Chana and the Power of Prayer
Every Rosh Hashana we read the story of Chana, one of Elkanah’s, a Levite nobleman, two wives. She was childless, unlike his other wife Peninah, who did not hesitate to humiliate her around this misfortune. Chana suffered many invalidations, even from her well-meaning husband, who try to pacify her agony with the logic that his devotion was greater than the devotion of ten sons. Yet, she did not give up on the prayer in heart and on her lips.
During one of the family’s tri-annual pilgrimages to Shiloh, the holy city in which Eli, the high Priest resided, she walked into the sanctuary and beseeched G-d for a son. She vowed that if G-d were to grant her a son she would consecrate his whole life to G-d. Though no sound emerged from her lips, she prayed with her whole body and soul — her lips moving, echoing the silent words of her ancestral mother, Rachel, her body swaying, a living breathing vessel for prayer.
Eli, the Priest, saw her and misinterpreted her for being drunk. He judged her harshly, at first, and rebuked her for entering the sanctuary in a state of drunkenness. To which she replied with dignity:
“No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before G‑d."
Eli realized his mistake, and recognized the piety and grief, which had moved this woman, and said to her, "Go in peace, and the G‑d of Israel grant thee thy petition that you have asked of Him."
Chana thanked him graciously and went away with a sense of calm, surrender, and even elation in her heart, knowing with certainty that her prayers would be granted.
We can learn so much about the essence of prayer from this passage.
First, Chana’s ability to hold onto her truth and connection to G-d, even in the face of indignities, and painful invalidation.
Second, her action — faith in G-d does not imply inaction — she not only asked but she beseeched, and she bargained — she became an active participant in her request, not a passive believer.
Third — her ability to connect directly to G-d — though she was in a sanctuary, she did not rely on the prayers of others, or the High Priest, to make her request. She dialogued directly with G-d and truly lost herself in her prayer. Her prayer was not ego driven, or intellectual, but made with a pureness of the soul - like the visceral sound of the shofar we blast.
Prayer is difficult. For many reasons. It can be challenging to drop down into the essence of true prayer - of true connection with a higher source. Our minds are constantly flooded with distractions, perhaps we are thinking about what we still need to cook for the lunch we are hosting after services, or we notice someone we haven’t seen sitting across the aisle from us in synagogue, or our brain wanders to something that has been stressing us about work, or we wonder what our children are doing… we all are living with monkey brains, and even if you find yourself without your technological devices, it can be so challenging to really tap into a higher version of yourself in synagogue, to connect with the liturgy, to pray.
While we don't have any magic bullets, we can say that Chana gives us a model of greatness when it comes to prayer. Here are three ways we can strive for more meaningful prayer (as per Chana) this high holiday season (and beyond)...
- Though it is tempting to pray for so many things — choose one (BIG) thing that you feel is the central need in your /your family’s life and use that as your centerpiece, and the anchor to keep coming back to with your intention and prayers.
- As Chana bargains with G-d by committing her future son’s life to service, we can all throw some stakes and skin into our prayers — use your desire for this one thing as a way to motivate you towards some kind or good deed that you will take on. We all need motivation towards action and this can help positively motivate towards giving more charity, or volunteering somewhere, or maybe making time to learn Torah, or opening up your home for a good cause or anything that will channel more love and kindness into the world.
- Get Vulnerable - Chana doesn’t care that she might be misconceived as being drunk — she is just in the moment, letting her prayer out with every cell of her being. This is a hard state to sustain but perhaps we can take a few minutes during one of our favorite parts of the liturgy, to close our eyes, tune out the world, and truly try and connect with our creator.
Wishing you all a K’Tiva V’Chatima Tovah, and a meaningful and sweet New Year. May all our prayers be answered for the good!
Daniella & Maya