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Channa, a Prophetess so Feminine

Published on Tuesday September 10th, 2019

In the Gemara Megillah, there is a list of seven prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Channa, Avigail, Chulda, and Esther. It is rather impressive to discover that there were in our nation, seven women who acceded to level of prophecy.

Today, by focusing on Hanna, we will explore the particularly high level of her prayer, both in the terms she used and the fervor that inspired her.

Channa was not only a prophetess, she was a woman. As a woman, she aspired to become a mother, to give birth to a child; but for a very long time she was deprived of this happiness.

Her prayer, to become a mother, had prophetic accents. In Gemara Brachot, we learn how Channa formulated her prayer. She told Hakadosh Baruch Hu: "Of all the armies You have created in your world, can you not give me a son?"

In the Haftorah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Channa gives Hashem the title of Hashem Tzevaot (G-d of Armies)[1]. The Gemara tells us that from the creation of the world to this prayer of Channa, no one had ever honored Hashem by bestowing upon him the title of G-d of Armies.

The midrash (Pesikta Rabbati) further describes Channa's insistence. She prayed: "Master of the world, there is an army in heaven, and an army on earth. I just wonder which of the two I belong to. If I were part of Your heavenly host, I should not eat, drink, give birth, or die. I should live forever. And if I belong to the army that is on earth, I should not only eat and drink, but also give birth. Hashem answered her, saying: "Since you have spoken of the greatness of My armies, I proclaim in my turn the greatness of your army, that of your offspring."

Channa was a prophetess, and she was a woman. The object of her request was that of a woman: to give birth to a child. But first, Channa deepened the notion of the infinite greatness of Hashem, discovering in the Creator of heaven and earth the One who deserved to be called Hashem of the armies above (angels) and of below (the human world). It was this initial step that resulted in her request being granted.

In the laws of the Amida, we find that it is from Channa's prayer that we learn that we must pronounce words quietly and not aloud, as did Channa. Men and women learn how to pray by the example of a woman, Channa.

In addition, the two quotations from the words of our Sages also allow us to understand another aspect of our approach when we pray. We may find it normal to lengthen our words of prayer, especially in our fervor, when we seek something from Hashem. However, from these two texts of our Sages, we see that when we pray, when we ask Hashem for something, we must not entirely center our prayer on what we are asking for; rather, we must focus our thoughts and extend ourselves on reflecting about the greatness and goodness of Hashem, and express our request more briefly.

The Midrash Shmuel says that Channa waited a long time before being heard, since she was 130 years old when she gave birth to her son Shmuel. Logically, she could have in her despair, resigned herself to being childless when she found that she was already well past her childbearing years. But her faith, and her trust in Hashem were such that it was obvious to her that Hashem could do a miracle. As a prophetess, her vision of the possibilities of miracles was more concrete, and therefore more constructive, than that of regular people.

In general, a woman who wants to become a mother considers the pleasure she will have in seeing a being who was formed in her body, as a part of herself, grow. As the child grows up, he must separate from his mother. He spends hours in kindergarten, later in Cheder, then in Yeshiva, etc and at each stage, these separations are difficult for the mother. But from Channa, we see the opposite behavior. Channa gave her son to the Beit Hamikdash. As soon as he was weaned, he was at the service of Eli, the Kohen Gadol. Channa intended this for Shmuel with pure happiness. She did not want it out of selfishness; she wanted it to give it to Hashem.

In our turn, let us be happy to be the glorious mothers whose children learn the Torah of Hashem in Cheder, in Yeshiva, and then in Kollel, so that our behavior will be truly worthy of our quality as Jewish mothers.

Channa was also special in the way that she expressed gratitude to Hashem for the miracle that He gave her. It is an exalted hymn spanning the first ten verses of the second chapter of Shmuel Alef, which is also part of the Haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

To know how to thank, is another valuable lesson that we can learn from this admirable personality that was Channa.


[1] Shmuel Aleph (1.3)

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