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High Holidays: How Do I Become Close To God?
Video 2 of 4
The book of Samuel introduces us to the casts of characters; Hannah herself, her husband, her co-wife Peninnah (the woman that Elkanah her husband is also married to), and finally Eli who was the High Priest in the temple at Shiloh at that time.
So, the book of Samuel begins after sending out these casts of characters with portraying for us a certain kind of equilibrium. It’s almost as if it is portraying for us a happy family that is happy, but fragile in a kind of way.
For a while everything goes smoothly. They go up to the temple in Shiloh, they offer offerings, and Elkanah gives portions of the offerings to everyone else’s family.
And everything more or less works until one day the fragile equilibrium slowly comes crashing down; a chain reaction, a disastrous chain reaction begins with the best of intentions.
Elkanah, convinced that his wife Hannah is in a pitiable position that she doesn’t have any children, and he looks at the situation that he is offering this offering, and he is giving out all this portions to Peninnah, and one for her and one to all of her children, and then one little portion for Hannah does not seem fair. He loves Hannah.
Ki et-Channah ahev vaHashem sagar rachmah. He loves Hannah and Hannah doesn’t have any children. Shouldn’t she get an extra portion? So, he gives her one. And what is Peninnah’s reaction? Immediately, Peninnah began to taunts Hannah as angry at her. And begins to taunt her specifically for her childlessness, the very reason why Elkanah is favouring her. And then, this becomes the new cycle of events, the news for a broken equilibrium.
V’chen ya’aseh shanah beshanah. Year after year, whenever they will go to the temple, there was this disaster. Ken tachisenah. Peninnah would taunt Hannah, vativkeh, and Hannah would cry, v’lo tochal, she won’t eat anything.
There she was getting this double portion; she wouldn’t even eat a morsel. At that point, Elkanah tries to make everything better.
Vayomer lah Elkanah ishah Channah lama tivki “Hannah, why are you crying” he says to her.
V’lamah lo tochli? “Why won’t you eat?”
V’lamah year levavech? “Why do you look so sad?”
Halo anochi tov lach measarah banim, “I love you. I’m not good enough for you? I’m better than ten children.”
Elkanah does not understand. One husband’s love no matter how great can’t compensate for the lack of children’s love. Its quality deeply different! It’s just can’t be compensated for.
Look! Had Elkanah offered his understanding to Hannah, “I understand you pain”, that would be one thing. But, it’s actually doing the opposite. He is trying to make that pain go away. He is saying, “Don’t feel pain. You are not missing anything. The love of children is compensated by my love. What’s wrong?”
But, that compensation can’t happen, that exchange can’t happen. What Elkanah is offering her just doesn’t work.
So, here is Hannah. Peninnah turns her back on her. Elkanah understands and loves her, but he isn’t helpful. And she goes to the temple and there she meets Eli. She begins to pray. And now, yet another person misunderstands her.
Vayachsheveha Eli lishkorah. Eli looks at her and sees that her mouth is moving, but he can’t hear her voice and he thinks she is drunk. He tells her to stop drinking and to leave.
And with this we’ve just exhausted our casts of characters. I mean who is left? Hannah is orderly isolated. She can find no solace with Peninnah, none with Elkanah, and now none with Eli. Who is really left? There is no one left. Ah, but there is someone left. The only one left is God to whom she turns.
We can get an insight I think into the nature of Hannah’s prayer by looking at two things that she tells Eli in response to his accusation that she is drunk. Listen to her language to him!
Vataan Channah vatomer, Hannah responded to him and said,
Lo adoni, “No my master,
Ishah keshaht-ruach anochi, I am a woman of embittered soul.
V’yayin v’shechar lo shatiti, I have not been drinking wine or beer
Vaeshpoch et-nafshi lifnei Hashem, instead I have been pouring my soul out to God.”
You listened to her metaphors, what she’s really saying is, there wasn’t anything been poured into me like drink; instead of anything, there was pouring out, my soul is been pouring out.
It’s not just pouring in and pouring out. It’s that the very essence of what she is doing is the opposite of drinking. Drinking is a kind of escape from reality. I am getting in touch with really in the deepest way imaginable. And you know what? That reality isn’t so pretty.
Al-titen et-amatcha lifnei bat-beliyaal, “Don’t consider me someone who is a bat-beliyaal, without awe, without yoke, (that’s how the Rabbis understand it), someone who has no sense of burden, someone who is just throwing off any yokes of responsibility. Ki-merov shichi v’chasi dibarti ad-henah, because if anything what you are seeing is that I just have so much to say, I have so much anger in me that is why I am speaking this way.”
The strangest of defenses to the High Priest to the temple! Oh no, he understands I’m so angry that is why I am speaking this way. Anger is something which will normally associate with somebody who is out of control. She is saying the opposite, “I’m totally in control. I have a complete sense of responsibility, I am not escaping anything. I am not running away from reality. This is reality. My reality is I’m so angry. I’m sharing that with God.”
Hannah’s prayer becomes the paradigm of prayer. This is who I am right now. My current experience to be childless, to be completely misunderstood by everyone is like you won’t know what is really like. Part of who I am right now includes anger. If I am going to share me with you part of it is this.
When you are as genuine and as you possibly can be, it’s the truth. Chazal even say it, they know that when it says that Hannah prayed to God, it doesn’t say that she prayed to God, it says, v’titpalel al Hashem, she prayed upon or against God. The Gemara in Brachot, Channah chitichah devarim klal bemalah, Hannah spoke brazenly to the Almighty, umavachot tivkei, and cried.
Hannah’s prayer is genuineness in connect. It’s a kind of closeness that comes when you bear your soul to someone. “Here I am; the pretty parts of me and the not so pretty parts of me.”
And somehow, Hannah walks away from that prayer having gotten something. What she is gotten is not yet a child. She doesn’t really have an indication yet that she will have one. Yes, Eli blesses her, “may God grant you this child.” She doesn’t know what’s going to happen.
But, as she walks away, vatelech haishahledarchah vatochal, she left the temple and finally she ate, upaneiha lo-hayu-lah od, and her anger had disappeared.
The woman who wouldn’t eat when she was orderly isolated has found a way out of her isolation. There was someone who she could connect with, someone who understood. She sensed that that someone was God.
God was there for her when no one else was. Not even there for her in the sense of answering her prayer; that may come later. There for her in terms of understanding, in terms of accepting who I am. She had the sense that she connected to the Almighty. That is what prayer is all about – connecting in the deepest possible way!
And now, having seen something of Hannah’s story, the question that we ask earlier resonates every soul deeply; “why is she telling me about holiness? Why speak about how separate God is?” If what Hannah has really experience is how close God’s is, she is talking about the wrong thing.
Who is she? I want to suggest to you that Hannah here is revolutionizing the concept of holiness, turning it on its head, helping us to understand this concept in a radically new way. She is telling us something mindboggling, a paradox of paradoxes. The key, the closeness she is arguing is, understanding the nature of separateness.
Does that seem to make no sense whatsoever? But for Hannah who experienced it firsthand, it makes perfect sense. She encapsulates her insight in nine short words.
I want to suggest that those words were explained centuries later by none other than Maimonides in the very first word of his magnum opus the Yad Hazaka, his great code of Jewish law.
I want to come back with you. I want to read the opening to that great work of my Maimonides. I think he is telling us what Hannah is saying in these nine words.
Let’s come back and look at his words as a way of gaining insight into hers.
I will see you in the next video.
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