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Chana’s Inspiration and Aspirations

Essays on Shmuel 1

Chana’s Inspiration and Aspirations

Yechiel Shaffer

שמואל א פרק א פסוק יא

 ותדר נדר ותאמר ידוד צבאות אם ראה תראה בעני אמתך וזכרתני ולא תשכח את אמתך ונתתה  לאמתך זרע אנשים ונתתיו לידוד כל ימי חייו ומורה לא יעלה על ראשו

“And she vowed a vow and she said:’ Oh Lord of Hosts, if you will surely look upon the suffering of your maidservant and you will remember me and not forget your maidservant, and You shall grant to your servant a child and he will be given to the L-rd all the days of his life, and fear (or: a razor) shall not come upon his head.”

The vow of Chana is both inspiring and confusing. Her devotion to God becomes explicit in her aspirations for the potential child yet her promise seems to be difficult. How can Chana obligate her son in a vow if he is not yet born? This is a classic case of ‘davar shelo ba leolam, something that has yet to exist in this world. The Radak considers this problem and is unable to offer a satisfactory answer.

רד”ק שמואל א פרק א פסוק יא

  יא) ותדור נדר: אני תמה איך חל נדרה על בנה שיהיה נזיר ועוד שלא היה בעולם ואיך חל הנדר עליו ואפילו היה  בעולם הרי אמרו האיש מדיר את בנו נזיר ואין האשה מדרת את בנה בנזיר ואפילו באיש לא מצאו בו טעם אלא אמרו  הלכה היא בנזיר ואם תאמר כי אלקנה עשה הנדר גם כן אחרי ששמע מאשתו זה לא ראינו והיאך הניח הפסוק לספור  עיקר הנדר וכתב נדר חנה שאינו נדר זה רחוק ויותר אני תמיה איך לא דברו רז”ל בזה הדבר כי לא מצאתי בדבריהם  בזה שום דבר לא במדרש ולא בתלמוד

"I am wondering how this vow applied to her son to be a Nazir forever? Also he was not yet born…and I am amazed that Chazal did not discuss this point and I have not found any answer in the writings of either the Midrash or Talmud."

Let us try to crystallize the potential concerns and further clarify the concern of the Radak.

1)    Her son is already Levi, what is she adding with her vow that he would not have to commit to because of his Levite status?

2)    How can Chana promise that her child will have no fear of man on him? If we suggest that this is a prophecy, then why is it recorded as part of her vow? Furthermore, we will encounter moments in Shmuel’s life where he does express fear (Shmuel I Ch. 16 Shmuel express fear of Shaul’s reaction to his chosing a new King). Does this mean that Chana’s prophecy was false?

Samuel Presented to the Priest Eli - Illustration by Avi Katz -

When we closely examine the details of Chana’s neder (vow), every nuance is explained by Chazal  (the Rabbis) in a profoundly meaningful way.

פסיקתא רבתי (איש שלום) פרשה מג

 ותדור נדר ותאמר ה’ צבאות: (שמואל א’ א’ י”א) מהו ה’ צבאות, אמר רבי יהודה בר’ סימון אמרה חנה לפני הקדוש ברוך  הוא רבונו של עולם יש צבא למעלה יש צבא למטה, הצבא של מעלה אינם [לא] אוכלים ולא שותים ולא פרים ורבים  ולא מתים אלא חיים לעולם, והצבא שלמטה אוכלים ושותים ופרים ורבים ומתים, ואיני יודעת מאיזו צבא אני, אם משל  מעלה או משל מטה, אם מצבא של מעלה אני, לא אהיה לא אוכלת ולא שותית (אלא) [ולא] מולידה ולא מתה אלא חיה  לעולם כשם שהם חיים לעולם, ואם מצבא של מטה אני, אהא אוכלת ושותית ומולידה ומתה כשם שהם אוכלים ושותים  ופרים ורבים זהו ה’ צבאות. דבר אחר ה’ צבאות א”ר יהודה ברבי סימון בפעמי רגלים עלתה חנה לב”המק =לבית  המקדש= וראתה את כל ישראל שם, אמרה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם כל הצבאות האילו יש לך ואין לי  אחד בהם

“What is the meaning of the term ‘L-rd of hosts’? Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rabbi Simon: Chana said before God:’ Master of the World! There are hosts above and below; the host in heaven (angels) does not eat or drink or reproduce or die, but live forever.The hosts below (humans) eat drink reproduce and die. I do not know to which ‘host’ I belong, since if I am of the heavenly host I would not eat drink or reproduce and I would live forever as they do. If I am of the lower ‘host’ then I should eat and drink and reproduce and die just as they do (and therefore grant me a child as a lower ‘host’).

Another interpretation: ‘L-rd of Hosts’: Rabbi Yehuda in the name of Rabbi Simon said: Chana went up to the Temple on festivals and saw the Jewish people there. She said before God: Master of the World! There are all these ‘hosts’ (people) and I do not have even one of them (a child).”

Her prayers for a child are very bold and profoundly moving. The Talmud in Berachot (31b) explains further Chana’s supplication.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף לא עמוד ב

  אם ראה תראה, אמר רבי אלעזר: אמרה חנה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם, אם ראה – מוטב, ואם לאו – תראה, אלך ואסתתר בפני אלקנה בעלי, וכיון דמסתתרנא משקו לי מי סוטה, ואי אתה עושה תורתך פלסתר, שנאמר:  +במדבר ה’+ ונקתה ונזרעה זרע

בעני אמתך אל תשכח את אמתך, ונתתה לאמתך. אמר רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא: שלש אמתות הללו למה – אמרה חנה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם,שלשה בדקי מיתה בראת באשה, ואמרי לה: שלשה דבקי מיתה, ואלו הן: נדה וחלה והדלקת הנר, כלום עברתי על אחת מהן? ונתתה לאמתך זרע אנשים

‘If you will surely look upon… Rabbi Elazar said: Chana said before God: Master of the World! If you will look upon my plight (and grant my request) then it will be good; however if not then You will see me in another way. I will go and become a suspected adulteress (Sotah) and I will be forced to drink the waters of the Sotah and I will conceive that way as promised in the Torah (if the claim is false)…

(The word ‘maidservant’ is written here three times. Why?) Rabbi Yose, the son of Rabbi Chanina said: Chana said before God; Master of the World! There are three obligations upon women that can lead to fatal consequences if not observed properly; the laws of Nidda (menstruant woman) Challa (separation of dough for the Kohen) and lighting the Shabbat candles. Did I ever transgress any of these mitzvot? (so I deserve a blessing of a child).’

Chana’s pleas before God are sincere and heart breaking. She pours out her soul in her request for a child.

Even though we see that Chazal (our Rabbis) give such meaning to her requests here, it is still troubling that the concept of neder does not work, as this is dealing with an item which is not yet in existence and the application of a vow in such a case needs further explanation.

We will examine two approaches to this whole analysis, Rashi and Rambam.

A) Rashi

On the basis of Rashi’s interpretation to verse 11, we can suggest an original explanation on Chana’s neder (vow) and its meaning.

רש”י שמואל א פרק א פסוק יא

  ונתתיו לה: שיהא ראוי לתתו לה

 ומורה: תרגום יונתן ומרות אנש לא תהא עלוהי

‘And I will give him to God: [This means that] He should be fitting to be given to God’

‘And morah: According to Targum Yonatan this means: the fear of man should never be upon him’.

Rashi is similar to the the opinion of Rabbi Yose as seen here in Talmud, Masechet Sotah 66a:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת נזיר דף סו עמוד א

 מתני‘.  נזיר היה שמואל, כדברי ר’ נהוראי, שנא': +שמואל א’ א+ ומורה לא יעלה על ראשו, נאמר בשמשון  +שופטים יג+ ומורה ונאמר בשמואל ומורה, מה מורה האמורה בשמעון נזיר, אף מורה האמורה בשמואל נזיר. א”ר יוסי: והלא אין מורה אלא של בשר ודם! א”ל רבי נהוראי, והלא כבר נאמר: +שמואל א’ טז+ ויאמר שמואל איך אלך ושמע שאול והרגני, שכבר היה עליו מורא של בשר ודם

‘Shmuel was a Nazir, as according to the words of Rav Nehorai., as it says: And morah (meaning a razor) shall not go up upon his head… (and the proof is from the story of Shimshon who was also a nazir). Rabbi Yose said: Isn’t the word ‘morah’referring to the fear of man (as seen in Rashi’s comment above)? Rabbi Nehorai replied: Does it not say: ‘And Shmuel said; how can I go (to anoint David)? Surely Shaul will kill me? (showing fear of man)…’

Rashi is like the opinion of Rabbi Yose and understands the phrase of ‘moreh lo yaaleh al rosho’ not as the vow itself, but as a condition which applies to the vow. This means that she is saying: ‘A sign that my vow is valid (and is working) will be if my son is so feared that no one can instill in him any sense of dread or awe’. The actual vow itself (as opposed to the signs and conditions of the vow) are not spelled out clearly. Rav Levi suggests that the vow was actually to bring special sacrifices to the Mishkan, as we see later in Ch.1.

כד) ותעלהו עמה כאשר גמלתו בפרים שלשה ואיפה אחת קמח ונבל יין ותבאהו בית־יקוק שלו והנער נער

When Shmuel is older, she brings him to Eli together with 3 oxen and one ephah (measurment) of flour etc. Chana brings these items as a special offering in fulfillment of the vow she made earlier in the chapter (but which was never spelled out clearly at that time). The conditions that she mentions are her desire that her son will be worthy to dwell in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) forever and that he will be worthy to be dedicated to God at some later date.

This approach answers our original questions. Chana’s vow is not on a future object but it is on something concrete and tangible. All of her aspirations for Shmuel are not containted in the vow but her own wishes as a sign of the fulfillment of Eli’s promise that she will have a child. Even if he is a Levi, my hope, Chana says, is that he will be a worthy person to carry out holy duties and he will be fitting, to be devoted to God.

B) Rambam

The Rambam has a different approach as seen in the following section from the laws of Valuations, found in the Rambam’s foundational work, the Yad Chazaka.

רמב”ם הלכות ערכין וחרמין פרק ו הלכה לא

 יראה לי שאע”פ שאין אדם מקדיש דבר שלא בא לעולם אם אמר הרי עלי להקדישו הרי זה חייב להקדישו כשיבא  לעולם משום נדרו, ואם לא הקדיש הרי זה עובר משום בל תאחר ולא יחל דברו ומשום ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה כשאר הנדרים

    וכל כיוצא במאמרים אלו הרי זה חייב ליתן ולעשות בהן מה שאמר  כשיבואו לידו, וזה וכיוצא בו בכלל נדרים הוא לא בכלל הקדשות

 ראיה לדבר זה מה שאמר יעקב אבינו וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך ונאמר אשר נדרת לי שם נדר

‘It would seem to me that even though a person cannot sanctify something which is not in existence, if he obligates himself to do so he is liable to follow through on his obligation when the object materializes, because of his neder(vow). If he does not follow through he transgresses the law of ‘not profaning his promise’and also the positive command of ‘do whatever comes from your mouth (i.e.keep your promises), which applies to vows…’

According to Rambam, Chana was saying that she commits to doing everything in her power to ensure that when her son is born he will become dedicated to God. Her vow does not obligate her potential son but it requires her to do her utmost to bring her promises to fruition. The Rambam follows the opinion of Rav Nehorai that Shmuel was a perpetualNazir and the phrase ‘umoreh lo yaaleh…..’ actually means that ‘a razor will not come upon his head’ signifying hisnezirut from birth.

When Shmuel will be born, Chana will teach and inspire him to commit to the nezirut that she had promised from before his birth. This vow is valid due to Shmuel’s own acceptance, when he actually commits to this dedicated lifestyle.

Whether we understand the vow as referring to an offering or to Shmuel’s acceptance of nezirut at the encouragment of his mother, we understand that the issue is much more complex than it originally seemed.

The profound lessons from this story deeply resonate in the world of chinuch (education). A parent’s hopes can impact a child, provided that these are accepted by the child and are not just forced upon them because of a parent’s selfish aspirations. Shmuel fully accepts his mother’s wishes and devotes himself to God and the Jewish people. With Elkanah’s dedication to inspiring the Jewish people and Chana’s commitment to a healthy, inspired education for her family, we understand the foundations of Shmuel’s life and the strength this gives him to carry out his holy mission for the future of the Jewish people.