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Elkanah – The Father of Shmuel

Essays on Shmuel 1

Elkanah – The Father of Shmuel

Yechiel Shaffer

Chanah's Tefillah - illustrations by Avi Katz - www.avikatz.net

More often then not when discussing the openening chapters of Shmuel I much time is spent examining the motives, actions and merits of Chana. That being said it is critical to examine the character of both parents of our famed prophet, Shmuel. In what merit did Elkanah father the historic personality of Shmuel HaNavi (the Prophet)?

In Sefer Eliyahu Rabbah, we are presented a new aspect to Elkanah’s leadership:

אליהו רבה (איש שלום) פרשה ט 

ויהי איש אחד מן הרמתים וגו’  (ש”א =שמואל א’= א’) היה אלקנה עולה ארבעה פעמים בשנה, שלשה מן התורה ואחת שקיבל עליו, שנאמר ועלה האיש ההוא מעירו מימים ימימה וגו’ (שם שם /שמואל א’ א’/ ג’) ,אלקנה הוא עלה ואשתו ובניו ובנותיו ואחיו ואחיותיו וכל קרוביו עמו וכל בני ביתו היה מעלה את הכל עמו, אמר, שלא  (למדו) [ילמדו] דרך עבודה זרה מן הכנענים ומן הפושעים ויעשו דבר שלא כתורה. דבר אחר למה מעלה את הכל עמו, כשהיו עולין בדרך ולנין ברחובה של עיר, מתקבצים האנשים לבד והנשים לבד, שכן האיש מדבר עם האיש, אשה עם  האשה, גדול עם גדול, קטון עם קטון, והיתה המדינה מרגשת (היו) [והיו] שואלין להן (לאים ת”ל) [להיכן תלכו, ואומרים]  אל בית האלהים שבשילה שמשם תצא תורה ומשם מצוות, ואתם למה לא תבואו עמנו ונלך ביחד, מיד עיניהם משגרות דמעות, אמרו להן נעלה עמכן, אמרו להן הין, עוד לשנה הבאה חמשה בתים, לשנה אחרת עשרה בתים, לשנה אחרת הרגישה כולה לעלות, והיו עולין הימינה כששים בתים, ובדרך שהיה עולה שנה זו לשנה אחרת אינו עולה אלא בדרך אחרת, אלקנה הכריע את ישראל לכף זכות וחינך אותם במצות, וזכו רבים על ידו, הקב”ה בוחן לבות וכליות אמר לו, אלקנה את הכרעתה את ישראל לכף זכות וחינכתם במצוות, וזכו רבים על ידיך, אני אוציא ממך בן שיכריע את ישראל לכף זכות ויחנך אותם במצוות ויזכה רבים על ידיו

Elkanah's Journey - Illustration by Avi Katz - www.avikatz.net

“Elkanah used to go up to the Mishkan four times a year, three times according to Torah law and once voluntarily, as it says: “And that man went up from his city from year to year…” Elkanah went to theMishkan with his wife, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and all his relatives and household. He would say: “This is so that they would not learn the ways of idolatry from their neighbors, the Canaanites and other sinners.”Why did he take all of this entourage with him? When they were going to Shiloh, they would encamp in the street of the town they were passing through and the city people would gather there, the men and women separately, and the men of Elkanah’s party would talk to the gathered men (and women to women) each according to his/her required level. The people would ask them where are they going and they would reply that they are going to the House of God in Shiloh, from where Torah and Mitzvot emanate.” Why aren’t you coming there as well? Let us go together”. Immediately, the people would cry and agree to go with. In the next year one household became five households joining him to the Mishkan and then ten households the year after that. Eventually the whole city would go up to Shiloh. Furthermore, the route taken each year would be different to encourage even more people to come.

Elkanah is attributed with bringing Israel into merit by educating them to perform Mitzvot. God says to Elkanah: “You have merited the Jewish people to return to the Mishkan, so I will bring from you a son who will also merit the Jewish people and educate them to perform Mitzvot and many will merit through him.” (Eliyahu Rabbah Portion 9)

This wonderful description of the ‘pied piper’ activities of Elkanah transforms the narrative of the birth of Shmuel. Elkanah was as exceptional as Chanah and the ‘mida keneged mida’ (measure for measure) of meriting a son who would work diligently in the Mishkan is an obvious preamble to understanding how such a son was born to Elkanah and Chana. Both Elkanah and Chanah revolutionized the Jewish attitude towards religious worship.

Why is the attendance at the Mishkan such an integral ascpect of Torah life?

The Chinuch (Rabbi Aharon of Barcelona-12th Century) suggests:

ספר החינוך מצוה תפט

 משרשי המצוה, למען יראו כל ישראל ויתנו אל לבם בפעולת הקרבן המעורר הלבבות כי כולם מקטנם ועד גדולם חלק  ה’ ונחלתו, עם קדוש ונבחר נוצרי עדותו סגולת כל העמים אשר תחת כל השמים לשמור חוקיו ולקיים דתו, על כן יובאו  שלש פעמים בשנה בית ה’, והוא כאמרם על דרך משל הננו לאל לעבדים נכנסים ובאים בצל קורתו ובחזקתו סמוכים  לעד לעולם באהבתו וביראתו, זר לא יבא בתוכנו כי אנחנו לבדנו בני ביתו. ועם המעשה הזה יתעורר דעתנו ונכניס  בלבנו מוראו ונקבע ברעיונינו אהבתו ונזכה לקבל חסדו וברכתו

 Click above for more information on the Sefer HaChinuch

Click above for more information on the Sefer HaChinuch

“The ‘root’ of the mitzvah (to go up to the Temple three times a year – aliya leregel) is that all of Israel see and contemplate the activities surrounding the sacrifices which can inspire them to realize that they are all the inheritance of God, the chosen nation from all others under the heavens, to guard His laws and statutes. This is why the Jew must come to the Temple three times a year, as Chazal have explained, so that we realize we are like servants entering the protection of God, which is based on a perpetual and everlasting love. This is limited only to the Jewish people for we are the only members of His household. This will lead us to fear and love God and we will merit to receive His kindness and His blessing.”

The impact of witnessing the Beis HaMikdash in all its glory is reinforced by the statements of Tosfot in Bava Batra(21a):

תוספות מסכת בבא בתרא דף כא עמוד א

  כי מציון תצא תורה: לפי שהיה רואה קדושה גדולה וכהנים עוסקים בעבודה היה מכוון לבו יותר ליראת שמים  וללמוד תורה כדדרשי’ בספרי למען תלמד ליראה וגו’ גדול מעשר שני שמביא לידי תלמוד לפי שהיה עומד בירושלים  עד שיאכל מעשר שני שלו והיה רואה שכולם עוסקים במלאכת שמים ובעבודה היה גם הוא מכוון ליראת שמים ועוסק  בתורה.

“(In discussing the law of Maaser Shaini, (the 2nd tithe) which must be taken to Jerusalem, Tosfot explains why this is necessary) In Jerusalem one would see the great holiness present and when the Kohanim were performing their holy service, those present would think of becoming more God fearing. This would cause the study Torah in greater depth, as is found in the Sifre on the pasuk “That you will learn to fear…”Great is Maaser Shaini because it would lead to a greater level of Torah study, being in Jerusalem and seeing everyone working for the sake of heaven. He would also dedicate his life to the sake of heaven and, as a result, study Torah…”

Tosfot follows in the tradition of the Chinuch in describing the profound spiritual inspiration gained by witnessing the events at Mishkan/Mikdash. This spiritual impact, deeply appreciated by Elkanah, especially worked to counteract the great indifference to spiritual matters as seen throughout the book of Judges. Shmuel I continues off of the conclusion of the book of Judges and the efforts to rejuivante the spiritual nature of the Jewish people by Elkanah surely is a great merit to his leadership and personality. While Chanah’s Tefillah teaches us much about the individual’s journey towards Divine supplication, Elkanah is concerned purely for the spiritual welfare of the nation.

Some final words in praise of Elkanah can be read in the Midrash Shmuel:

מדרש שמואל (בובר) פרשה א

 ועלה האיש ההוא מעירו: נתעלה האיש בביתו, נתעלה האיש בחצרו, נתעלה בעירו, נתעלה בכל ישראל,  וכל עלויו לא היה אלא מעצמו. מימים ימימה. זה אלקנה שהוא מדריך את ישראל ומעלה אותן לשילה, ולא בדרך שהיה  עולה בשנה זו היה עולה בשנה אחרת אלא וכו’. להשתחות ולזבוח לה’

“And that man ‘went up’ from his city. This man became elevated (alah) in his home, in his courtyard, in his city and in all of Israel. All of his spiritual elevations were due to his own efforts…”

It is significant to note that in the 7th chapter Shmuel leaves his home and travels around the coutnry to judge people, just as his father traveled around to bring Jews to the Mishkan for the Jewish holidays. The merits that bring Shmuel into the world are clearly rooted in the actions of his father. The example of being amongst the people is transmitted to Shmuel and ultimately assists in the transition from the establishment of Judges to Kings. Shmuel is critical to this transition. His exposure to the entre community, over the long term, serves to elevate the entire Jewish nation in preparation for the relocation of power to a king and the transfer of holiness to Jerusalem.

Comments on Parenthood:

The Malbim suggests on the opening verse of Shmuel I (1:1):

ויהי איש אחד: יש הבדל בין כשכתוב ויהי איש [כמו ויהי איש מהר אפרים (שופטים יז, א), ויהי איש לוי (שם יט, א)] ובין כשכתוב ויהי איש אחד, שמורה שהיה מיוחד לאיזה דבר גדול, וכמ”ש ברבה במדרש (במ”ר י, ה) כל מקום שנאמר ויהי איש אחד, גדול היה, ויהי איש אחד מצרעה (שופטים יג, ב), היה מיוחד להולדת שמשון, ופה היה מיוחד להולדת שמואל:

And there was a man: We must distinguish between the use of ויהי איש, which is commonly used towards the conclusion of the book of Shoftim, and ויהי איש אחד which is used to indicate someone dedicated for greatness. Just as indicted in Shoftim (13:2) about a man who was to have Shimshon as his child, and here this special man was to have Shmuel as his child.

It is empowering to take note of the special mission that Elkanah has been charged with. What makes Elkanah unique or great according to the Malbim? What does the Prophet point out his singular, specialness? Only to illustrate the great merit he is to have the child, Shmuel. We work all our lives to leave an impact, to build a family, to perhaps grow ourselves into being someone special. Perhaps Elkanah’s unique greatness is being worthy of having a very special child.

 משרשי המצוה, למען יראו כל ישראל ויתנו אל לבם בפעולת הקרבן המעורר הלבבות כי כולם מקטנם ועד גדולם חלק  ה’ ונחלתו, עם קדוש ונבחר נוצרי עדותו סגולת כל העמים אשר תחת כל השמים לשמור חוקיו ולקיים דתו, על כן יובאו  שלש פעמים בשנה בית ה’, והוא כאמרם על דרך משל הננו לאל לעבדים נכנסים ובאים בצל קורתו ובחזקתו סמוכים  לעד לעולם באהבתו וביראתו, זר לא יבא בתוכנו כי אנחנו לבדנו בני ביתו. ועם המעשה הזה יתעורר דעתנו ונכניס  בלבנו מוראו ונקבע ברעיונינו אהבתו ונזכה לקבל חסדו וברכתו

“The ‘root’ of the mitzvah (to go up to the Temple three times a year – aliya leregel) is that all of Israel see and contemplate the activities surrounding the sacrifices which can inspire them to realize that they are all the inheritance of God, the chosen nation from all others under the heavens, to guard His laws and statutes. This is why the Jew must come to the Temple three times a year, as Chazal have explained, so that we realize we are like servants entering the protection of God, which is based on a perpetual and everlasting love. This is limited only to the Jewish people for we are the only members of His household. This will lead us to fear and love God and we will merit to receive His kindness and His blessing.”

The impact of witnessing the Beis HaMikdash in all its glory is reinforced by the statements of Tosfot in Bava Batra(21a):

תוספות מסכת בבא בתרא דף כא עמוד א

  כי מציון תצא תורה: לפי שהיה רואה קדושה גדולה וכהנים עוסקים בעבודה היה מכוון לבו יותר ליראת שמים  וללמוד תורה כדדרשי’ בספרי למען תלמד ליראה וגו’ גדול מעשר שני שמביא לידי תלמוד לפי שהיה עומד בירושלים  עד שיאכל מעשר שני שלו והיה רואה שכולם עוסקים במלאכת שמים ובעבודה היה גם הוא מכוון ליראת שמים ועוסק  בתורה.

“(In discussing the law of Maaser Shaini, (the 2nd tithe) which must be taken to Jerusalem, Tosfot explains why this is necessary) In Jerusalem one would see the great holiness present and when the Kohanim were performing their holy service, those present would think of becoming more God fearing. This would cause the study Torah in greater depth, as is found in the Sifre on the pasuk “That you will learn to fear…”Great is Maaser Shaini because it would lead to a greater level of Torah study, being in Jerusalem and seeing everyone working for the sake of heaven. He would also dedicate his life to the sake of heaven and, as a result, study Torah…”

Tosfot follows in the tradition of the Chinuch in describing the profound spiritual inspiration gained by witnessing the events at Mishkan/Mikdash. This spiritual impact, deeply appreciated by Elkanah, especially worked to counteract the great indifference to spiritual matters as seen throughout the book of Judges. Shmuel I continues off of the conclusion of the book of Judges and the efforts to rejuivante the spiritual nature of the Jewish people by Elkanah surely is a great merit to his leadership and personality. While Chanah’s Tefillah teaches us much about the individual’s journey towards Divine supplication, Elkanah is concerned purely for the spiritual welfare of the nation.

Some final words in praise of Elkanah can be read in the Midrash Shmuel:

מדרש שמואל (בובר) פרשה א

 ועלה האיש ההוא מעירו: נתעלה האיש בביתו, נתעלה האיש בחצרו, נתעלה בעירו, נתעלה בכל ישראל,  וכל עלויו לא היה אלא מעצמו. מימים ימימה. זה אלקנה שהוא מדריך את ישראל ומעלה אותן לשילה, ולא בדרך שהיה  עולה בשנה זו היה עולה בשנה אחרת אלא וכו’. להשתחות ולזבוח לה’

“And that man ‘went up’ from his city. This man became elevated (alah) in his home, in his courtyard, in his city and in all of Israel. All of his spiritual elevations were due to his own efforts…”

It is significant to note that in the 7th chapter Shmuel leaves his home and travels around the coutnry to judge people, just as his father traveled around to bring Jews to the Mishkan for the Jewish holidays. The merits that bring Shmuel into the world are clearly rooted in the actions of his father. The example of being amongst the people is transmitted to Shmuel and ultimately assists in the transition from the establishment of Judges to Kings. Shmuel is critical to this transition. His exposure to the entre community, over the long term, serves to elevate the entire Jewish nation in preparation for the relocation of power to a king and the transfer of holiness to Jerusalem.

Comments on Parenthood:

The Malbim suggests on the opening verse of Shmuel I (1:1):

ויהי איש אחד: יש הבדל בין כשכתוב ויהי איש [כמו ויהי איש מהר אפרים (שופטים יז, א), ויהי איש לוי (שם יט, א)] ובין כשכתוב ויהי איש אחד, שמורה שהיה מיוחד לאיזה דבר גדול, וכמ”ש ברבה במדרש (במ”ר י, ה) כל מקום שנאמר ויהי איש אחד, גדול היה, ויהי איש אחד מצרעה (שופטים יג, ב), היה מיוחד להולדת שמשון, ופה היה מיוחד להולדת שמואל:

And there was a man: We must distinguish between the use of ויהי איש, which is commonly used towards the conclusion of the book of Shoftim, and ויהי איש אחד which is used to indicate someone dedicated for greatness. Just as indicted in Shoftim (13:2) about a man who was to have Shimshon as his child, and here this special man was to have Shmuel as his child.

It is empowering to take note of the special mission that Elkanah has been charged with. What makes Elkanah unique or great according to the Malbim? What does the Prophet point out his singular, specialness? Only to illustrate the great merit he is to have the child, Shmuel. We work all our lives to leave an impact, to build a family, to perhaps grow ourselves into being someone special. Perhaps Elkanah’s unique greatness is being worthy of having a very special child.

Questions for further study:

How does Elkanah interact with his family and how does that reflect his communal dedication?

Where does Elkanah come from? What is his familial heritage and how would that impact his communal work?

Why did Elkanah go to the Mishkan an extra day? What day would he chose to go besides the Yomim tovim (Jewish holidays)?