LESSONS IN PRAYER FROM HANNAH
HAFTARAH FOR FIRST DAY ROSH HA-SHANAH: I SAMUEL I: – 2:1
The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah – Genesis 21 – opens with the birth of Isaac to the previously barren Sarah. Similarly, the corresponding Haftarah relates how Hannah, distressed by her inability to conceive, prayed for a son, when she visited the ‘House of the Eternal’ at Shiloh.
Interestingly, the Amoraim, the sages, whose commentaries form the G’mara, saw in Hannah’s supplications to God, a paradigm of the individual praying the central Prayer, the T’fillah. And so, in the same way as they attributed the times of the three daily T’fillot to the Patriarchs, they also derived the rules for praying the T’fillah from Hannah. The key cue-word is va-titpalleil – ‘and she prayed’ (I Samuel 1: 10-18). We read (B’rachot 31a):
Rav Hamnuna said: How many important laws can be learnt from what scripture says concerning Hannah: “now, Hannah, was speaking in her heart” (verse 13a) – from this we learn that someone who prays must direct their heart; “ only her lips moved” (:13b) – from this we learn that one who prays must frame the words distinctly with their lips; “but her voice could not be heard” (:13c) – from this, it is forbidden to raise one’s voice in the T’fillah; “ therefore Eli [the priest] thought she was drunk” (:13d) – from this that a drunken person is forbidden to pray [the T’fillah].
The aggadic reflections on Hannah in B’rachot 31a-31b, underline the halachah on ‘The Prayer’ expounded elsewhere in the tractate: every able-bodied individual – man, woman, slave, or minor – is obligated to pray the T’fillah “because it is a supplication for God’s mercy” (20b).
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah