What do we pray for on Rosh HaShanah?

We all know it is the Day of Judgment and each one of us wants to be blessed for a good and sweet year in a simple sense. Nevertheless, we also realize that something much more encompassing and more significant than our own selves is happening on this day, something whose weight and import make our personal wants and desires pale in comparison and seem petty. Yet, there is the fear of missing out. If we do not make our requests on the day when it is decided “who shall be {granted} tranquility and who will {be compelled to} wander,”1 when will we make them?!

The Rebbe focuses on this inner conflict in the sichah that follows. Using the story of Chanah’s prayer described in the Haftarah as a starting point, he draws our attention to the larger picture, to what Rosh HaShanah really involves – crowning G‑d as King over all existence – and he explains how G‑d’s sovereignty is all-encompassing, including all the details of our own personal lives.

This understanding enables us to redefine why we are making requests on Rosh HaShanah. We are not asking for ourselves; we are asking for G‑d’s blessings so that we can do our part in making His sovereignty manifest over all creation.

After giving that explanation, the Rebbe acknowledges that most of us cannot consciously identify with such a lofty intent. On the contrary, when we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are making our requests because we feel that we want and need what we are asking for.

In resolution, the Rebbe explains that our prayers are two-tiered. There is what we desire in a simple sense and, deep inside our sub-conscious, there is what the soul really desires. Fundamentally, there is no dichotomy between the two. On Rosh HaShanah, when we pray that G‑d fulfill our physical and spiritual needs, externally it appears that what motivates us is our personal desire for children, health, sustenance, or other concerns connected with our own selves. However, the inner truth that is arousing the outpouring of our souls is the desire to fulfill G‑d’s desire for us to fashion a dwelling for Him from these material entities.

The Haftarah also gives us a paradigm through which we can align these two dimensions of our prayers. By describing the dialogue between Eli the kohen and Chanah, it prompts each of us to examine what is truly motivating our prayers. Genuinely facing ourselves and probing our sincerity in the same way that Eli questioned Chanah, motivates us to – like Chanah – “pour out our souls before G‑d,”2 to have our requests charged with our souls’ innermost energies. As a result, “the G‑d of Israel will grant the request… asked of Him,”3 providing us with revealed and apparent good, abundant blessings for our children, health, and sustenance, including the greatest blessing, the imminent arrival of Mashiach.

A Woman’s Prayer


The Haftarah from the first day of Rosh HaShanah, taken from the beginning of the Book of Shmuel,4tells the story of Chanah,5 the wife of Elkanah, relating that initially, “Chanah was childless.”6 Afterwards, because of her sincere prayers in the Sanctuary at Shiloh, she was blessed with a son, the Prophet Shmuel.


אִין דֶער הַפְטוֹרָה פוּן עֶרְשְׁטְן טָאג רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה (תְּחִילַּת סֵפֶר שְׁמוּאֵל)19 ווֶערְט דֶערְצֵיילְט ווֶעגְן חַנָּה, אֵשֶׁת אֶלְקָנָה, ווָאס דֶער תּוֹכֶן אִיז, אַז פְרִיעֶר אִיז "וּלְחַנָּה אֵין יְלָדִים"20, אוּן דֶערְנָאךְ, דוּרְךְ אִיר תְּפִלָּה (זַייְעֶנְדִיק אִין שִׁילֹה בַּמִּשְׁכָּן), אִיז זִי נִפְקַד גֶעווָארְן מִיט אַ זוּן – שְׁמוּאֵל הַנָּבִיא.

The intent of the Haftaros recited on the festivals, like all the Haftaros, is similar to that of the Torah reading,7 which is, as the name Torah implies,8 to provide instruction – that the Jews should derive guidance from it for their Divine service on that particular Shabbos or festival. Similarly, in the case at hand, the reason this Haftarah is read on Rosh HaShanah9 is because Chanah was specifically remembered for Divine blessing on that day10and, as a result, she conceived. Nevertheless, the Haftarah is not merely a historical narrative and contains many directives for a Jew’s conduct on Rosh HaShanah, and also it contains several all-encompassing directives that apply throughout the year.11

דֶער מְכֻוָּון פוּן קְרִיאַת הַהַפְטוֹרָה בְּחַגִּים, ווִי בַּיי אַלֶע הַפְטוֹרוֹת, אִיז – עַל דֶּרֶךְ ווִי קְרִיאַת הַתּוֹרָה21, מִלְּשׁוֹן הוֹרָאָהג* – אַז אַ אִיד זָאל דֶערְפוּן אָפּלֶערְנֶען אַ הוֹרָאָה אִין דֶער עֲבוֹדָה פוּן אַ אִידְן אִין דֶעם שַׁבָּת אוּן אִין דֶעם חַג.

אוּן אַזוֹי אוֹיךְ בְּעִנְיָנֵנוּ: אַף עַל פִּי אַז דֶער טַעַם פַארְווָאס מֶען זָאגְט דִי הַפְטוֹרָה בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה אִיז ווַיְיל22 חַנָּה אִיז נִפְקַד גֶעווָארְן בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה23 – אַנְטְהַאלְט אָבֶּער דִי הַפְטוֹרָה כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה הוֹרָאוֹת אִין דֶער עֲבוֹדָה פוּן אַ אִידְן בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה (אוּן אוֹיךְ כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה הוֹרָאוֹת בִּכְלַל24);

The spiritual service that caused Divine beneficence to be visited upon Chanah – which is the central focus of the Haftarah in connection with Rosh HaShanah – was her prayer in the Sanctuary at Shiloh. Accordingly, it can be assumed that the fundamental lesson from the Haftarah regarding a Jew’s Divine service on Rosh HaShanah can be derived from her prayer. In particular, this is true according to the opinion of Shelah12that Chanah also recited her prayer on Rosh HaShanah.

אוּן ווִיבַּאלְד אַז דִי "עֲבוֹדָה" ווָאס הָאט גֶעבְּרַאכְט צוּ פְּקִידַת חַנָּה – ווָאס דָאס אִיז דִי נְקוּדָּה עִיקְרִית פוּן דֶער הַפְטוֹרָה (בְּשַׁיְיכוּתָהּ לְרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה) כַּנַּ"ל – אִיז גֶעווֶען אִיר תְּפִלָּה (בְּשִׁילֹה), אִיז מִסְתַּבֵּר לוֹמַר, אַז דֶער לִימּוּד עִיקְרִי פוּן דֶער הַפְטוֹרָה בַּנּוֹגֵעַ דֶער עֲבוֹדָה פוּן אַ אִידְן בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה אִיז אִין תְּפִלַּת חַנָּה [וּבִפְרַט לוֹיט דֶער דֵיעָה ווָאס בְּרֶענְגְט זִיךְ אִין שַׁלָ"ה25, אַז (אוֹיךְ) תְּפִלַּת חַנָּה אִיז גֶעווֶען בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה].

Analyzing the Interaction


The lesson to be derived can be clarified by first explaining the story of Chanah’s prayer. At first, Eli, the Kohen Gadol, thought that she was intoxicated,13 because she recited her prayer while “speaking to her heart.”10 Therefore, he reproved her, saying,14 “How long will you make a spectacle of your drunkenness?”

Chanah answered him, “No, my lord… I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink; I poured out my soul before G‑d...”15


ווֶעט מֶען דָאס פַארְשְׁטֵיין בְּהֶקְדֵּם הַבִּיאוּר אִין דֶעם סִיפּוּר ווֶעגְן תְּפִלַּת חַנָּה, אַז פְרִיעֶר הָאט עֵלִי הַכֹּהֵן אִיר אָנְגֶענוּמֶען אַלְס אַ "שִׁכּוֹרָה" (ווַיְיל אִיר תְּפִלָּה אִיז גֶעווֶען אִין אַן אוֹפֶן פוּן "מְדַבֶּרֶת עַל לִבָּהּ גו'") אוּן הָאט אִיר דֶערְפַאר אוֹיסְגֶערֶעדט "עַד מָתַי תִּשְׁתַּכָּרִין גו'"; אוּן חַנָּה הָאט אִים אוֹיף דֶעם גֶעעֶנְטְפֶערְט "לֹא אֲדוֹנִי גו' וָאֶשְׁפּוֹךְ אֶת נַפְשִׁי לִפְנֵי ה'"26 אוּן אַזוֹי ווַיְיטֶער.

Several aspects of the story require clarification:

דְּלִכְאוֹרָה אִיז נִיט פַארְשְׁטַאנְדִיק:

Selections from Likkutei Sichos (SIE)

Insights into the Weekly Parshah and festivals by the Lubavitcher Rebbe selected from the Likkutei Sichos series.

a) How could Eli, the kohen, make such a drastic mistake, reaching a diametrically opposite conclusion? Instead of realizing16 that Chanah was pouring out her soul in prayer, he thought she was intoxicated.

א) ווִי קוּמְט עֶס, אַז עֵלִי הַכֹּהֵן זָאל הָאבְּן אַזַא טָעוּת – מִן הַקָּצֶה אֶל הַקָּצֶה! – אַנְשְׁטָאט צוּ דֶערְקֶענֶען27 אַז זִי אִיז מִתְפַּלֵּל מִיט אַ שְׁפִיכַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ, הָאט עֶר גָאר גֶעמֵיינְט אַז זִי אִיז אַ "שִׁכּוֹרָה"?

b) Even if an explanation can be found why Eli made such an error,17 it is still hard to understand: Why does the Torah tell us this? There is a general principle that “Scripture does not speak deprecatingly even about a non-kosher animal.”18 Certainly, this should apply regarding Eli, the kohen.

ב) אֲפִילוּ מְ'זָאל גֶעפִינֶען אַ הַסְבָּרָה ווִי אַזוֹי עֵלִי הָאט גֶעמַאכְט דֶעם טָעוּת28 – אִיז נָאךְ אַלְץ נִיט מוּבָן, פַארְווָאס דֶערְצֵיילְט מֶען ווֶעגְן דֶעם אִין תּוֹרָה? סְ'אִיז דָאךְ אֲפִילוּ "בִּגְנוּת בְּהֵמָה טְמֵאָה לֹא דִבֶּר הַכָּתוּב"29, עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, לְהַבְדִּיל, בַּנּוֹגֵעַ עֵלִי הַכֹּהֵן!