Chana Essay, Research Paper
When G-d first told Moshe to prepare the Jews to receive the Torah, He commanded him, “This is what you shall say to the House of Yaakov and speak to the Children of Israel.” (Shemot 19:3).
Our Sages explain that “the House of Yaakov” refers to Jewish women, and “the Children of Israel” to the men. G-d told Moshe to approach the women first. This order implies a sense of priority: for the Torah to be perpetuated among the Jewish people, precedence must be given to Jewish women.
Three fundamental mitzvot are associated with Jewish women:
1. Challah – the separation of a portion of the dough being prepared for baking, and by extension, the preparation of kosher food in its entirety.
2. Niddah – the observance of Taharat HaMishpacha, the Torah’s guidelines for maintaining the purity of marital life.
3. Hadlakat HaNer – the lighting of candles to welcome the Shabbat and festivals into our homes.
The name Chanah serves as an acronym for the Hebrew names of these three mitzvot, for the prophetess Chanah serves as a paradigm for Jewish women. The Tanach (Shmuel I, Ch. 1-2) underscores her unique contributions as a wife and as a mother, and accentuates her activities beyond her household through which she inspired the Jewish people as a whole.
These three mitzvot lead to precisely the same goals: They help a woman to weave the physical and spiritual fabric of her home, to forge a link to posterity, and to transform her home into a lantern that will illuminate its environment.
Kashrut: You Are What You Eat
The observance of the commandment of Challah (and, by extension, maintaining a kosher diet) shows the uniqueness of the Torah lifestyle. Even eating, drinking, and other physical activities, are to be carried out in a manner which expresses the connection we share with G-d.
“How does a woman help a man?” – and they answer with rhetorical questions: “If a man brings home wheat does he chew it? If [he brings home] flax does he wear it? If so, does she not bring light to his eyes and put him on his feet?”
Talmud, Yevamot 63a
On the most obvious level, a woman is responsible for the physical health and well-being of those who depend on her judgment. Beyond that, since the food one eats is quite literally transformed into one’s own flesh and blood, there is a responsibility for the effects of this food on the family’s tendencies and character traits.
Though these concepts are also relevant to men, the responsibility in this area is primarily a woman’s. The choices as to her household’s diet are mainly hers.
Family Purity: Building Eternity
The inextricable bond between material and spiritual is further tightened by the next of the three mitzvot – observance of the laws of Niddah, and adherence to the Torah’s directives concerning family life.
The Torah’s guidelines enhance the relationship between a woman and her husband and endow it with purity. Above all, these guidelines nurture eternity, since they prepare for the conception of children in holiness.
The newborn body which is to host a Jewish soul for a lifetime needs to be conceived according to the principles that govern family purity, Taharat HaMishpacha.
This mitzvah, too, is also relevant to men. Indeed, the very name “family purity” is a reminder that this mitzvah affects the entire family.
Nevertheless, the responsibility for its observance centers on women. Jewish Law grants a woman unique authority to define the state of ritual purity that determines the periodic resumption of relations.
Shabbat Candles: Generating Light
One of the special gifts of women is – generating light. The spiritual light generated by a woman’s Shabbat candles illuminates the home, not only on Shabbat, but also during the weekdays that follow.
In this vein, the Midrash (Berei*censored* Rabbah and Rashi commenting on Berei*censored* 24:67) tells us that the Shabbat lamps kindled by Sarah Imeinu, our matriarch Sarah, continued to burn for an entire week. Moreover, this miracle repeated itself whenever her daughter-in- law, Rivkah Imeinu, lit candles. And, less visibly, the same miracle occurs whenever a Jewish woman or girl lights her Shabbat candles.
It will be noted that Rivkah Imeinu lit her candles before marriage. From her example we see what a three-year-old Jewish girl can do: she can kindle lamps which will radiate light for an entire week. Every little Jewish girl who is old enough to appreciate the significance of what she is doing can mirror that light – by lighting candles every Friday, and before every festival.
The more candles lit around the world, the more light. For even “a little light dispels a great deal of darkness.”
Though this commandment, too, obligates men as well as women, it has been entrusted to those in whose hands its observance is most powerful. To refer back to the Midrash mentioned above: Although Abraham lit Shabbat candles after Sarah’s death, they did not burn throughout the week. That enduring achievement was the prerogative of Sarah, representing all Jewish women, and of Rivkah, representing all Jewish girls.
These sources also allude to the other two mitzvot mentioned above. For in the case of both Sarah and Rivkah, “there was always a blessing in the dough”, an allusion to the mitzvah of Challah. And “a cloud hovered over the tent”, an allusion to Taharat HaMishpachah, for the cloud distinguished this dwelling’s holiness.
We have G-d’s longstanding promise: “If you cherish the lights of Shabbat, I will show you the lights of Zion.” (Yalkut Shimoni). “Shabbat is a foretaste of the Day which is entirely Shabbat, and repose for life everlasting, that is, the World to Come. ” (Tamid 7:4). Kindling Shabbat candles anticipates and precipitates the enlightenment of that future era.
Similarly, the purifying waters of Taharat HaMishpacha clear a path for the Redemption. For, as our Sages explain, “the coming of the Redemption is dependent on the birth of more and more Jewish children.” (Talmud, Yevamot 62b). In that age, moreover, we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecies, “I will sprinkle upon you purifying waters and you will become pure,” (Yechezkel 36:25) and “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the earth.” (Zechariah 13:2)
The mitzvah of kosher food is also connected with the era of which it is written, “I will destroy dangerous animals within the land.” (Vayikra 26:6). Moreover, “G-d will prepare a feast for the righteous, and their partaking of it will depend on newly-revealed insights into the laws of kashrut.” (Vayikra Rabbah 13:3)
Our Sages teach that “In the merit of righteous women, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt.” (Talmud, Sotah 11b). In the Era of the Redemption, “A woman of valor [will be] the crown of her husband.” (Mishlei 12:4 and Yirmeyahu 31:21). These concepts have been reflected throughout Jewish history.
Dear Chanie, There is an excellent book that will help you greatly in your study of the Channas in the Tanach. Read the Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities by Ishai Chasidah (published by Shaar Press). This is book is a collection of Midrashim and Aggadta organized by Biblical personality. You can get it at any Jewish bookstore or at www.artscroll.com. As for Rebetzin Channa, the mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I am sure you will find a plethora of information on one of their sites. Try www.chabad.org and www.chabadonline.org for example. You also asked for information regarding the importance of names. The name Chana means “graceful.” This word is closely associated with the ability to create beautiful prayers. The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Nachman, said that when one has Chen (grace) God listens to all that person says. (Likeuti Moharan #2) The Bible specifically points out the close relationship that she had with G-d and how her prayers were answered. She and the things she accomplished in her lifetime were so righteous that the Sages, when compiling the laws of prayer, taught that when one prays they should pray in the same manner as Chanah. The Sages say that a parent receive one-sixtieth of prophecy when picking a name (see Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim 629). The Torah emphasizes how parents took great care in picking the names of their children. For example, Leah chose to call her fourth son Judah (in Hebrew, Yehudah). This name comes from the same root as the word “thanks.” The letters can also be rearranged to spell out the holy Name of G-d. The significance is that Leah wanted to particularly express her “thanks to G-d.” (Genesis 29:35) In Hebrew, a name is not merely a convenient conglomeration of letters. Really, the name of something reveals its essential characteristic. The Midrash (Genesis Raba 17:4) tells us that the first man, Adam, looked into the essence of every animal and named it accordingly. The donkey, for example, is characterized by carrying heavy, physical burdens. So in Hebrew, the donkey is named CHAMOR – from the same root as CHOMER, which means physicality. The donkey (chamor) typifies physicality (chomer). Contrast this with English, where the word “donkey” doesn’t reveal much about the essence of a donkey! The sources for the idea that names have an effect upon a person’s life comes from the Talmud. The first source we will take a look at involves the word SHAMOT which means DESOLATION and SH’MOT (which is basically the same word with a missing vowel) which means NAMES. Let’s take a look. The Talmud asks, “What verse in the Bible teaches us that a name of a person has an
Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Jose went to collect their purses from the innkeeper, he denied ever receiving them. Rabbi Meir said to his two friends, “Why don’t you pay attention to people’s names like I do?” They responded, “Why didn’t you tell us not to trust him?!” Rabbi Meir replied, “Because I only had a suspicion that he was evil. But how could I be sure?!” As the Rabbis talked with Kidor they noticed that he had lentils on his moustache. Immediately after leaving the innkeeper, they went to his wife and said, “Your husband wants you to give us our purses.” “How shall I know you are telling the truth?” she said. “Because he gave us a sign to give you.” “What is the sign?” she asked. “The sign is,” said the Rabbis, “that he had lentils for lunch.” At that, she returned their purses to them and the Rabbis left. When the innkeeper came home and found out his wife gave away the purses, he got upset and killed her. (Talmud – Yoma 83b) Although in the above story Kidor showed that he was really evil (from the fact that he stole the purses and killed his wife), in truth one can never really know what a person is like from their name. This is evident from the fact that even the great Sage Rabbi Meir refrained from telling his friends that Kidor was evil upon hearing his name alone, as he declared later ” I only had a suspicion that he was evil. But how could I be sure?!” Nevertheless, he did take precautions to save himself from any loss. A name, however, even if it doesn’t reveal a person’s essence, should serve another purpose: to remind them about something important. In other words, if a person’s name is Tuvia (which translates as the “goodness of G-d) he is reminded every time he hears his name of the great goodness that G-d bestows upon the world. With blessings