Sunday, October 28, 2012


I haven't concluded the second chapter of Shmuel with my kids yet, but I noticed something last class that I am planning to point out to them.

In Chapter 1, we learn about Chana's nemesis, Peninah. Our text reads:

ו  וְכִעֲסַתָּה צָרָתָהּ גַּם-כַּעַס, בַּעֲבוּר הַרְּעִמָהּ:  כִּי-סָגַר יְהוָה, בְּעַד רַחְמָהּ.6 And her rival vexed her sore, to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.

I do not think it is a coincidence that when it comes to the prophecy about what will happen to Eli's family, the same word appears:

לב  וְהִבַּטְתָּ צַר מָעוֹן, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֵיטִיב אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה זָקֵן בְּבֵיתְךָ, כָּל-הַיָּמִים.32 And thou shalt behold a rival in My habitation, in all the good which shall be done to Israel; and there shall not be an old man in thy house for ever.

Here's what's fascinating: our conventional reading of the doom of Eli and his sons suggests that Eli is responsible for his sons wayward behavior. And indeed, that may well be true. But the similarity of language attests to another possibility- Eli is being punished for his lack of compassion for Chana. Chana was a woman of broken spirit, in part because she did not have a child, but in greater part due to the cruelty of Peninah. Eli did not recognize this and instead saw her as a drunkard. Now, Eli and his family will experience what Chana has already experienced- the pain of having a rival installed in what should be his proper place. Another Kohen will serve God; he will be replaced. Thus he will learn what the pain that Chana experienced was like.

Given this reading, Chana's prayer-poem is particularly applicable here. As she says:
  יְהוָה, מוֹרִישׁ וּמַעֲשִׁיר; מַשְׁפִּיל, אַף-מְרוֹמֵם

God has raised her up and set her above her rival; now, He shall bring Eli low and let him experience the pain there is in watching a rival serve.

1 comment:

Questioning said...

I'm not an expert like you, but I have to question your conclusion.

It seems that Eli was remorseful for mistakenly (but understandably) accusing Chana of drunkenness.
Indeed it was his blessing that facilitated Hashem's accepting Chana's prayer and her giving birth to Shmuel.

From Chazal it seems that Chana was one of the first, or the very first, to "pioneer" the custom of praying quietly. So how was Eli supposed to know she's praying?

However Chazal learns that when one mistakenly accuses another, the accuser has an obligation to bless the innocently accused. Which Eli did, with excellent results, I might add.