FIRST DAY OF ROSH HASHANAH
INTRODUCTION TO THE HAFTARAH READING
(I Samuel 1:1-2:10)
Last weekend was the US Open’s Women’s Tennis Final, and it pitted perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, Serena Williams, against a rising star, Naomi Osaka. Osaka won a stunning upset, but unfortunately, it was not her victory that dominated the headlines. Rather, it was Serena’s clash with the referee and the controversial way that he penalized her. Williams felt that she was treated differently than her male peers, who loudly express their frustration with the referees without being penalized. Both during and after the match, she continued to advocate for herself. Following her loss, she said:
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and women’s equality….I’m going to continue to fight for women…The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person, that has emotions and that wants to express themself and wants to be a strong woman and they’re going to be allowed to do it because of today, maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
When I heard those words, I immediately thought of Hannah, who went to the Temple at Shiloh, and prayed to the Eternal, while weeping and crying. Sitting upon a throne in the Temple, Eli the priest, saw her lips moving, but could not hear her voice. He chastised her: “How long will you persist in drunkenness? Put away your wine – get rid of it.”
Another man sitting high upon a chair, another woman misunderstood.
Hannah and Eli quickly resolved their misunderstanding, but Serena’s words still echoed in my head. “The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person, that has emotions and that wants to express themself …and they’re going to be allowed to do it because of today.”
If Hannah had the ability to see into the future, she might have added, “In fact, The Great Sages will revolutionize prayer based on what I did today. Generations of men, women, and children, will know how to pray because of what I went through today.” And she would have been right. So much of the way that we pray today was shaped by the Rabbis understanding of Hannah’s prayer. Her willingness to pray with all of her emotion, her lack of shame for being her true self, and her willingness to speak out against those in power who would judge her without understanding, continue to have a profound impact today. May those who continue to advocate for respect and equality be heard and may their example break new ground for those that follow.