By Chana Weisberg
The story begins in the year 2830 when Chana’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, Penina. The childless Chana silently suffers humiliation from her more fortunate rival, who has mothered several children.
Solemnly, Chana 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 Chana.
Chana 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, Chana’s son, Samuel is born. When Samuel is weaned, Chana 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, Kings 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. G‑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 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. Chana, 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. 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, so, too, 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 He 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 Eli accuses Chana 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 Chana, “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 Chana, “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, Chana 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.”
Chana, 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.