I Samuel – Chapter 1

Elkanah's Wives, Chana and Peninah

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

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.

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