and the prophet Ezekiel, she said to God exactly what she meant. Her intercession with God proved successful. Consequently, by following her model, we hope to share in her success and be remembered for a year of blessing.