After moving to Israel I usually made annual visits to my parents. These visits invariably included a cleaning out of various drawers and closets since my parents were “thinking about moving into assisted living”. That move never materialized. However their insistence that I sort through my left-behind belongings granted me some very interesting journeys down memory lane.
On one of my forays I found a box of old school papers. Among them was a report I had written while in junior high for my Sunday school class. I found the subject, Samuel, the prophet, most intriguing, but the content was decidedly lacking. There was only one source, the bible. I had merely rewritten a condensed narrative of Shmuel Alef, the first book of Samuel. Not only were there no references from the oral Torah, there was barely any mention of Chana, Shmuel’s mother, one of the seven women prophets mentioned in the Gemmorah.It has been my privilege to learn Shmuel Alef several times since then from talented teachers. Chana shares her husband, Elkana, with his second wife, Pnina. The second wife is blessed with a number of children and taunts Chana for her barrenness. This sets the stage for the family’s visit to Shilo, the capital of biblical Israel and the home of the Mishkan, the forerunner of the Holy Temple that would stand in Jerusalem. Chana approaches the Holy of Holies, weeps, and prays for a child. Eli, the Cohen, sees her, assumes she is drunk, and chastises her. She refutes his criticism and tells him she has poured out her soul before G-d. Eli blesses her that her prayers should be answered. Chana does indeed become pregnant and gives birth to Shmuel. Once he is weaned she brings him to Shilo to serve the Almighty. He becomes a prophet and one of the most important leaders of the Jewish people.
There are so many fascinating commentaries on Chana’s story. One of my favorites is why Chana named her son Shmuel. At that time, as today, the Jewish people were in dire need of a good, strong leader. A prophecy had been made that a leader would be born and his name would be Shmuel, meaning requested from HaShem. So many women of that time were naming their sons Shmuel. When Chana went to the Holy of Holies to pray for a son, she was not just praying to have a child to compete with Pnina. Rather she was praying for a child who could help the Jewish people. She was certain that she had the ability to raise such a child. And she was right.
The seven women prophets are mentioned by name in the Gemmorah because they have a message for all generations. Chana’s message is the importance of personal prayer. We read her story on the first day of Rosh Hashanah every year. I still get a thrill when I hear the third verse: And that man would go up from his city from appointed time to appointed time to prostate and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts in Shilo and there the two sons of Eli, Hofni and Phinchas served HaShem.
I find it amazing that of all the topics I could have picked for my Sunday school research paper I picked Samuel. Who would have guessed that I would have ended up living in Shilo twenty years later? Who would have dreamed that I would, along with many others, name one of my children Shmuel? Obviously there must have something about the prophet Samuel that spoke to me then and helped guide my journey to where I am today.
Shmuel Alef: The first book of Samuel