Rosh Hashana: Struggle and Success

September 8, 2022

“Chanah’s prayer” is a fascinating biblical story that reflects the inner life and challenges of us all, and is especially relevant on the most important day of all - Rosh Hashanah.

A. Chanah’s Prayer

Elkanah would take his entire family with him to the holy temple for the holidays. En-route he would sweep the masses along with him. Chanah, one of his wives, was saddened that she had no children. Peninah, his other wife, taunts Chanah about it and pains her. In her bitterness, Chanah approaches the tabernacle and pleads with G-d for offspring which she, in turn, promises to raise holy for G-d. (source 1).

B. A Charitable Reading

Despite Peninah’s portrayal in this story as mean, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Levi attempts to give a charitable interpretation of her conduct, asserting that – her intentions were positive. (Source 2).

G-d takes pride before the Satan in Job’s righteousness, but The Satan passes negative judgment on Job and attempts to undo his faith. He tries him with very grave challenges (Source 3). Can we find the positive motive for his behavior?

C. The inner dimension 

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that Peninah, alludes to the “opposing side” (i.e. the unholy), while Chanah refers to kedusha (the holy side). (Source 4). The Rebbe explains that the Ba’al Shem Tov deduced this from the very comparison the Talmud makes between Peninah and the Satan. Based on this, the deeper meaning of the words “Peninah bore children while Chanah had no children” is a penetrating cry: How can it be that when dealing with worldly matters – “there are children” to carry them out, but Chanah – spirituality – “has no children”?

In another talk, the Rebbe explained how the name Chanah comes from the Hebrew word chen (grace, or favor), representing behavior wherein one finds favor in the eyes of G-d, while the name Peninah – Hebrew for “pearl” – is symbolic of worldly endeavors. Chanah complains that she has no “children” – no impact in this world. When Elkanah attempts to comfort her saying that “I am better for you than ten sons,” that it is sufficient that she herself remains righteous, Chanah refuses to accept this, and beseeches G-d for offspring to be able to shine more holiness in this world.

In order to effect mystical change, practical action is necessary. In order to develop the spiritual service of Chanah to influence the world for the better, one must first bear physical children.

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