By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
On the first day of Rosh HaShana, the haftara is the story of Chana, from the Book of Shmuel. It is the story of a woman who longed for a child, a woman who never gave up on her dream of being an aym b’Yisroel, a mother within the Jewish nation. It is the story of the power of prayer, and the woman who taught us how to daven.
In honor of the Sholosh Regalim, Chana would travel together with her husband Elkana to the mishkon in Shiloh. Elkana was known to take the “long” route, going out of his way, in order to convince others to join him. On each trip, Elkana would travel a different route, giving him the opportunity to reach others.
Imagine Chana’s pain, as year after year she would see wagonfuls of families making their way to Shiloh, while she remained childless.
Learning from our matriarchs Sara and Rochel, after ten years, Chana told Elkana to take a second wife, Penina. Their home became filled with the sound of children, and Chana’s desire for a child of her own intensified.
Elkana and his growing family continued making their annual treks to Shiloh, where Chana would pour out her heart to HaShem. Nineteen years passed. Nineteen years of Chana’s longing for a child.
It was Rosh HaShana, and Chana was once again in Shiloh, begging and pleading with HaShem to answer her prayers.
“Va’tivkeh, v’lo socheil, She cried and would not eat.” (Shmuel 1:7)
“And she was feeling bitter (brokenhearted), and prayed to HaShem, weeping continuously (Ibid. 1:10).
“Shaarei dima-os lo ninalu, The gates of tears are never locked. (Talmud Berachos 32a). It was on Rosh HaShana that Chana made the tefilla that pierced the Heavenly gates, pleading that her dream come true. Rosh HaShana, Yom HaZikaron, the day that HaShem remembers. “Vayizkarehah HaShem, and HaShem remembered her.” (Ibid. 1:19) A year later, Chana was blessed with a child. A son whom she named Shmuel, “Ki mei-HaShem sho-altiv, Because I asked him from HaShem.” (Ibid. 1:20)
On Rosh HaShana we are all Chana. Chana’s story is not just about a woman who longed for a child, but it is our story. Each of us has a prayer in our heart. We all have reasons to turn to HaShem. For some, like Chana, it is a prayer for a child. For others, it is for gezunt, good health… for ourselves, for family members. So many prayers. It may be for shidduchim, shalom bayis, success in raising children, help with parnassa, the ability to live without financial struggles.
We are living in galus, waiting for Moshiach. Hoping for a world of peace and tranquility. Who doesn’t have a pain in their heart. On Rosh HaShana we humbly turn to HaShem with our bakoshos, our requests.
Chana understood what it meant to really daven, and to feel the awesomeness of the day. On Yom HaZikaron, just like Chana, we too pray that HaShem will remember us, and respond favorably to our requests.
Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father, our King! While Rosh HaShana is the day we call out HaMelech – The King, the day on which we coronate HaShem as our King, it is also the day we turn to HaShem as Avinu – our Father. A Father we can unload to. A Father to whom no request is too trivial, and no request is too large. Ask for a miracle – nothing is beyond HaShem’s reach.
On that Rosh HaShana, Chana experienced the healing power of prayer. Rabbi Yosef Albo, a fifteenth century Jewish philosopher, teaches that tefilla doesn’t change HaShem, but it changes those who daven. Tefilla brings us closer to HaShem.
When we have meaningful conversations with people, we become closer to them. Just think of the “silent treatment” as opposed to “DMC”. Chana teaches us that one can open their heart and connect to HaShem spiritually.
Unfortunately, all too often, when we daven, we just say words by rote, as if we are on auto-pilot. All of a sudden, we are finished, and we can’t even remember how we got there. We live in a fast-paced world. Our mind wanders, and is filled with so many distractions. Our lips are moving but our head and heart are elsewhere.
Chana teaches us to really daven. “Medaberes al libah, She spoke from her heart.” (Ibid. 1:13) Radak explains that this refers to Chana’s kavanna, deep concentration, and teaches us how vital it is for a person to focus on their prayers.
Avinu – we speak to HaShem like a child to a loving parent. Chana proclaims, “Vo’eshpoch nafshi lifnei HaShem, I have poured out my soul before HaShem.” (Ibid. 1:15)
“Rak sefosehah na-os, v’kolah lo yi’shomeiah, Only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard.” (Ibid. 1:13) From Chana we learn how to daven the Amidah. Not just to read the words, but to enunciate them. One should be able to hear their words in a soft whisper – not a loud voice.
Chana returned to Shiloh with a prayer of gratitude, reciting Shiras Chana, the Song of Chana. One of the reasons we read this haftarah on Rosh HaShana, is because many of the words remind us of the chilling tefilla in Musaf following Unesaneh Tokef. “Mi yichyeh, mi yomus, Who will live, who will die… who will be impoverished and who will be enriched…” Chana proclaims “HaShem meimiss U’michayeh, HaShem brings death and gives life. HaShem impoverishes and makes rich, He humbles and He elevates.”
My father zt”l would relate a chassidic tale of two men, Yankel and Dovid, who went to their rebbe for a bracha. While waiting for their private audience with the rebbe, the two became acquainted and shared their stories. Each came for the same bracha – the blessing of a baby.
A year later, the two were back. This time, however, it was different. Yankel returned with his baby, wanting to give the rebbe nachas. Dovid returned to receive yet another bracha. When Dovid met the rebbe, he gave a kvetch, why was Yankel blessed and not he.
Ah, said the rebbe, when Yankel got the bracha, he returned home, and immediately purchased a cradle, fixed up a baby room, and even bought some schnapps for a simcha. He truly believed that the blessing would come true.
On Rosh HaShana, we all turn to HaShem for brachos. Our job is to daven likes our lives depend on it – because it really does, and to truly believe that we will merit to see the realization of HaShem’s brachos.
Wishing all my readers a K’siva V’Chasima Tova!
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas /In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l