Personal or National?
Channah's second prayer (Shemuel I 2:1-10) follows the birth of her son Shemuel and the fulfillment of her vow to consecrate him to Hashem. It opens with the exultation and exaltation of "עָלַץ לִבִּי בַּי"י רָמָה קַרְנִי בַּי"י", which appear to begin an ode of praise and thanksgiving for Hashem's answering of her personal quest for a son. Surprisingly, though, the remainder of the prayer contains, at most, a single passing reference to the birth of Shemuel.1 Instead, it suddenly veers from this path to battle-related imagery, including enemies ("רָחַב פִּי עַל אוֹיְבַי"), salvation ("שָׂמַחְתִּי בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ"), and warriors ("קֶשֶׁת גִּבֹּרִים חַתִּים וְנִכְשָׁלִים אָזְרוּ חָיִל"). The reader is thus left to wonder: who is this enemy and from whom or what is Channah being rescued?
The conclusion of the song is even more puzzling, as there Channah prays that Hashem give strength to "His king" and "anointed one" ("וְיִתֶּן עֹז לְמַלְכּוֹ וְיָרֵם קֶרֶן מְשִׁיחוֹ"), despite there being no monarchy at this point in Israelite history. About which king is Channah praying?2 Moreover, why would she mention a king in a personal prayer of thanksgiving? All of this diversity of topics and images makes the reader wonder if perhaps more lurks beneath the surface of Channah's words than was originally anticipated.
"וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל" – Petition or Thanksgiving?
The word "וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל" appears twice within the brief Channah pericope of the first two chapters of Shemuel I. In its first occurrence, "וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל עַל י"י וּבָכֹה תִבְכֶּה" (Shemuel 1:10), it appears to clearly describe Channah's beseeching of Hashem to relieve her barrenness and bestow upon her a son. Indeed, virtually every single Biblical instance of all of the various forms of the verb להתפלל similarly refers to petitionary prayer.3 One of the lone possible exceptions4 is our second "וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל" which introduces Channah's second prayer (in Chapter 2 of Shemuel). Is this another petition, and if so, what additional request is Channah making? Or, might this be an anomalous Biblical usage in which the prayer is one of praise or thanksgiving which serves to close the circle opened by Channah's initial prayer? In other words, is this a petitionary "prayer" or a "song"?
Several other lines of Channah's prayer raise questions as well:
- "אַל תַּרְבּוּ תְדַבְּרוּ גְּבֹהָה גְבֹהָה" – To whom are these words addressed? To what "high talk" is Channah referring and trying to counter?
- Life reversals – The heart of Channah's oration lists a series of changes in fortune, emphasizing how both the elite can fall and the downtrodden can rise. What is Channah's goal in bringing all these examples? Is she trying to comfort the despondent, rattle the overconfident, or both?
- "...י"י יֵחַתּוּ מְרִיבָיו עָלָיו בַּשָּׁמַיִם יַרְעֵם" – Is Hashem the object of this sentence or simply the address of the request? If the former, why is Channah praying for the defeat of Hashem's enemies? If the latter, about whose enemies is she speaking? Either way, how is this sentence connected to the rest of the prayer?