Chana’s Prayer: A Worship of the Heart
Rabbanit Nomi Berman
Tefillat Chana, which we read on the first day of Rosh Hashana, still resonates thousands of years later. It does not only touch those who in some way share Chana’s story – it impacts the manner in which each of us davens daily. Tractate Brachot 31a teaches us:
כמה הלכתא גברוותא איכא למשמע מהני קראי דחנה; We derive a series of halakhot from the story of Chana, which govern the way we pray.
The first two chapters of Shmuel, which form our haftara, also present a second model of avodat Hashem. As Rav Yigal Ariel points out in his commentary to Sefer Shmuel, Elkana serves as a foil to Chana. Elkana is introduced to us as someone who travels to Shilo at regular intervals:”ועלה האיש ההוא מעירו מימים ימימה להשתחות ולזבח לה׳ צבאות בשלה” – And the man [Elkana] went up out of his city annually to worship and to sacrifice to Hashem in Shiloh (Shmuel I 1:3). While Chana is the paradigm of spontaneous and passionate avodat Hashem, Elkana represents consistent devotion.
Perhaps this dichotomy between Elkana and Chana foreshadows the debate between the Rambam and Ramban about the very nature of tefilla. The Sifrei tells us that the mitzva of “לעבדו בכל לבבכם” – to worship God with our hearts – manifests itself in the obligation of tefilla. Based on this, the Rambam understands that we are obligated to create an Elkana style routine of daily prayer. The Ramban, on the other hand, understands that our duty to worship God with our hearts translates into an obligation to turn to God at times of great need, as Chana did.
In our spiritual lives, Chana and Elkana work in tandem. While the focus of the story is on Chana and on her passionate plea, it is Elkana who creates the context. Chana could have turned to God at home, but she didn’t. It is only in Shiloh that her pain takes the form of tefilla.
It is only natural to seek religious “highs” and it is tempting, especially in an age of google-paced instant gratification, to abandon the mediocrity of daily ritual. The haftara of Rosh Hashana offers us a formula to achieve true avodat Hashem. Our ultimate goal is to inject Chana’s passion – her ability to “pour out her heart to Hashem” (Shmuel I 1:15) – into Elkana’s routine of consistent devotion.
Rabbanit Nomi Berman is Rosh Beit Midrash of the Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum