Parashah of the week: Rosh Hashanah

“Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk” 1 Samuel 1:13


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

The haftarah of first day Rosh Hashanah is the story of Hannah. To recap, Elkanah had two wives: Peninah, who bore him children, and Hannah, who was barren.

Every year, Elkanah and his family journeyed to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. During these pilgrimages, Peninah would taunt Hannah and the pain of her childlessness, combined with Peninah’s cruelty, made Hannah despair.

One year, Hannah found her way to the entrance of the sanctuary. She poured her heart out to God and vowed that if Hashem would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to divine service.

As Hannah prayed ,the High Priest Eli observed her. Mistaking her whispers for drunkenness, he was about to throw her out of the sanctuary. But Hannah explained her situation and Eli when realised his mistake, he blessed her that God might fulfil her request.

The following year, Hannah’s prayers were answered. She gave birth to a son and named him Shmuel, meaning “heard by God” and he became one of the greatest prophets in Israel.

This is a poignant story. We read it on Rosh Hashanah for several reasons. First, because Hannah’s direct and personal pleas to Hashem are the archetype for our silent Amidah — the central prayer of our liturgy. I find it awe-inspiring that our entire prayer experience is modelled after this woman in pain, a woman who wanted to experience motherhood, to love and to be loved.

The second resonance for Rosh Hashanah is the theme of judgement, which reverberates through this story. Eli judges Hannah and assumes she’s drunk. Peninah judges Channah cruelly with her taunting; even Hashem judges Hannah harshly and withholds her fertility.

Hannah is exceptional because in the face of these judgements, she does not give up. She does not let herself be defined by the judgement of others. She stands up for herself and keeps faith that her situation can change.

We have all been judged over the course of our life. Sometimes by the “hand” God has dealt us, other times by friends, family or society. This Rosh Hashanah I will do my best to learn from Hannah — to keep faith that I can change, that I can develop new perspectives, that I can shake off the labels others have attached to me and that I can choose how I want to be judged. Shanah Tovah.

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