The First Day of Rosh Hashanah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
October 3, 2016 /1 Tishre 5777
Much is made of Hannah, the prophet Samuel’s mother, as a role model for our prayers. Tradition has it that it was her sincere prayers while childless which serve as our paradigm for how we prayer our central prayer, the Amidah. Elkanah, Hannah’s husband and the prophet Samuel’s father, is also seen as a religious role model of a different sort. His enthusiastic pilgrimages together with his whole family to the sanctuary in Shiloh, the location of the Sanctuary before the construction of the Temple, were of special note: “This man used to go up from his town every year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh.” (1:3)
These pilgrimages were viewed by some in the rabbinic tradition as an exemplar of religious enthusiasm at a time when religious spirit was waning: “Said Rabbi Zeira: ‘If your people becomes [religiously] tired, stand up and strengthen the weakness (literally: fence off the hole). [Do] like Elkanah did, when he showed Israel [the importance] of pilgrimage, as it is written: ‘And this man used to go up from his town’” (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5, 14c) This story is further elaborated in Midrash Eliyahu Rabba: “Elkanah and his family used to make pilgrimage to Shiloh four times a year. On the way, they would camp in the streets of the city, where a great many people would gather around them, and would ask: ‘Where are you going?’ They would reply: ‘To God’s house in Shiloh, for from there Torah and good deeds go out. Won’t you come along with us!’ And people would join in and come along on the pilgrimage with them. Not a year went by before all of Israel made pilgrimage to Shiloh. On account of this, he merited the birth of his son, Samuel the prophet.” (adapted from Chapter 9, Meir Ish Shalom edition, pp. 47-8)
These episodes speak loudly to our times when religious lethargy has become the rule instead of the exception. The remedy to this malaise is no further way than the adoption of Elkanah’s model. A little bit of enthusiasm and “simcha shel mitzvah – joy in performing the mitzvoth” goes a long way. Sharing this joy with others in a loving way goes even further.
As we enter the season of the Tishrei holidays, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, there are no better times than these to make joyous pilgrimages to the synagogue, and, even better, to share the joy and meaning of these days with others in the spirit of Elkanah and Hannah. Nothing would be better for self and communal revitalization.