Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Power Of Chana's Prayer

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the Haftora about Chana, a barren woman, who was blessed with a son, our prophet Shmuel.

There are several reasons this Haftora is read on Rosh Hashanah. First, because of its similarity to the Torah reading, where our matriarch Sarah, also a barren woman, was blessed with a son, our patriarch Yitzchak. However, we remain with a question. Why do we read about women whose fate were changed, to finally be blessed with children?

Second, Chana's prayer to have a child, was (according to many) on Rosh Hashanah, and Eli, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who blessed Chana, that her prayer will be fulfilled, was appointed to be Shofet, leader of the Jewish people, on that very day, Rosh Hashanah.

What message are we meant to take from the story of Chana for Rosh Hashanah?

Looking at the Haftora, it is clear that the prayer of Chana is central to the theme of Rosh Hashanah, a day of prayer and requesting needs for the year.

However, thinking of the holiness of the day, we must ask, "Why would we be asking for our selfish needs and wants on such a holy day? Shouldn't we be focusing on Hashem, and what He wants?"

The question becomes even stronger when you think about the essential theme of Rosh Hashanah, asking Hashem to be our king for the next year. When coronating a king, a key aspect is the nation's humility, self nullification and subservience to the king. It hardly seems time to be requesting things. To be thinking about yourself is the opposite of humility, self nullification and subservience to the king. If so, why do we ask for our needs on Rosh Hashanah?

We must conclude, that the requests we make on Rosh Hashanah are not selfish at all, rather part of our service to our King. When we coronate Hashem as our King, we are accepting His mission as well. Asking for what we need, to accomplish His mission, is not selfish at all. It is only for His sake that we ask for them.

On a deeper level, the Baal Shem Tov explains, that each of us has a part of the world that we are meant to refine, so that it is ready for Hashem's presence. Our Neshamas are attracted to those objects and the places it has been charged with refining. This is why our bodies crave those things and those places.

Asking for the things you want, is asking for what your neshama wants and your neshama is part of Hashem. So in actuality, you are asking for what Hashem, our King wants.

We see this in the Haftora. Chana was pleading for her deepest desire, to have a child. Seeing how she was praying, Eli asked her, "How long will you be drunk?" meaning how long will you be drunk in prayer? Is it appropriate to stand here, before Hashem, on this holy day, and be asking for your personal desires?

To this she responded, "I am pouring out my soul before Hashem." Meaning, this is not my selfish desire, this is my souls desire.

Eli accepted this answer and replied, "Go in peace and God of Israel will give you the request you asked for." In other words, he agreed with Chana's mode of prayer, asking for the souls desires.

The Talmud tells us, "Rav Hamnuna said, 'Several major laws can be derived from these verses of Chana."

What is unique about Chana's prayer that we choose to learn these "major laws," specifically from her?

In general, our prayers are divided into two categories. There are daily prayers, where we pray for our regular needs, and then there are prayers in a time of crisis, when praying to end a drought, for a sick person, or to have a baby.

The difference between the two could be understood by looking at the difference between a Bracha, a blessing and a Tefilla, a prayer.

A Bracha draws down already existing blessing, that for one reason or another is being held back. The Bracha removes the blockage, allowing your blessing to flow freely to you.

However, sometimes, what we are asking for is not in our cards, and we entreat to Hashem, to create a new will, and to grant us something that was not meant to be. This is Tefilla, in which we use the words, "May it be Your will."

Daily prayers, like a Bracha, are to draw down the blessing that is already coming to us. Crisis prayers, like Tefilla, are trying to create, so to speak, a new will in Hashem.

Within crisis prayers, there are two categories. First, there is asking for a bad decree to be annulled. For example, when it is decreed from above, that there be no rain. Asking to annul the decree, is asking for a new will, but not for a change in the nature that Hashem imbued in creation. Asking for a sick person to be healed, is the same.

But the most powerful from of prayer, is when, what is being asked for, goes completely against nature. Like a barren woman asking to have a child, when naturally it is not possible.

What Chana was asking for, was a change in Hashem's creation. Even more, she asked that Hashem give her "seed of men," which Rashi explains, to mean that the child be holy and righteous. Which not only goes against nature, but possibly against the Torah's system, that, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, aside for fear of Heaven." Yet, so powerful was her prayer, that Hashem changed nature and bent the rules, so to speak, and gave her the child she asked for, our holy and righteous prophet Shmuel.

Now we can understand, why major laws of prayer are learned specifically from Chana and why we read about barren women, whose fate were changed, to be blessed with children on Rosh Hashanah.

The prayer of Chana represents the most powerful type of prayer, one that creates a new will in Hashem.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for creating new will. It is when we coronate our King. How do we do this? Through prayer we generate a new will in Hashem, to be our King for another year. And that as our King, He grant us all, even if it is not in our cards, a happy and sweet year.

Major laws of prayer that are learned from Chana:
1. That one should focus his / her heart in prayer.
2. To form the words with ones lips.
3. It is forbidden to raise ones voice in prayer. (Like during the Amida)
4. It is forbidden to pray when drunk.

After Shmuel, Chana had four more children.

Dedicated to Jewish women praying for Hashem to grant their deepest desire, to have children of their own. May Hashem grant you what you are asking for.

For the second day of Rosh Hashanah - Rachel's Sacrifice  

1 comment:

  1. Amein!
    This is so well explained and broken down.
    I've learned this concept many times about Chana's tefillah, but you wrote it in a way that clarifies it that much more.
    Thank you again and again for all of your divrei Torah. I look forward to them weekly.
    Wishing you and Dina and the entire mishpacha a shana tova umesuka, ah gut gebenched yar and moshiach now!