Hannah and Samuel

Summary: The beginning of the book of Samuel describes Elkanah and his two wives, Peninah who had ten children and Chana (Hannah) who was barren. One year, Chana went to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh and while praying, vowed that if she had a child she would dedicate him to God. Eli the Kohen mistook her quiet prayer for drunkenness but after she explained her actions, he blessed her that her prayers should be answered. She had a son and named him Shmuel and after he had weaned, she brought him to Eli. Chana sang a song of praise to God in thanks for answering her prayer.

A deeper look: Hannah’s prayer and subsequent song are the most beautiful examples of human connection with the Divine. Hannah’s bitterness at being sterile caused her to pour out her heart to God for a son, not for her own sense of fulfilment, but for the sake serving God (Samuel I 1:11). Her heartfelt plea to God provides us with a paradigm of entreating the Divine from which the practical laws of prayer are derived. For example, when we recite the Amidah (standing prayer) we must move our lips but not make sounds that are audible to others (see Samuel I 1:13).

Most importantly though, the verse says וחנה היא מדברת על־לבה, Hannah was speaking al libah, which literally means ‘on her heart’. The Gemara understands this to mean that when we speak to God it is our hearts and minds which must be moved, not merely our lips (Brachot 31a).

Prayer is therefore less about talking to God and more about pouring out our innermost emotions and thoughts before Him (Lamentations 2:19). By doing so we acknowledge that He is Ultimate provider for all that we have. Since the time of Abraham, our people have never been bound by a destiny written in the stars. We are above the inevitability of fate (see Genesis Rabbah 44:12). Hannah teaches us that provided our request is ‘l’sheim shamayim’ for the sake of Heaven, God Himself can change the entire creation for the dreams of mere mortals.