Dora Bas Rivka Silver O'H
Elkanah's Wives, Chana and Peninah
There was a man named Elkanah, who was Levite from Mt. Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives; Chana (Hannah) had no children, but Penina did. When Elkanah would bring a sacrifice, he would always give Chana an extra portion, but it was small consolation. Peninah would make snide comments that only made Chana feel worse.
Chana was at the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh and she prayed to Hashem from the pain in her soul. She said that if Hashem gave her a son, he would be dedicated to Hashem all his life as a Nazirite (like Samson). Eli, the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) saw Chana praying. She was crying and moving her lips, but not making any sounds, so he thought she was drunk. Chana disabused him of this notion, so he blessed her that G-d should grant her prayer.
Soon after, Chana conceived and had a son, whom they named Shmuel (Samuel), meaning "requested from G-d." When the child was weaned, she brought him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh and reminded Eli of what had transpired, as well as that the child was dedicated to the service of G-d.
This chapter, which is read as the Haftarah on the first day of Rosh Hashana, is well known and full of meaningful lessons. We'll share just one here: Peninah was a righteous woman, who intentionally provoked the childless Chana in order to motivate her to prayer. Even though it worked, Peninah was still punished severely for her insensitive behavior. Pure motivations do not excuse cruel means.
A short Insight into I Samuel, Chapter 1As we begin Sefer Shmuel, we learn an important lesson about mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, interpersonal mitzvos. After we learn that Elkanah had two wives, Penina who had children and Chana who did not have any children, we find that Elkanah had a special love for Chana.
However, at first glance it seems that Penina did not treat Chana with the utmost of respect. Verse six, as understood by Metzudas Dovid, reveals, “Her rival (Penina) provoked her (Chana) again and again 'ba'avur ha'r'ima' - 'in order to irritate her', for Hashem had closed her womb.”
However, Rashi brings a second explanation. “Our Rabbis say that 'ba'avur ha'r'ima' means 'in order to cry out in prayer.'”
According to our Rabbis, Penina's intention was purely l'sheim shamayim, for the sake of heaven. By irritating Chana, Penina hoped to prompt Chana into prayer – more fervent tefilla - that might result in a child.
Nonetheless, Chazal teach us that as a result of the pain that Penina caused Chana, Penina lost her children.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 31, 24) explains that with regard to interpersonal sins good intentions do not matter - even if the intent was l'sheim shamayim. As we see that Penina, despite her pure intentions, was punished with the deaths of all of her children for the hurt that she caused Penina.
Rabbi Shmulevitz emphasizes that undoubtedly a righteous women like Penina found it very difficult to put Chana through this agony. Without question, he adds, she was only trying to prompt Chana to dig deeper in her prayers to elicit a child from Hashem. Nonetheless, the punishment for hurting another human being is great. Just like someone who sticks his hand into a oven will be burned, so too, a person who causes pain to another must face the consequences.
Hashem views us as His children. If His child is being bullied, Hashem will not stand by idly.