By Rebbetzen Nechama Davis
In the haftarah that is read on the first day of Rosh Hashana, from the start of the Book of Shmuel (Samuel), we learn of how Channah prays for a child. She has been unable to have children for many years, while her husband Elkanah’s other wife, Peninah, has become a mother many times over.
Peninah taunts her about this, which causes Channah such deep distress that she stops eating her portion of the annual festive offerings. Channah’s beloved Elkanah, attempts to comfort her: “Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
Undeterred, Channah now turns to God with a depth, intensity and passion in her prayer that reflect not only her burning desire to have a child but also her great love for God. Within a year she is blessed with that much-longed-for child. And as she had vowed before his birth, once she has weaned him, she “loans” him to God, taking the young Shmuel (Samuel) to the Kohen, Eli, in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shilo (Shmuel I 1:20-21).
Many women could identify with Channah. Who would not be distraught at being married for years without being able to conceive? Who would not be distressed by the torments of ‘the other wife’? And who would not be absolutely overjoyed to finally have a beautiful, healthy little boy?
However, something then happens which seems harder to relate to. Channah keeps the promise she made to God when she so passionately begged Him to send her a child – she gives him up! She takes him to serve in the Mishkan, to serve God and to serve the nation.
So much about being a mother is natural, such as the powerful maternal instinct which drives us to want to have children. And even when we discover how demanding a child really is, we often want to go on to have more children, to build a bigger family. To voluntarily give up one’s child seems the most counter-intuitive thing a loving mother would ever do. Yet Channah does it. Do we still do that today?
Any parent who has ever waved their son or daughter goodbye as they set off for a year or more to study in yeshiva or seminary, is following in the footsteps of Channah. Their fervent hope is that their child will be inspired to live a life dedicated to the service of God. And any parent who has lived with their child serving in the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) feels just as strongly. They hope and pray that their own sacrifice (and sleepless nights) will mean that their child will be protecting and contributing to the lives of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), in the Land of Israel and elsewhere.
Channah giving over her young son, Shmuel, is a powerful example for us as Jewish parents all these millennia later. Although we love our children deeply, and want to keep them close to us, we also love God. And so we compromise our proximity to our children, hopefully for only a limited time, to give them the opportunity to become true and strong Avdei Hashem, people who serve God and His people.