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The Woman Who Corrected the High Priest

The Woman Who Corrected the High Priest

An in-depth look at Chanah

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The story begins in the year 2830, when Chanah’s husband, Elkanah, takes his family on a pilgrimage to Shiloh, the site of the Tabernacle, the temporary spiritual epicenter that preceded the Temple. Elkanah is also married to another woman, Peninah. The childless Chanah silently suffers humiliation from her more fortunate rival, who has mothered several children.

Solemnly, Chanah enters the holy place, silently offering heartfelt prayers for a child.

Eli, the high priest, unaccustomed to such heartfelt, silent prayers, “thought that she was drunk.”

“How long will you be drunk? Sober up!” Eli reprimands Chanah.

Chanah responds: “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor spirits, but have poured out my soul before G‑d.”

Eli concludes: “Go in peace; and may the G‑d of Israel grant your request.”

The following year, Chanah’s son, Samuel, is born. When Samuel is weaned, Chanah brings him to the Tabernacle to be taught by Eli. Samuel grows up to become the great fearless prophet who coronated the first kings of Israel, Saul and David.

Do you relate to G‑d as a parent or as a king?

The major theme of Rosh Hashanah is the acceptance and recognition of G‑d’s sovereignty over creation.

This consciousness serves as the basis of all of Judaism. Chanah taught us how to relate to our Creator from an entirely feminine perspectiveG‑d desires to interact with our reality as sovereign of the universe. We, in turn, express our awareness that the very essence of our being is dependent on its divine origin. “Rule over the entire world in Your glory,” we pray in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

We view G‑d as our king. Though benevolent, He remains at an infinite distance from us, charging us with responsibility and courage to make the right decisions in our lives. He expects us to combat evil, and rebukes our weaknesses or fluctuations. He sternly orders us to overcome temptations, to “hearken to the commandments” and choose “blessings” rather than “stray from the path,” and to realize that all that He does is for our ultimate benefit.

From this perspective, darkness, challenge and want exist only to bypass and transcend, to rouse our innermost strengths and convictions in realizing their true smallness and insignificance in the grand picture of things.

In the haftorah of Rosh Hashanah, we read about the experience and perspective of a woman. Chanah the prophetess revealed many of the basic laws of prayer and the inner dimension of prayer—the interface between the physical and spiritual realities. She also taught us how to relate to our Creator from an entirely feminine perspective. To view G‑d not only as our king and sovereign, but also as a parent.

“You are children to the L‑rd, your G‑d.”

Avinu Malkeinu, our father, our king, be gracious to us and answer us . . .”

G‑d acts as both a king and a parent. He displays both modes of love: protecting and helping, as well as disciplining and teaching.

Both the king and parent paradigms are genuine and powerful. Yet they move in opposite directions. A king establishes a definite distance and authority over his subject. Parental love, on the other hand, is characterized by attachment and closeness.

At the same time that G‑d as our king decrees divine law, G‑d as our mother, as the Shechinah (Divine Presence, or G‑d’s “feminine” expression) provides divine help. The Shechinah—“the One who dwells with them in their impurity” (Leviticus 16:16)—is always present, ministering to and facilitating for her child. The Shechinah comes down to be together with her children. Nothing, not the material aspect of our world, nor our physical natures, can sever the unshakable bond between Mother and child.

Prayer is a demonstration of how we merge the two paradigms of G‑d as king and G‑d as parent.

Prayer is a paradoxical activity. How can we be asking Him to change His plan?On the one hand, a basic element of prayer is the acknowledgement of all the undeserved goodness that our king has showered upon us, and the articulation of our appreciation, thanks and praise for it all. We acknowledge that as the origin of everything is ultimate goodness, everything that happens to us must be entirely good.

In tandem with that, the commandment of prayer is to express our spiritual and material needs and wants. Anytime we feel something is amiss in our lives, we are commanded to pray to G‑d and ask Him to correct those things which, from our perception, have gone wrong.

Yet if everything originates from our generous King, who is the ultimate of goodness and who knows far better than us what is good for us, how can we be asking Him to change His plan? Or, how can we “demand” more goodness from our benevolent King while realizing how unworthy we are?

Because prayer is G‑d allowing us to not only relate to G‑d as a transcendental king on a spiritual level, but also as an imminent, caring parent. Prayer is G‑d saying, “Show Me how things look from your viewpoint, from within your world.” It is allowing us not to bypass our inner emotions, wants, fears, needs and insecurities, but to focus on them, put them in perspective and validate them.

Prayer is realizing that our Creator’s motherly bond and love will shake the very fabric of our world to bring Her child fulfillment. It is realizing that on this level, physicality and spirituality do not conflict.

Perhaps this is how we can understand the fascinating exchange read in the haftorah of Rosh Hashanah.

When “I do not need to transcend my wants. He yearns to hear all about them”Eli accuses Chanah of drunkenness, his words must be understood figuratively. He did not actually believe that Chana was intoxicated, or he would have been required to remove her immediately, out of respect for the holiness of the premises.

Eli was asking Chanah, “How long will you remain intoxicated by your own desires? How long will you remain so absorbed in your own needs, drunk with your own wants?

“Prayer,” Eli was correcting Chanah, “is meant to give you a more spiritual perspective, one in which you can rise above the materialism of our world and express gratitude to your King. Instead, you have become obsessed with your personal wants.

“Rise above your situation. It is time for you to gain a broader perspective, one in which you can appreciate the goodness of your King.”

To this, Chanah responds: “No, I am not drunk with personal concerns. I have poured out my soul from the core of my essential being, from the depths of my soul.

“From this deep place, I see my Creator not as a foreign, faraway Being who is only concerned with the spiritual aspect of His subjects, but rather as a loving Parent who intimately relates to me, on my level and with my wants. A Mother who shares in my pain, and cries together with me, holding my hand in every time of darkness and distress.

“I do not need to transcend my wants. He yearns to hear all about them.”

Chanah, a woman, needed to teach this perspective. She taught us that prayer, the feminine archetype, is empathetic. It is a supplication from our innermost selves, from the very depths of our hearts, connecting with G‑d’s innermost desire to forge a connection with us.


Related Video:
Is it Chutzpah to Pray? Chanah’s Prayer and How to Talk to G‑d
Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Esther Mandella Destin September 20, 2017

Amazing Chana, as always, love it! Reply

Penina Rivka Watstein Caswell Los Angeles, CA August 31, 2017

The Holy Day is Rosh Hashanah, which includes "shana," too.
Rosh is the Hebrew word for "Head."
Ha is the Hebrew word for "The."
Shana is also often used as a nickname for Shoshana, and means "lily" or "rose" in Hebrew. (These are symbols for women).
The name Shaina, sometimes spelled Shayna or Shana, is of Yiddish origin, and implies "beautiful."
The Shechina prevails on Rosh Hashanah, and so does the Female brain.
Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 10, 2013

Hannah I was thinking of the story of Hannah at Rosh Hashanah services, because the program spelled Hashanah this way, and I could see a palindrome, namely, Hanah in the name itself of our holliday, and then, after I was thinking about this, there was a rendition of the story of Hannah and its meaning, as also beautifully explicated above. It felt to me, that I was intentionally seeing this, something I had never perceived before and that G_d was so visibly, in the wings. So I wrote to the Rabbi who officiated, about this. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC September 9, 2013

Re Indeed, as Jews we have always cried out to G-d, asking and begging for "revealed good", good that we can comprehend and sense with our eyes. At the same time, we have always kept our total and complete faith in G-d.

More on faith and the holocaust in this article
chabad.org/64888/ Reply

Marty Denver September 1, 2013

The Nature of Prayer The Hebrew word for prayer, tefila, is a self reflective verb meaning self examination. That means we ask ourselves what am I thinking, feeling and needing. Connecting to what is truly going on for us might help us to connect to G-d on a personal level. It's a type of meditation and probably what our Patriarchs did as in Gen 24:63. The word prayer is not used in the Torah but it appears later in the Tanach.
As for things always happening for the best: We can say it's G-d's plan but should that be construed as 'for the best'? Couldn't G-d get the message across in a more benign, gentle and loving manner? Our covenant with G-d is a two way contract. Let's ask G-d, the G-d of justice, if He is fulfilling His part of the bargain? It's great that Chana got her child but what did the Holocaust victims do to suffer such a fate? Abraham and Moses questioned G-d, we should emulate our patriarchs by doing the same. Reply

Hadassah August 28, 2013

Chana the Blessed Thank you for mentioning the Shecinah as G-d our Mother.She is the comfort we need.I am glad you have brought this up.Chana brought forth Samuel, the great Prophet.Eli's sons were base and evil.Thank G-d for Chana and Samuel. Reply

Anonymous NY August 28, 2013

How about those Mets Eli Hakohane thought Hanna drunk with alcohol for he read the stones as such. However, there was another interpretation, which he did not at first see.

Eli had problems; mostly his sons. Hanna's son was his correction, so to speak. Reply

annie whittier calif August 28, 2013

prayer this so wonderful to hear iam with women who tell me i must pray david prayer to be heard i think that is crazy it is from my heart alone that i pray not from some one eles heart just like chana for my father want to know what on my heart Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 28, 2013

Chana I like it that a woman named Chana Weisberg wrote this piece, because it's about her namesake, this story. I believe we actualize our names. In fact, I know we do. And so it comes around full circle, when a Chana writes about a Chana, and when a Ruth put up her hand in a classroom at Brandeis Bolli after Naomi spoke, and said, "Ruth follows, Naomi."

There is something beautiful in all of this.

Shana Tovah! Reply

Anonymous U.K August 28, 2013

prayers and wishes I have a Jewish mother my father was not,my mother was blessed with four daughters although she yearned for a son.
I too have been blessed with 2 daughters &3 granddaughters and a greatgrandaughter no sons for me either athough I wished not prayed for one.
With hindsight I have come to believe that even if I had Prayed G-d would not have permitted me to do so.
My line has remained pure,as for my 3 younger sisters,yes they all got their sons
His will supercedes our own on many levels,as this time we are now honoured to live through will attest Reply

Berurah PR August 28, 2013

comment Sincerely although I have both earthly mother and father, G-d has been the One I see as both, since my parents are not with me as parents they dont give any love nor understanding... G-d will always be my mother and my father..... and G-d has taught me everything that has to do with torah, judaism and every good thing I know, although my mom hates it and my dad doesnt care.. . Reply

ruth August 28, 2013

G-d is our Father and our Mother when our own parents reject us. Years ago, at the age of 17,I ran away from home to get away from abuse. I was rejected by my father and my mother - but one day not long after that I read Psalm 27:10 "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." I realized then that G-D would be both Father and Mother to me and that just blessed my heart. Eventually, my father and mother took me back and repented of their sin. I began to honor them as I should.. But I know that G-D was there for me during all of the tough times - as HE is with everyone that turns to Him and pours our their heart like Chana did.
I love this translation of a loving parent that you portrayed. G-D is a loving Father and Morther - which ever One you need at the time. G-D is love!
Shano Tova!
Lots of Love!
Shalom! Shalom! Shalom! Reply

Christina Cape Town August 28, 2013

From Above All our desires come from Above. It is given and encoded into our DNA to assist us in learning how to be human despite it. How to remain in balance despite the normal instincts. Life is about how you develop and contribute all the time to the greater scheme of things too. Be part of the whole but be the you part of the whole. Reply

Sientje Seinen canada August 28, 2013

Feminity of G-d? The Holy scriptures always refer to G-d as the creator of all things great and small, but since He created both male and female, would He not then know our inner desires whether we are male or female? Since the Holy scriptures do not refer to G-d as she, also Adam was created in His image, therefore we do not believe that G-d is our mother, but the word mother is more connected with mother nature. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 27, 2013

A personal connection I was once told, we cannot have a personal connection with G_d, with something this vast, who Created this entire cosmos. But I have such a personal connection and many do, so this article is right, about Chana and about her seeking and her words. Going out, into a cosmic dimension it's clear G_d, the parent, knew what was happening, and in fact, wrote Chana's story, as G_d writes all stories. So there is an inherent problem with expecting separation. And yet we act as if we have it. That is the paradox. To have both. To be uniquely "us" and to also know we are part of a far far greater whole, and in fact, we are being moved. It is difficult to be conscious of this at all times, so we aren't. We are all aspects of Divinity, being Created beings, and our individuality is reflected by how we filter the light, being unique in our prisms and our particular stories, which give us perspective, and insights we share.

It would be a boring world without this diversity & dance of learning/caring Reply

Anonymous brooklyn August 27, 2013

As we are told g-d created man after his own image....according to what we are taught , that the first man was first man and woman together . In other words , masculine and feminine. only afterwords did he separate the two. Man cannot or should not be alone . We also learn that only when married is the couple considered "man" . For years it was easier to speak of g_d in the masculine.But that had something to do with practicality and maybe because the strong was accepted male in a male oriented world. Here , with Chana she gave the feminine dimension that was slightly revolutionary to the time. Reply

Galia Lapson Skokie, IL September 22, 2009

Women are given a very high regard in Judaism: G-d tells Avraham don't be sad and do whatever Sarah tells you (to send away his other son). G-d commands that a man should leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife! We just discussed how we pray silently according to the way Hannah prayed. We learn about the great prophetess Deborah. We take example from righteous Jewish women - Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah, and Miriam - sister of Moshe. Their lives and deeds are described in detail in Tanach. G-d fearing men that I know have a very high respect and appreciation of their wives and how much they sacrifice to raise the kids and support the family. If a father is concerned about kids Jewish education, it is a legitimate concern because it is parents responsibility. If some men fight in court for selfish reasons - it is a shame, it has nothing to do with Judaism. Divorce in general is a painful event when kids are concerned, and as a rule it is not going smooth and peacefully. Reply

Anonymous Hamilton, ON/ Canada September 17, 2009

G-d as your father and mother I am 43 and just lost both my parents. I see G-d as my father, coaxing me and guiding me through life, as my earthly father is now absent, and G-d has taken the place of my Mother when I am in need of that closeness and love that only a mother can give. I have sorrow that I have lost my earthly parents, but have great joy in finding G-d as my spiritual parent. Reply

Anonymous Palmdale, ca September 17, 2009

child custody It is a a shame that in actual practice women aren't given a very positive regard in the Jewish religion. There are many men that will take the opportunity to hurt the mother of their children by fighting in court and taking child custody. It is a sad commentary, but, it is prevalent. This is something that needs to be brought to light as a sin and something that needs to be corrected. Reply

Galia Lapson Skokie, IL September 17, 2009

Why not father? Indeed we say Our Father, Our King in the prayer. I think the author was trying to point out the unconditional love that mothers have. Fathers tend to be more judgmental, they have certain expectations, although they of course also love & protect their kids. My children usually come to me if they have a problem of sensitive nature. Relating to what? If my daugther is scared I'd take her in my bed. And dad would have probably said there was nothing to fear. Reply

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