Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Haftarah on the First Day of Rosh Hashanah
On each Shabbat and holiday we recite a selection from the writings of the prophets (Nevi’im), known as the haftarah (from the Hebrew for “parting” or “taking leave”). On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read I Samuel 1:1–2:10, which tells the story of a woman named Hannah and her desperate desire for a son. Hannah’s intense prayer at the Temple, misunderstood by the priest as a drunken mumble, is considered a model for how we ought to pray today.
Read through the text of I Samuel 1:1–2:10. What reactions do you have to the story? What do you think of each character (Hannah, her husband Elkanah, her co-wife Peninnah, the priest Eli, her baby Samuel, and God)? What are the motivations for each character? How does each character work to reach their goals?
We read this story on Rosh Hashanah, a time when we focus on repentance and prayer for the new year. Do you think this story reflects those themes? Why do you think this selection was chosen for this important moment?
Hannah weeps as she prays to God. Have you ever experienced this level of emotion during prayer? What was the situation in which you were praying? What would it take for you to bring this high level of emotion to your Rosh Hashanah prayer this year?
In the eighth verse of chapter 1, Elkanah asks his wife, “Hannah, why are you crying and why aren’t you eating? Why are you so sad? Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?” Have you ever had the experience of not understanding the pain of a loved one? Of a loved one not understanding your pain? What were those moments like? How did you find connection in the face of this disconnect? How can people learn to live together and love one another without fully understanding each other?
As she prays for a son, Hannah vows that she will “dedicate him to Adonai all the days of his life,” demonstrated by the fact that she will never cut his hair (a sign of consecration to holy service). After Samuel is weaned, Hannah brings him to the Temple to begin his lifelong service there. What do you think about Hannah’s vow and subsequent action? Was she giving up too much after finally receiving a son of her own? Have you ever desired something badly, only to lose it in some way? How did you make peace with this loss?
Throughout the Jewish holidays, we make many references to the sacrifices that ancient Israelites made at the Temple to honor the special day. Today, prayer has taken the place of sacrifice. How does Hannah’s prayer, in the Temple where sacrifices were also offered, act as a bridge between these two modes of expression? Why do you think we continue to mention the ancient sacrifices in our modern prayers?
The rabbis of the Talmud point to Hannah’s behavior as a model for saying the Amidah prayer, as verse 13 describes: “Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard.” Try to to recite the Amidah, or another prayer, from your heart, silently but while moving your lips. How does the physical act of moving your lips change the act of silent prayer? How does it change if you mumble the prayers aloud, quietly enough that only you can hear? Try going to a secluded place, perhaps outside in a park, and shouting your prayers out loud. Do you feel your prayers differently in each situation?
For Families and Kids:
Sometimes we cry because we’re sad, and sometimes we cry just because we feel so many emotions at once that it’s impossible to hold it all in. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by all of your feelings? What would you like your parents and family members to say to you when you feel like that?