The Universal Insight of Hannah



The Talmud (Megillah 14b) mentions the names of the seven prophetesses that are recorded in our Sacred Scriptures, and one of them is Hannah. In this letter, we will begin to discuss a universal insight of Hannah, for a deeper understanding of her universal insight will lead to a deeper understanding of the universal mission of Zion.


Dear Friends,


The haftorah – portion from the Prophets – which we chanted on the first day of Rosh Hashanah,  tells the story of how Hannah, who was barren, came with her husband on the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary, which was then located in Shiloh. It was there that she prayed to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, to bring an end to her barrenness. Her prayer was answered, and she gave birth to Samuel, who became a great prophet in Israel.


In her prayer at the Sanctuary, she addressed the Creator of all life as:


“Hashem of the hosts of creation” (1 Samuel: 1:11).


The Talmud states in the name of Rabbi Elazar that Hannah was the first person to address the Creator by this term (Brochos 31b). The noted commentator on the Talmud, the Maharsha, points out, however, that the term, “Hashem of the hosts of creation,” appears earlier in our Scriptures. For example, it is written earlier that Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, brought offerings “to Hashem of the hosts of creation” (1 Samuel: 1:3); thus, the term was not unknown. What Rabbi Elazar is teaching us, explains the Maharsha, is that Hannah was the first person in history to address Hashem by this term.


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the haftorah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, discusses Rabbi Elazar’s teaching, and he states:


“According to Rabbi Elazar, that designation – ‘Hashem of the hosts of creation’ – in itself is the greatest glorification of God.”


In order to better understand how this designation is in itself the greatest glorification of God, we shall begin to discuss the verse in the Torah where the term “hosts” first appears. It is found in the following verse from the first parsha – portion – of the Book of Genesis:


“Thus the heaven and earth and all their hosts were brought to their intended completion.” (Genesis 2:1 – translation of Rabbi Hirsch))


What are the “hosts” of the heaven and the earth? Ramban, one of the classical commentators, offers the following explanation in his commentary on the above verse:


“The hosts of the earth are mentioned earlier – animals, wild beasts, creeping creatures, fish, all the vegetation, and the human being, as well. The hosts of the heaven include the two great luminaries and the stars mentioned earlier.”


Ramban adds that the hosts of the heaven include the “separate intelligences” (angels); moreover, the souls of humanity are also included in the hosts of heaven.


The Hebrew term for “host” is tzava. According to the commentary of the Midrash Rabbah, the term tzava in the above verse from the creation story is referring to an organized group within Hashem’s creation where each member of the group fulfills the will of Hashem. The Midrash Rabbah on this verse therefore explains that this term is conveying the following universal message:  Everything in creation serves the Divine purpose – even those things that a human being may feel are not needed, such as “flies, fleas, and mosquitoes.” In this spirit, the Talmud teaches (Shabbos 77b):


“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Of all things that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in the world, not one was created without a purpose.”


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his classical work, “The Nineteen Letters,” elaborates on this idea, and he writes:


“Now, look at this entire host of creations – how, though greatly differing from each other in their properties and purpose, they have been linked in one great harmonious system; each one functioning in its particular place, in its time, and using the resources apportioned to it. None functions at cross-purposes to the others, but rather, each supporting the whole and the whole supporting each one.” (Letter Three)


In Letter Four of the Nineteen Letters, Rabbi Hirsch explains how the human being serves the Divine purpose within the hosts of the Divine creation, and he conveys the following message to each of us:


“Learn to respect your sanctity as a creature of God, and in the sight of heaven and earth and the entire host of Divine servants, call yourself in joyous solemnity by the name that expresses and consecrates your mission: a servant of God. Since everything, small or large, constitutes a God-given force meant to function purposefully, by given means, in its appointed place, in its assigned environment, and in compliance with His laws, taking only in order to give, could it be that the human being alone is excluded from this circle of life, is born only to take, to indulge or to endure, but not to function productively? Not to fill a post, but to be his own be-all and end-all? Is it conceivable that everything is to be of service in the world, of service to God, and only the human being is to be self-serving throughout? No, surely not! Your own inner awareness tells you, and the Torah states, that the human being’s purpose is to be a tzelem Elokim – a likeness of God. You are to be more than everything else; you are to exist for everything else. You can know God only through His acts of love and justice; and in turn, you too are called upon to act with justice and love, and not merely to indulge or endure. Everything bestowed upon you – mind, body, fellowman, material goods, other creatures, every talent and every power – all are merely means to action, l’avdah ule’shamrah (Genesis 2:15) – to further and to safeguard everything – with love and with justice!”


Hannah, the Prophetess, developed this elevated and universal consciousness concerning her role as a servant within the entire host of Divine servants; thus, in her prayer for a child, she addressed the Creator of all life as: “Hashem of the hosts of creation” (1 Samuel: 1:11).


The universal purpose of Zion is to help all human beings to develop this elevated and universal consciousness. For example, the Prophet Zechariah conveyed the following prophecy regarding the universal pilgrimage to Zion at the dawn of the messianic age:


“Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek out Hashem of the hosts of creation in Jerusalem, and to supplicate before Hashem.” (Zechariah 8:22).


In this spirit, Jerusalem is called, “The City of Hashem of the hosts of creation” (Psalm 48:9).


Be Well and Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings and Comments:


1. During the concluding stage of the Simchas Torah dancing, when we return the Torahs to the Ark, we sing the following verse:


“Who then is the Sovereign of Glory? Hashem of the hosts of creation is the Sovereign of Glory, forever!” {Psalm 24:10).


2. The Hebrew term for “host” – tzava – is also used to refer to an army. Rabbi Hirsch reminds us, however, that on a number of occasions, the term is used by the Torah in the context of peace. The earliest example of a peaceful context is found in the above-mentioned verse from the creation story: “Thus the heaven and earth and all their hosts were brought to their intended completion” (Genesis 2:1). In his commentary on this verse, Rabbi Hirsch cites the following additional examples of the use of this term in a peaceful context:


A. The term is used as a verb to describe the women who gathered to bring gifts to the Sanctuary that was built in the wilderness (Exodus 38:8).


B. The term is also used to refer to the Levites who come to serve in the Sanctuary – those who come “to join the host to perform work in the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 4:23)


3. “Thus the heaven and earth and all their hosts were brought to their intended completion” (Genesis 2:1).   This verse is in the opening section of the Shabbos Kiddush – Blessing of Sanctification – which we chant on Friday night. When we chant these words regarding the hosts of creation, we can meditate on the above midrashic explanation which reminds us that everything in the Divine creation serves the Divine purpose.


4. King David proclaimed: “Bless Hashem all His Hosts, His servants that do His will” (Psalm 10321). In his commentary on King David’s proclamation, Rabbi Hirsch writes:


“Therefore the call goes forth to all things that are in God’s universe: “Bless Hashem” – to devote themselves completely to the service of God, to doing His will, and to advancing the fulfillment of His purposes.”


5. References to Hashem of the hosts of creation appear in our daily prayers, and the following are some examples:


A. “Hashem of the hosts of creation; fortunate is the human being who trusts in You” (Psalm 84:13). Like Hannah, we address Hashem as, “Hashem of the hosts of creation.”


B. “Our Redeemer – Hashem of the hosts of creation is His Name – the Holy One of Israel. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who redeemed Israel.” These words are said just before we begin the weekday morning Shemoneh Esrei prayer.


C. “And one (seraph) would call to another and say: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Hashem of the hosts of creation; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ ” (Isaiah 6:3)


6. “The Nineteen Letters” by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, is published in English by Feldheim Publishers. It has a translation and comprehensive commentary by Rabbi Joseph Elias. For information, visit:  


7. “The Hirsch Psalms” – This is the Book of Psalms with a translation and commentary by Rabbi Hirsch. It is published by Feldheim.

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