Mrs. Hadassah Waxman, Program Director of the Shiur HaChodesh, a monthly program of advanced shiurim for women by women, welcomed an overflow crowd to Congregation Etz Chaim for the first lecture of the season on Wednesday evening, September 18. She thanked all the gracious sponsors of the evening, which included the following: Marshall and Lisa Joffe (in memory of Lisa’s father) and the supporters-in-part, Linda Baron-Katz (in memory of her grandfather) and The Women’s Initiative of the OU, as well as the sponsor of the refreshments: Marilynne Vogel (in memory of her mother).
Mrs. Lisa Joffe then spoke about her father in commemoration of his first yahrzeit. She shared that he was someone who was always looking to be a giver to others.
The speaker, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, noted author and teacher at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Midreshet Torah V’Avodah, MaTan Migdal Oz, Sha’alvim for Women, Lander College, and Women’s Beit Midrash in Efrat and Ramat Shilo, delivered a stirring shiur based on an abundance of mar’ei m’komos. She began with an argument between two great rabbis over which is more important to the Jewish people, Nisan or Tishrei. Yaakov and Avraham were born in Tishrei. Yitzchak, though, was born in Nissan. On Rosh HaShanah, Sarah, Rachel, and Chanah were remembered to have children who would make a mark on the world.
Nisan was the time of the initial redemption, while the ultimate redemption will be during Tishrei. She pointed out that the word “remember” (z’chor) is used in reference to Sarah, Rachel, and Chanah being remembered by Hashem to have a child. With Sarah, the word pakad is also used in addition to z’chor.
The Torah reading on the second day of Rosh HaShanah is the Akeidah. Chazal say that the central Torah reading is on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, which is the story of Sarah. She taught that the haftarah is on the story of Chanah, and if we understand the story of Chanah, then we will be in the proper mindset when it is time for the Amidah on Rosh HaShanah. Our t’filos should be focused on the t’filah of Chanah. Chanah mentioned Hashem’s name nine times in her prayer, so we have nine brachos in the Amidah. At the end of her prayer, she says that Hashem is the judge of the entire expanse of the earth. Rabbanit Taragin taught that “Chazal want us to be Chanah, focused on Rosh HaShanah.”
She then explained some literary ideas and applied them to the story of Chanah. She shared that the role of secondary characters is to support the primary character and to highlight the primary character. The secondary character helps set the tone of the theme. The primary character in the story of Chanah is Elkanah, who is called Ephrati, which means distinguished person. Elkanah went up to Shilo to bring korbanos every year. He was motivated to do this because Chanah did not have children. In this case, Chanah is the driver causing him to go. Elkanah gives a double portion to Chanah because he loved her. Chanah had unexplained infertility, which was also true of Rachel; Yaakov loved Rachel. In both stories, there was a second wife who was less loved. In Chanah’s story, P’ninah is the tempter. She is the one who angers Chanah and frustrates her. Every year, Chanah is frustrated and she will not eat. When Elkanah asks Chana, “Am I not better than ten sons?” he is really trying to say, “We have an amazing relationship. Maybe we should look at the brachos in our lives.” Right after this, it says that Chanah gets up – va’takam.
At this point, Chana transforms herself from a secondary character to a primary character and P’ninah disappears from the story. Rabbanit Taragin pointed out that The Navi Shmuel is writing about his parents here. The text states that Chanah davened “al Hashem.” She was not just talking to Hashem. She was standing before Hashem in an audacious way. She pointed out that the same word is used in reference to Naomi in the Book of Ruth. It says she stood up, va’takam, after her husband and sons had died. She moved forward and decided to go back to Israel.
In Chanah’s prayer, she tells Hashem that she will become a sotah so she can have children. “Hashem, is that what you want me to do?” she asks.
She is saying, “Hashem, I don’t understand. You give so many women children. I’m just asking for one. She goes on to say I thought you created each part of the body for a purpose.
Rabbanit Taragin noted that when Elkanah was bringing korbanos, he was the primary character. He would daven also. This was the standard way to worship Hashem.
Chanah’s t’filos were different because there were no korbanos. She is just davening and demanding of Hashem. She also accepts a neder that she will dedicate her child to Hashem. She is the first to call Hashem the “G-d of hosts” and she is the first to fight with Hashem. “If you remember me, I will dedicate that child to avodas Hashem. She mentions three times asking Hashem if You see the oppression of Your maidservant and you remember me. Chanah feels forsaken by Hashem. Everyone else is having children except for her. She is saying, “Hashem, I think you forgot me, so I’m going to demand that You don’t forget me. I want a relationship with you, Hashem. Show me you haven’t forgotten me. Grant me a child.” She is only asking for an average child. Shmuel became great because of Chanah. Chanah states, “I will dedicate his life to you, because I want more than anything to have a relationship with you, Hashem.”
Chanah was standing during this prayer and moving her lips, and Eli HaKohen thought she was drunk. Now Eli becomes the antagonist, so to speak. He thinks she will ruin the avodas Hashem that he and Elkanah were trying to establish. She tells him that she was there to spill out her heart before Hashem. She says, “I am not like your sons who are undermining the avodah. They were people without a yoke. Eli HaKohen then says to her, “May Hashem give you your request.” She asked for a loan. He says, “May Hashem give you what you asked to borrow.” She was rewarded on Rosh HaShanah. When Shmuel is born, she says, “I borrowed him from G-d.”
Elkanan then becomes a driver and he tells her she must bring Shmuel to Eli. Chazal teach that Elkanan also receives credit for Shmuel because of his care and devotion to Hashem and Klal Yisrael.
Rabbanit Taragin pointed out that we call our t’filah the Amidah, which means standing, because Chanah stood and we are supposed to mouth our t’filos and to stand in the same way she did. Chazal say we are meant to think about Chanah’s story when we daven. She took the initiative to dedicate herself to Hashem. She was working on her relationship with Hashem. “Are we willing to commit ourselves like Chanah?” She added, “Look at our children as loans from Hashem. How do we dedicate their lives?”
In the story of Chanah, P’ninah was the tempter who kept mocking Chanah and telling her that she wasn’t really loved because she didn’t have children. So, in a way, P’ninah was a driver causing Chanah to turn more to Hashem, but Chazal say that the means don’t justify the end, and P’ninah was punished for this. For every child that Chanah had, two of P’ninah’s children died. In the end, Chanah prayed to save P’ninah’s last two children.
Chana was performing a tikun for child-sacrifice. She was dedicating her child’s life to Hashem, not killing her child in worship.
Rabbanit Taragin contrasted the parents of Shimshon who were passive and waited for the angel of G-d to come to them and tell them that the mother should do certain things to have a nazir, while Chanah was active and demanded that G-d send her a baby, and she actively dedicated him to Hashem and made him a nazir. She didn’t wait around.
Rabbanit Taragin taught, “Look at Chanah and how she was able to transform herself to become a primary character through t’filah. Chana makes sure things happen through t’filah.”
When she brings Shmuel to Eli, she praises Hashem. She says, “Hashem, thank you so much. There is no one like our G-d who remembers everyone.” Here she is speaking in the plural on behalf of klal Yisrael. Why is this praise called “T’filas Chanah”? She is stating that Hashem is involved in everyone’s lives. Her prayer takes herself out of the picture and says, “Hashem, look at all of us.” On Rosh HaShanah, we read the story of Chanah who put herself before Hashem and who davened on behalf of klal Yisrael. All our prayers on Rosh Hashanah are in the plural. The story of Chanah teaches us to make sure to appreciate the hidden figures in klal Yisrael.
The community is blessed to have such an amazing program for women given by scholarly, learned women. This special program, the Shiur HaChodesh, was conceived and founded by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, rav of Congregation Etz Chaim.
By Susie Garber