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Rosh Hashanah I 5769

The First Day of Rosh Hashanah
(1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
September 30, 2008
1 Tishre 5769

Rosh Hashanah is known also as Yom Hazikaron – the Day of Remembrance. The Torah and Haftarah readings for the first day resonate with this theme. In particular, 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, her desperation led her to offer her sincerest prayers and yearnings for a child before God. The sages draw 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 reference leads 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 Rabati 43 Ish Shalom ed. 179b) This midrash demands from God that He make some semblance of order out of His Hosts since He is their Master and Creator.

The Talmud seeks to make this point 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 this is what gives God the opportunity and the power to remember and be cognizant of the needs of His creators and to show them His concern. For all these things, Hannah serves as our role model.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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