Men praying for forgiveness ahead of Rosh Hashana at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Selichot Western Wall

The story of Chana, mother of Samuel the prophet, reminds us that nothing can be taken for granted. So on Rosh Hashana, give your prayers everything you’ve got!

The story of Chana, is closely associated with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and is read on the first day of the two-day holiday.

Chana was barren for many years. She would go every year to the Tabernacle in the Samarian town of Shiloh to pray for a child. The Tabernacle was the “central temple” before the Holy Temple was finally built in Jerusalem.

Her sadness was even more intense because her husband’s other wife, Penina, who was already blessed with seven children, would taunt Chana over her misfortune of being childless.

Finally, Chana’s prayers were answered – on Rosh Hashana! – and she conceived. Nine months later, she gave birth to a boy who later became Samuel the prophet.

The story of Chana is connected to the New Year not only because it was on Rosh Hashana that her prayers were answered. The Talmud notes that in Chana’s prayer for a child, she mentioned God’s name nine times. As such, the central prayer of Rosh Hashana, the Mussaf prayer, contains nine blessings.

Why is it that the lesser-known story of Chana takes center stage on Rosh Hashana?

The answer, it is explained, is that Chana’s prayer contains words of wisdom for managing through life. Take, for example, the passage, “…while the barren woman has borne seven, she that had many children has been bereaved,” referring to the fact that although she was once barren and Penina had seven children, the tables were turned and Chana had seven, while Penina had none. (We are told that with every baby born to Chana, one of Penina’s children died.)

Albeit incredibly tragic, the prayer of Chana teaches us that life is one long up and down. Wealthy people may become poor, and poor people may become rich. It’s the Wheel of Fortune in life.

There is no message more fitting to keep in mind as we stand before God in prayer during the High Holidays, knowing that our fate for the coming year is being decided. Chana’s message must remain with us throughout the High Holiday season: Nothing is a given. Take nothing for granted. Give your prayers everything you’ve got.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

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