Chana's Prayer and Rosh HaShana

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
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Special Holiday Shiur by the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

             Chana's Prayer and Rosh Ha-shana
                    by Rav Baruch Gigi
                 Translated by Kaeren Fish

A. In Remembrance of Whom are the Nine Berakhot of Rosh Ha-

	On Rosh Ha-shana, there are nine berakhot (blessings) in 
the Amida (silent prayer) of Mussaf, while on all other 
holidays there are seven.  The gemara in Berakhot (29a) 
questions the source of this anomaly: "In remembrance of whom 
are the nine [berakhot] of Rosh Ha-shana?  R. Yitzchak of 
Kartignin said: In remembrance of the nine mentions [of God's 
name] made by Chana in her prayer (I Shemuel 2:1-10)."  The 
gemara goes on to provide a reason for remembering Chana's 
prayer in our Rosh Ha-shana prayers: "Mar said, On Rosh Ha-
shana Sarah, Rachel and Chana were remembered [by God and 
finally conceived]."  Some Rishonim (e.g. the Ritva) did not 
have this reason in their text of the gemara, but they 
mentioned it on their own, while others (e.g. Tosafot Rav 
Yehuda Ha-chassid) quote the Yerushalmi (Berakhot ch. 4): "For 
she (Chana) said in her supplication, 'God will judge the 
lowly of the earth'" - on Rosh Ha-shana God judges the world.  
From this it would appear that Chazal chose to remember 
Chana's prayer either because it was on Rosh Ha-shana that she 
finally conceived, or because of the judgment of the world 
which is alluded to in her prayer.  And the nine berakhot of 
the Mussaf Amida correspond to her nine mentionings of God's 

	However, in truth, neither of the above reasons is 
satisfactory.  Firstly, let us remember that not only Chana 
conceived on Rosh Ha-shana.  This being the case, why should 
the number of berakhot then not correspond to the number of 
times that God's name is mentioned in the parasha where "God 
remembered Sarah?"  The second explanation, based on the 
Yerushalmi, is equally problematic: could Chazal not have 
found somewhere in the whole of Tanakh some excerpt more 
appropriate to the theme of judgment?  Why did they see fit to 
choose this episode of seemingly marginal significance, where 
the issue of judgment appears secondary, as the parasha 
representative of the theme of Divine justice?  Let us take a 
closer look at the verses of Chana's prayer and see if we are 
able to detect some deeper connection between it and the Rosh 
Ha-shana prayers.

B. "And Chana Prayed..."

	Chana's prayer comes in the wake of the birth of her son 
Shemuel, and its principal theme would therefore logically be 
thanks to God for His mercies towards her.  But Chana's prayer 
is not introduced as being "hoda'a" (thanksgiving), "hallel" 
(praise) or "shira" (song), but rather "tefilla" (prayer), 
apparently in light of the nature of the last verse: "God's 
opponents will be broken, He shall thunder upon them in the 
heavens.  God shall judge the ends of the earth and He shall 
give strength to His king, and shall raise up the horn of His 
anointed one" (I Shemuel 2:10).  Accordingly, it would seem 
that this verse is actually the crux of the prayer, and 
Chana's main message.  A closer look reveals the fact that 
Chana is speaking simultaneously on two levels:
a. She is speaking of the personal salvation which she merited 
- the birth of her son: "the barren woman has borne seven..."
b. She also has a broader perspective of the needs of Am 
Yisrael: "He shall give strength to His king and shall raise 
up the horn of His anointed one." 

	Chana sees herself not only as the barren woman in need 
of Divine mercy who then merits this mercy and becomes "the 
jubilant mother of the children," but also sees herself to 
some degree as the collective mother of Knesset Yisrael.  She 
is filled with concern for the nation at the last stages of 
the period of the judges - a period which exhausted the 
nation's spiritual as well as material resources, a period 
which would end with the destruction of Shilo and the Mishkan 
which resided there.  It is against this background that Chana 
expresses her prayer, as someone who feels the pain of the 
nation, and prays that God raise the horn of His anointed.  In 
the heading which Chana gives her prayer, she puts the honor 
and needs of the nation before her private salvation. What we 
have here is "tefilla" - alongside thanksgiving and praise, 
admittedly, but the crux of the outpouring of Chana's heart 
exists in the sphere of tefilla: "As You have saved me, 
please, O God, save Your nation."

C. "He Makes the Barren Woman to Keep House, and become a 
Jubilant Mother of Children"

	The two basic themes of Chana's prayer mentioned above 
find expression in two other chapters of Tanakh, which are 
similar to this prayer both in structure and in content and 
hence have a strong connection to it.  The one source is 
Tehillim 113, where the thanks of the "mother of children" is 
mentioned, and the other is in II Shemuel 22 and the psalm 
which corresponds to it - Tehillim 18: "He makes great the 
salvation of His king and performs kindness with His anointed 
one, with David and his descendants, forever." 

	If we look at Tehillim 113 (familiar to us as the 
beginning of Hallel), we see that it is structured thus: the 
opening is a call to praise and thanks to God - "Praise the 
name of God..."  The background to this call to praise is not 
entirely clear, but from the continuation of this psalm it 
becomes clear that the key lies in the last pasuk: "He makes 
the barren woman ... into a jubilant mother of children."  The 
psalmist, in his usual fashion, explains and develops on the 
process which must be undergone by the person wishing to offer 
praise.  First, he must see the King of the Universe as 
possessing transcendent power - "From the rising of the sun to 
the setting, the Lord's name is to be praised ... who is like 
the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on High?" (3-5).  
Nevertheless, God does not remain in the lofty heavenly realms 
but rather watches over all His creations: "And looks down to 
see (what takes place) in the heaven and on the earth.  He 
raises up the poor from the dust and lifts the destitute from 
the out of the ashheap" (6).  Following this realization, the 
psalmist is led straight to praise: God, Who is the King of 
the world and watches over all His creations, makes the barren 
woman to keep house, and become a jubilant mother of children.  
And for this - "halleluya."

D. "He Makes Great the Salvation of His King and Performs 
Kindness with His Anointed One"

	We find a similar structure, if slightly expanded, in the 
song of King David (II Shemuel 22), which is not the song of 
an individual who has merited God's salvation but rather the 
song of the king and representative of Israel, acting in his 
capacity as messenger of the nation, who comes to thank God 
for the great mercy which He has shown towards himself as well 
as toward the nation.  David - who merited having God make him 
a "great name like the name of the great ones in the land" (II 
Shemuel 7:9), and the nation - which merited that "I have made 
a place for MY NATION ISRAEL and I have planted them, that 
they may dwell there..." (ibid. 10), both offer praise to God.  
David's song opens with a description of the salvation which 
came to him and the nation and brought David to "an open 
place" (II Shemuel 22:1-20); thereafter he moves to the 
subject of the foundations of Divine Providence and of reward 
and punishment: "God will reward me according to my 
righteousness ... You will show mercy to the merciful ... He 
is a shield to all those who trust in Him."  Finally David 
describes God's Kingship, "For who is God other than the Lord, 
and who is a rock other than our God?" (32), and returns to a 
description of the salvation.  It would appear that the change 
in structure comes in the wake of the psalmist's burning 
emotions, such that the song bursts from his lips and includes 
the elements of thanks which have been mentioned: God's 
Kingship - His Providence - His salvation, and the obvious 
conclusion, "Therefore I shall give thanks to You, O God, 
among the nations, and shall sing to Your name" (50), and a 
hope for the future: "He is a tower of salvation to His king 
and performs kindness to His anointed, to David and to his 
descendants, FOREVER."

E. "And He Will Raise the Horn of His Anointed"

	The two forms of thanks mentioned in the two chapters 
discussed above correspond to Chana's thanks on one hand and 
her "tefilla" on the other.  Chana has merited giving birth to 
a son - and for this she must give thanks, but Knesset Yisrael 
has not yet merited the long-awaited salvation, and for this 
Chana prays as the "mother" of Israel: "If you will give Your 
handmaid a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all 
the days of his life..." (I Shemuel 1:11).  This is not a 
prayer merely for personal descendants but also, according to 
Chazal, a prayer for a child who will eventually anoint two 
people - Shaul and David - through whom salvation will come to 
Israel.  Chana's offspring - Shemuel - indeed makes Chana into 
the "mother of children," but Chana also wants him to make 
Israel into the nation saved by God: "He shall give strength 
to His king and lift the horn of His anointed."

	Close scrutiny of the verses of this chapter reveals the 
many parallels between this chapter and the two mentioned 
above.  We shall not expand on this here but shall suffice 
with pointing out the foundations which we have mentioned:
	a. Kingship of God - "There is none as holy as God for 
there is none other than You and no rock like our Lord." 
(ibid. 2:2)
	b. His Providence - "He lifts up the poor from the dust 
and the destitute out of the ashheap." (8)
	c. Prayer for Salvation - "God's opponents shall be 
broken, in the heavens shall He thunder..." (ibid 10.  Compare 
this pasuk to David's song.)
"And lift the horn of His anointed" - parallel to "And perform 
kindness to His anointed, to David and his descendants, 

F. Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, Shofarot

	The central focus of the Rosh Ha-shana prayers is, 
obviously, the middle berakhot of the Mussaf prayer - known as 
malkhuyot, zikhronot and shofarot.
	A. Malkhuyot - a description of God's Kingship in the 
world: "And you shall know today... that God is the Lord in 
the heavens above... and God shall be King over all the 
	B. Zikhronot - God's providence in the world: "You 
remember the deeds of the world... for You shall bring a law 
of remembrance to account for every living thing... for the 
remembrance of all of Creation comes before You."
	C. Shofarot: Two aspects of the shofar are alluded to: 
firstly, that which hearkens back to the giving of the Torah: 
"And the sound of the shofar was very loud...," and secondly 
the shofar of the final redemption: "And it shall be on that 
day that there shall be a great blast on the shofar..."  The 
common denominator is that in both cases the shofar serves as 
an expression of God's revelation in the world - both in His 
descent onto Har Sinai at the time of matan Torah and in the 
shofar blast of redemption.  This phenomenon heralds the 
giving of the Torah, which was to serve as the basis for the 
world and for the building of a perfect society, and also 
heralds the appearance of God to cut off the wicked, to gather 
in the lost and the dispersed and to lift the horn of His 
anointed one.

	Hence we have seen that the Rosh Ha-shana prayers recited 
by all of Am Yisrael were in fact established by Chana, mother 
of Shemuel, who perceived not only her own personal sorrow but 
also the trials and troubles of the nation as a whole.  She 
merited to have her personal salvation serve also as the 
salvation of the nation - her son anointed the people who came 
to save the nation.  The Anshei Knesset Ha-gedola followed 
Chana's example and structured our prayer along similar lines, 
with the hope and prayer that God would listen to the sound of 
the shofar blast of His people with mercy, and that the shofar 
of our ultimate freedom would be sounded.

	Indeed, Sarah and Rachel also merited their personal 
salvation on Rosh Ha-shana.  But only in Chana's case did this 
signal the salvation of the nation.  She left us a legacy of 
prayer full of awe for Divine majesty, comprising the 
malkhuyot, zikhronot and shofarot of redemption.  May we merit 
to witness that redemption speedily.

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