The haftarah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah tells the story of Hannah, a childless woman who turns to God in desperate and intense personal prayer. Since Hannah’s story highlights the power of prayer, it is an appropriate selection for a day when Jews traditionally spend a good portion of their time in prayer at synagogue.
The Torah reading for this day of Rosh Hashanah opens with the words, “And the Lord took note of Sarah” (Genesis 21:10), and describes the birth of Isaac–signifying the end of Sarah’s long period of barrenness. Similarly, in the haftarah, God brings an end to Hannah’s barrenness. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11a), Rosh Hashanah is the day of remembrance, and the most classic example of God “remembering” humanity occurs when a woman’s infertility ends.
The Rosh Hashanah liturgy declares: Hayom harat olam–today is the day of the world’s creation. Each time a child is born, the miracle of creation is repeated.
This English translation is reprinted with permission from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures published by the Jewish Publication Society. In the Reform tradition, this haftarah is read through verse 1:28.
1:1. There was a man from Ramathaim of the Zuphites, in the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
1:2. He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.
1:3. This man used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to the LORD of Hosts at Shiloh. Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD there.
1:4. One such day, Elkanah offered a sacrifice. He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters;
1:5. but to Hannah he would give one portion only-though Hannah was his favorite-for the LORD had closed her womb.
1:6. Moreover, her rival, to make her miserable, would taunt her that the LORD had closed her womb.
1:7. This happened year after year: Every time she went up to the House of the LORD, the other would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat.
1:8. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why are you crying and why aren’t you eating? Why are you so sad? Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?"
1:9. After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose. -The priest Eli was sitting on the seat near the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. –
1:10. In her wretchedness, she prayed to the LORD, weeping all the while.
1:11. And she made this vow: "O LORD of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the LORD for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head."
1:12. As she kept on praying before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth.
1:13. Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk.
1:14. Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? "’Sober up!".
1:15. And Hannah replied, "Oh no, my lord! I am a very unhappy woman. 1 have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but 1 have been pouring out my heart to the LORD.
1:16. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; 1 have only been speaking all this time out of my great anguish and distress."
1:17. "Then go in peace," said Eli, "and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him."
1:18. She answered, "You are most kind to your handmaid." So the woman left, and she ate, and was no longer downcast.
1:19. Early next morning they bowed low before the LORD, and they went back home to Ramah.
1:20 Elkanah knew his wife Hannah and the LORD remembered her.
Hannah conceived, and at the turn of the year bore a son. She named him Samuel, meaning, "I asked the LORD for him."
1:21 And when the man Elkanah and all his household were going up to offer to the LORD the annual sacrifice and his votive sacrifice,
1:22 Hannah did not go up. She said to her husband, "When the child is weaned, I will bring him. For when he has appeared before the LORD, he must remain there for good."
1:23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do as you think best. Stay home until you have weaned him. May the LORD fulfill His word.” So the woman stayed home and nursed her son until she weaned him.
1:24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a jar of wine. And though the boy was still very young, she brought him to the House of the LORD at Shiloh.
1:25 After slaughtering the bull, they brought the boy to Eli.
1:26 She said, "Please, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you and prayed to the LORD.
1:27 It was this boy I prayed for; and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him.
1:28 I, in turn, hereby lend him to the LORD. For as long as he lives he is lent to the LORD." And they bowed low there before the LORD.
2:1 And Hannah prayed:
My heart exults in the LORD;
Ihave triumphed through the LORD.
I gloat over my enemies;
I rejoice in Your deliverance.
2:2 There is no holy one like the LORD,
Truly, there is none beside You;
There is no rock like our God.
2:3 Talk no more with lofty pride,
Let no arrogance cross your lips!
For the LORD is an all-knowing God;
By Him actions are measured.
2:4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
And the faltering are girded with strength.
2:5 Men once sated must hire out for bread;
Men once hungry hunger no more.
While the barren woman bears seven,
The mother of many is forlorn.
2:6 The LORD deals death and gives life,
Casts down into Sheol and raises up.
2:7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
He casts down, He also lifts high.
2:8 He raises the poor from the dust,
Lifts up the needy from the dunghill,
Setting them with nobles,
Granting them seats of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S;
He has set the world upon them.
2:9 He guards the steps of His faithful,
But the wicked perish in darkness-
For not by strength shall man prevail.
2:10 The foes of the LORD shall be shattered;
He will thunder against them in the heavens.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give power to His king,
And triumph to His anointed one.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.