Welcoming Our Matriarchs – Hannah

HANNAH – By: Nancy Silverman


My name is Hannah.  Hannah means graciousness:  kindness, warmth, mercy, compassion.  I am the Mother of Jewish Spirituality.

I am one of the two wives of Elkanah, although I was his favorite wife.   He favored me because the Lord had closed my womb.  Penninah was his other wife.  We lived in the town of Ramah.  Elkanah was an honorable and loving man.  Every year my husband gave several portions of his sacrifice to Penninah, but he gave only one portion to me. That was because Peninnah had many children and I had none.  Yes, I was barren.

Penninah taunted me year after year because I was barren.  Yes, I knew that it was a disgrace to be unable to conceive a child, yet why couldn’t she leave me alone?  I felt like I wanted to kill her, but I restrained myself from bringing her harm or taking my sorrow out on anyone else.

My husband Elkanah could not understand why I was so sad, constantly weeping for a son.  He said to me, “Am I not more devoted to you than 10 sons?”

I prayed and prayed to Gd for a son!  If my prayers came true, I promised to dedicate my son to Gd’s service.  I finally did conceive and bore a son, Samuel, who became a prophet to the People of Israel.  I later bore 3 more sons and 2 daughters.

I have been misunderstood in my lifetime…

I was perceived by Eli, the priest, to be a drunkard because he saw my lips move but he heard no sound!  He did not know that I was deep in prayer.  When given a chance to explain, I told him that I was praying to Gd to give me a son.  Eli listened to me and told me that Gd would hear me and that my prayers would be granted.

I was very focused on my intention.  Through my own type of personal prayer I was able to connect with Gd in spite of no formal training in the ways of the Lord, or no personal history of reading prayers.

My experiences and feelings are heartfelt.

When I prayed to the Lord, I prayed from my heart.  My prayers were answered and I bore a son.  I named him Samuel which means, “I asked the Lord for him.” I promised the Lord to dedicate my son to the Lord’s service for the rest of his life.  I brought him to the Lord when he was weaned.  My, how difficult it was for me to take my first born, Samuel, to the sanctuary in Shiloh, where Eli the Priest would train him in service to the Lord.  How hard it was to give Samuel over to Gd’s service in that sanctuary at Shiloh.  However, that was the vow I made to the Lord and so I honored it.  I lent Samuel to the Lord’s service for as long as he would live! Elkanah, my husband, loved me and supported me in my decision to dedicate our first born to Gd’s service.  Once a year, I made a pilgrimage to that sanctuary in Shiloh, to see my beloved son Samuel.  Each year on our pilgrimage to sacrifice to the Lord, I would bring to Samuel a robe that I had made for him.

In return for our loan to the Lord of our first born son Samuel, the Lord granted to Elkanah and me 5 more children to take Samuel’s place, 3 sons and 2 daughters.  Finally I had my own family just as Penninah.

I look at my life within the context of the whole story of the people of Israel

I am the Mother of Jewish Spirituality.  I set an example for the Jewish people to never give up!  My prayers were heartfelt and spontaneous.  I had no formal training in prayer.  I never even made animal sacrifices to the Lord.  Instead, I allowed my emotions to pour out and the Holy of Holies was able to then come into my heart and connect with me.  My prayers of the heart eventually replaced animal sacrifice, as the central act of Jewish worship.  The slaughter of animals is NO substitute for heartfelt prayer!

I know how I want to be remembered

It is possible for a common woman to connect with Gd.  Never say never!  Always strive to meet your goals.  My prayers to Gd were the only woman’s prayer recorded in the Hebrew Bible.  Instead of offering an animal sacrifice, I offered my rage, my tears and my bitterness.  That is how to connect to Gd.

I must tell you that my first born son Samuel became a prophet to the people of Israel.  Samuel later anointed Saul as the first king of Israel.


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