Chana’s Prayer: A Commentary for Men

I was asked by the good folks in Charlotte, North Carolina’s Chavurat Tikvah to share a few words on the Rosh Hashannah Day 1 Haftarah. While I didn’t have time to write out a drash, I did put some thoughts together and had a half way decent insight on the topic.

So here’s how I started — Chana’s prayer is a beautiful counter-culture moment in the RH liturgy. Here we are with all this gratitude and all hail God is King talk, and here this woman steps up and prays “al” — “against” God. The Rashba remarks that her prayer was not dignified or proper because she basically said “How could you allow me to suffer like this?” — but that is the very reason why the Talmudic commentators in Bercahot 31a-b love her. They liken her to Moses (and Elijah) as someone who is willing to say to God — “hey what’s going on up there? you need to act down here.”

There is a great bit from Levi of Berditchev on this where he holds the shofar aloft and says: “hey God – you want to hear this? then have my enemies blow it — because you obviously seem to favor them.”

Second — I shared the brilliant commentary of Lori Lefkowitz (appeared in RT). She argues that Chana is not eating – she has an eating disorder, brought on by both the unrealistic demands of patriarchy and by the abuse of Peninah. (there’s even a Midrash that says that Peninah would taunt her by saying (“i’m packing lunch for the children to take to school”) The eating disorder is causing her infertility. But emoting — pouring out her heart — is the self-medicating therapy that she needs. She has the power to break from her depression and self-destruction and become aligned again. (a midrash puts the following words in Chana’s mouth ‘ do you want me to be an angel — to not eat and not have children, or do you want me to be a woman?)

Third — and this is my contribution to all this — is the question “why should men be listening to this story year after year?” My sense is that we need to hear the words of both Elkana and of Eli — two men who obviously do not get how deep the depression and despair of this woman has become. Elkana says “isn’t my love better than ten sons?” — a message to all of us men who think that we are G-ds gift to women, that all they want is our attention and that’s it. Eli, in accusing Chana of being drunk, is a paradigm for all the times that we men dismiss women’s emotions as hysterical. Rather than see the very moment when they are speaking from the heart, we see it as madness. Hearing the story of Chana we are given an opportunity to repent for our inability to respond to the suffering of women — and a charge to change our ways.

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