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Hannah Raises Her Voice

Learn how Hannah attempted to change her life by calling on God for help, and consider the power of asking for what you need or want in your own life.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Hannah’s power comes through her vulnerability: not through pretending to be brave, but rather through openly acknowledging her own challenges and suffering.
  • We can always attempt to make changes in our lives on our own, but sometimes asking for what we need is the most powerful tool we have.
  • Creating art about women in Torah continues the millennia-old tradition of interpretation, while bringing female characters to the center of the process.

Essential Questions

  • Why is Hannah’s story important?
  • How can Hannah’s story help us with moments in our lives when we want something that it seems we can’t have?
  • How does Alicia’s song contribute to our understanding of Hannah’s story?

Notes to Teacher

We encourage you to make this curriculum your own. For instance, if there isn’t time during your class period to have students sketch out their own creative interpretations, you can either leave this part out or treat it as an extension activity.

We also encourage you to include as much hevruta (partner) study as possible. If you are new to hevruta study, you can think of it as discussion between two partners who can help each other learn by challenging each other’s first impressions. Breaking the group into pairs and having them read texts out loud, rather than silently, is an essential part of hevruta study.

Lastly, when studying the Torah text, we find it helpful to have students identify every problem, difficulty, or moment of confusion they can find in the text, as if they were on a scavenger hunt. This opens up the door to midrash, the Jewish tradition of creative Torah interpretation, which imagines answers to those questions.

Introductory Essay(s)

“Marble Floor”: Explanation of a Musical Midrash

by Alicia Jo Rabins

Growing up, I knew very little about Jewish texts, and I assumed women in Torah would be powerless creatures, trapped in an ancient, patriarchal world with few opportunities to change their lives.

I did have a bat mitzvah at 13, but my real acquaintance with Torah began during college, when a chance encounter led me to study Jewish texts for the first time. This eventually led me to a progressive yeshiva in Jerusalem, where I learned Biblical Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic, and began to read the stories of the Torah with deep attention. Granted, I found plenty of ancient patriarchal traditions, but at the same time, I was shocked and delighted to find right beside them (or intertwined with them) stories of strong, brave, active women. Women who spoke up, who took bold risks and were rewarded. Women like Hannah.

Hannah’s strength is even more powerful because it
 lies precisely in her vulnerability. Her power comes not through pretending to be brave, but rather through fully inhabiting her difficult reality. She speaks openly about 
her sorrow and her longing, and in the end, it is her brave words that bring about what she most desires. She offers a model for how to negotiate the balance between our public and private selves, between the face we show the world, and the innermost longings of our secret hearts.

I also love Hannah’s relationship to God, not as a distant force beyond her reckoning, but as an intimate Presence. God is sensitive enough to hear Hannah when she whispers, yet powerful enough to withstand the full force of her demands. The chorus of “Marble Floor” includes a nod to another model of Jewish prayer: a Jewish folk tale about a little boy standing alone in the back of a synagogue while a great rabbi leads prayers up front. The boy doesn’t know the traditional prayers, so he simply recites the Hebrew alphabet (which I translated into “A, B, C” in my song.) According to the story, God responds not to the rabbi’s prayers, but to the boy’s. His heartfelt intention makes that whispered alphabet more powerful than the practiced chanting of the prayer leaders at the front of the congregation. I thought of that story as I wrote, “Take this alphabet from me”: both the power of the alphabet, and the burden of our adult fluency.

I was not given a Hebrew name as a child, and when I was studying in Jerusalem in my early twenties, I took the name Chana (Hebrew for Hannah). Her story spoke to me as a writer, someone who loved words, and had traveled very far to seek what my heart hungered for, to speak with the Divine. So I was delighted when the wonderful Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, NY asked me to write a Girls in Trouble song about Hannah to perform at Rosh Hashana services, when we read her story as the haftarah.

Writing this song, I thought about speech, prayer, alphabets, longing, desire. I thought about how hard it can be to honestly acknowledge our struggles, our difficulties, our disappointments, and our truth. And I thought about how Hannah activates God’s powerful presence through speech.

God spoke and created the world; now it is our turn.

Lesson Plan

Intro

Invite participants to say their name and, if they wish, share a time they asked for something they felt they needed (large or small) – or something they are thinking about asking for in the future.

Core Text

  • Introduce hevruta, divide class, pass out source sheets
  • Hevrutas read source text to each other and explore discussion questions
  • Come back together to discuss what arose in hevruta. Begin by inviting students to share their most interesting questions and listing them on the board. Explain that finding unanswered questions in the text is the starting point of midrash (interpretation of Torah).
  • If you find that students are eager to debate about answers to their questions, this can lead to great discussion, but remind them that the Jewish interpretative tradition allows for multiple answers to a single question.

Song

  • Listen to “Marble Floor” with lyrics
  • Discuss questions as a group

Create Your Own Midrash

  • Time for individual brainstorming/freewriting/drawing with “Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations”
  • If time, opportunity to share creative responses. Students should resist the temptation to critique others’ responses.
  • If desired, share students’ midrashim by adding them to the Gallery of Biblical Women on the Girls in Trouble website.

Document Studies

Song Recording

Song Recording

Marble Floor

Full image
Audio recording of Alicia Jo Rabins' song, "Marble Floor."

Biblical text with discussion questions

Biblical text with discussion questions

1 Samuel 1:1–20

1There was a man from Ramataim whose name was Elkanah. 2He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. 3Elkanah used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to God of Hosts at Shiloh. – Hofni and Pinchas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of God there. 4One such day, Elkanah offered a sacrifice. He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5but to Hannah he would give a double portion – for Hannah was his favorite, though God had closed her womb. 6Moreover, her rival, to make her miserable, would taunt her that God had closed her womb. 7This happened year after year: Every time she went up to the House of God, the other would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat. 8Her 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?” 9After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose. – The priest Eli was sitting on the seat near the doorpost of the temple of God. – 10And her soul was bitter, and she prayed to God, weeping all the while. 11And she vowed a vow, saying: “O God 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 God for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” 12As she kept on praying before God, Eli watched her mouth. 13Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. 14Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Remove your wine from yourself!” 15And Hannah replied, "Oh no, my God! I am a woman who is hard of spirit. I have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul to God. 16Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; I have only been speaking all this time out of my great anguish and distress.” 17“Then go in peace,” said Eli, “and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked.” 18She answered, “May your handmaid find favor in your eyes.” So the woman left, and she ate, and was no longer downcast. 19Early next morning they bowed low before God, and they went back home to Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah and God remembered her. 20Hannah conceived, and at the turn of the year bore a son. She named him Samuel, because, [she said], “I asked God for him.”

JPS, slightly edited

1וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִן־הָרָמָתַיִם צוֹפִים מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן־יְרֹחָם בֶּן־אֱלִיהוּא בֶּן־תֹּחוּ בֶן־צוּף אֶפְרָתִי.  2וְלוֹ שְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים שֵׁם אַחַת חַנָּה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פְּנִנָּה וַיְהִי לִפְנִנָּה יְלָדִים וּלְחַנָּה אֵין יְלָדִים. 3וְעָלָה הָאִישׁ הַהוּא מֵעִירוֹ מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת וְלִזְבֹּחַ לַיהוָה צְבָאוֹת בְּשִׁלֹה וְשָׁם שְׁנֵי בְנֵי־עֵלִי חָפְנִי וּפִנְחָס כֹּהֲנִים לַיהוָה. 4וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם וַיִּזְבַּח אֶלְקָנָה וְנָתַן לִפְנִנָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וּלְכָל־בָּנֶיהָ וּבְנוֹתֶיהָ מָנוֹת. 5וּלְחַנָּה יִתֵּן מָנָה אַחַת אַפָּיִם כִּי אֶת־חַנָּה אָהֵב, וַיהוָה סָגַר רַחְמָהּ. 6וְכִעֲסַתָּה צָרָתָהּ גַּם־כַּעַס, בַּעֲבוּר הַרְּעִמָהּ כִּי־סָגַר יְהוָה בְּעַד רַחְמָהּ. 7וְכֵן יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁנָה בְשָׁנָה מִדֵּי עֲלֹתָהּ בְּבֵית יְהוָה כֵּן תַּכְעִסֶנָּה וַתִּבְכֶּה וְלֹא תֹאכַל. 8וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ אֶלְקָנָה אִישָׁהּ חַנָּה לָמֶה תִבְכִּי וְלָמֶה לֹא תֹאכְלִ, וְלָמֶה יֵרַע לְבָבֵךְ הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי טוֹב לָךְ מֵעֲשָׂרָה בָּנִים.  9וַתָּקָם חַנָּה אַחֲרֵי אָכְלָה בְשִׁלֹה וְאַחֲרֵי שָׁתֹה וְעֵלִי הַכֹּהֵן יֹשֵׁב עַל־הַכִּסֵּא עַל־מְזוּזַת הֵיכַל יְהוָה. 10וְהִיא מָרַת נָפֶשׁ וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל עַל־יְהוָה וּבָכֹה תִבְכֶּה. 11וַתִּדֹּר נֶדֶר וַתֹּאמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אִם־רָאֹה תִרְאֶה בָּעֳנִי אֲמָתֶךָ וּזְכַרְתַּנִי וְלֹא־תִשְׁכַּח אֶת־אֲמָתֶךָ וְנָתַתָּה לַאֲמָתְךָ זֶרַע אֲנָשִׁים וּנְתַתִּיו לַיהוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּיו וּמוֹרָה לֹא־יַעֲלֶה עַל־רֹאשׁוֹ. 12וְהָיָה כִּי הִרְבְּתָה לְהִתְפַּלֵּל לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וְעֵלִי שֹׁמֵר אֶת־פִּיהָ. 13וְחַנָּה הִיא מְדַבֶּרֶת עַל־לִבָּהּ רַק שְׂפָתֶיהָ נָּעוֹת וְקוֹלָהּ לֹא יִשָּׁמֵעַ וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ עֵלִי לְשִׁכֹּרָה. 14וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ עֵלִי עַד־מָתַי תִּשְׁתַּכָּרִין הָסִירִי אֶת־יֵינֵךְ מֵעָלָיִךְ. 15וַתַּעַן חַנָּה וַתֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲדֹנִי אִשָּׁה קְשַׁת־רוּחַ אָנֹכִי וְיַיִן וְשֵׁכָר לֹא שָׁתִיתִי וָאֶשְׁפֹּךְ אֶת־נַפְשִׁי לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. 16אַל־תִּתֵּן, אֶת־אֲמָתְךָ לִפְנֵי, בַּת־בְּלִיָּעַל כִּי־מֵרֹב שִׂיחִי וְכַעְסִי דִּבַּרְתִּי עַד־הֵנָּה. 17וַיַּעַן עֵלִי וַיֹּאמֶר לְכִי לְשָׁלוֹם וֵאלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל יִתֵּן אֶת־שֵׁלָתֵךְ אֲשֶׁר שָׁאַלְתְּ מֵעִמּוֹ. 18וַתֹּאמֶר תִּמְצָא שִׁפְחָתְךָ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וַתֵּלֶךְ הָאִשָּׁה לְדַרְכָּהּ וַתֹּאכַל וּפָנֶיהָ לֹא־הָיוּ־לָהּ עוֹד. 19וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־בֵּיתָם הָרָמָתָה וַיֵּדַע אֶלְקָנָה אֶת־חַנָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַיִּזְכְּרֶהָ יְהוָה. 20וַיְהִי לִתְקֻפוֹת הַיָּמִים וַתַּהַר חַנָּה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ שְׁמוּאֵל כִּי מֵיְהוָה שְׁאִלְתִּיו.

Questions for discussion

  1. What problems or questions do you find in this text?
  2. What is your favorite moment in this story?

Song lyrics with discussion questions

Song lyrics with discussion questions

Marble Floor

A song in Hannah’s voice, by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

I opened my mouth but no words came
I lay down to sleep but I did not dream
I looked up at the stars but the sky was dark like a mirror held up to my heart

A B C, D E F
Take away this alphabet it’s heavy on my tongue

You can want a thing so bad it seems
That you lose yourself and everybody else
So I got down on my knees on the marble floor And I cried until my throat was sore

A B C D, E F G
Tell me what you want from me I’ll do it all I swear

I was not drunk, I was awake
I could not open so I had to break to let the light come in

A B C D, E F G
Take this alphabet from me it’s heavy on my tongue

Questions

  1. What is your initial response to this song? How is it similar or different from your imagination of Hannah’s character and experience?
  2. What parts of this song can you find in the original story? Which parts did the songwriter add as part of the midrashic process?

Footnoted song lyrics

Footnoted song lyrics

Marble Floor, footnoted

A song in Hannah’s voice, by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

I opened up my mouth but no words came1
I lay down to sleep but I did not dream
I looked up at the stars but the sky was dark
like a mirror held up to my heart

A B C, D E F2
Take away this alphabet
it’s heavy on my tongue

You can want a thing so bad it seems
That you lose yourself and everybody else
So I got down on my knees on the marble floor3
And I cried until my throat was sore

A B C D, E F G
Tell me what you want from me
I’ll do it all I swear4

I was not drunk, I was awake
I could not open so I had to break5
to let the light come in6

A B C D, E F G
Take this alphabet from me
it’s heavy on my tongue

1 1 Samuel 1:13: Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. I interpreted this as a sign of intense suffering, and spun it out into the following lines in my imagination. This song begins in despair: Hannah is unable to speak, to dream, or even to see the stars above her, because the world around her mirrors the darkness of her heart. She is consumed by her suffering. Only after beginning to speak the alphabet in the chorus does Hannah start to change her destiny.

2 The chorus of this song draws on the famous Jewish folk tale of a small boy who didn’t know any Hebrew prayers, only the alphabet. He desperately wanted to pray to God, so he went to the back of the synagogue and started to fervently recite the letters: “Aleph, bet, gimel…” The important men in the congregation, furious at the boy for interrupting the service, stand up and yell at him, but the rabbi rebukes them. He says that the boy’s alphabet, because it comes directly from his heart, is the holiest prayer that has ever been recited in the synagogue.

3 Although the text says that Hannah was standing, I – like some visual art interpretations – imagined her kneeling on the floor in her despair.

4 1 Samuel 1:11 And she made this vow: “O God 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 God for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.”

5 This line echoes the midrashim about suffering enabling a connection with the Divine. I imagined that Hannah, after years of trying to hold it together, had to really let go and feel the full force of her sorrow - and demand a change to her circumstances - in order to change her destiny.

6 A nod to one of the best lyrics of all time, by my favorite songwriter Leonard Cohen, from his song “Anthem.” Cohen’s song also refers to the ancient Temple offerings, and how acknowledging our brokenness is a crucial part of relating to the Divine: “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”.

Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations

Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations

Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations

  • Draw Hannah in prayer; decide whether or not to include Eli and God, and if so, how and where to depict them 

  • Draw a “family portrait” (realistic, stick figures, or abstract) with Elkanah, Penina and Hannah. 

  • Write a version of Hannah’s prayer in the form of a wordless melody or a song with lyrics 

  • Create a “mixtape” or playlist of songs that relate to Hannah’s story 
 

  • Choreograph a simple dance that expresses Hannah’s prayer, or one of your own 

  • Create a “living statue” pose that represents how you interpret Hannah’s prayer 
 

  • Write down one prayer you have never articulated before 

  • Write a paragraph about a personal experience you had that feels connected to Hannah’s story 

  • Summarize Hannah’s story in six words 

1 Comment

thank you for sharing this, lots to ponder :)

Cover Art for "Hannah Raises Her Voice"
Full image
Cover art by Uri Berkowitz for "Hannah Raises Her Voice," a lesson plan from the "Girls in Trouble" curriculum by Alicia Jo Rabins.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Hannah Raises Her Voice." (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/teach/girlsintrouble/hannah-raises-her-voice>.

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