Role Models - Berakhot 31
The most detailed role-model employed in today’s page is Hannah, the woman who in I Samuel 1 is the first person in the Bible to pray to God – she asks for a son. As we saw in Berakhot 20, women are exempt from reciting the Shema but ARE required to recite the Amida, which the Talmud refers to as simply “THE prayer – Tefillah”. From Hannah’s narrative, they “learn” (or confirm) the importance of internal focus, to mouth the prayer and not say it aloud, to not pray if drunk (as a priest accuses Hannah), to correct one’s fellow if they err (as the priest does), to defend yourself if wrongly accused (as Hannah does), and to apologize and even bless someone erroneously accused (as does the priest).
The best side of Hannah in this passage, in addition to the use of a woman as a role model for all, is the cleverness the Rabbis give her in their midrash (creative retelling) of the story. If God will not grant her request, Hannah threatens to get herself falsely accused of adultery. Why? Because the end of the Torah-prescribed (Numbers 5) ritual for such situations promises pregnancy to a woman falsely accused! However, in the very next teaching we are reminded of the problematic role of women in Talmudic Judaism – Hannah reminds God that she hasn’t broken any of the rules that cause women to die in childbirth: menstrual purity, bread offerings, and Shabbat candlelighting. As if a family who had lost a mother in childbirth would blame her for their tragedy. . .
Rabbi Adam Chalom