osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

The word "ish" in Shmuel Alef

On Rosh Hashanna, the haftorah for the first day is drawn from the first two chapters of the Book of Samuel I.

Of particular interest to me this year is the use of the word "ish," man, and its female conjugation "isha." The commentaries tell us that the use of the word "ish" is an enconium praising the moral character of the individual. Thus the first Pasuk begins "vayihi ish echad...." and there was a certain man, and proceeds to identify him. The word ish is used to give his praise.

The use of the word ish in its various forms tells us much. Consider pasuk 3: V'alah haish hahoo... This pasuk has several peculiarities about it. First, it does not refer to him as "haish Elkana" but only as "haish." Why not give his name? Second, why does it identify this as the time when "the two sons of Eli, Haphni and Pinchas, were priests of God." Eli was the kohen Gadol. Should not the pasuk have said "and it was in the time when Eli was High Priest?" We do not even know Eli is the Kohen Gadol until later in the narrative. Why is this detail not even mentioned, whereas Eli's sons are given prominence?

To understand this, we must understand that we learn in Chapter 2 that the sons of Eli "were wicked and did not know the Lord" v.12. They were greedy to receive their portion of any sacrifice, sending their servant to demand their share of the sacrifice before admitting any supplicant "so that people hated to bring and offering to the Lord." 2:17.

So what does 1:3 therefore teach us? First, that if you have wicked people in prominent positions who create a bad example, they are what everyone will remember. People did not think of this as the time of Eli the High Priest, but as the time of his wicked gready sons.

Second, despite the fact that they made the experience so unpleasant, Elkanna continued to come up from his city "yearly to sacrifice to the Lord in Shiloh." The midrash tells us he went on Rosh Hashanna, although it is not required, because he desired to fulfill his annual oaths quickly (one can wait until Succot to fulfill one's oaths). Further, before the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was permissible to sacrifice at personal altars. Nevertheless, Elkana was an "ish," a man of moral character, because despite the presence of wicked priests, he continued to come "miyamimah yammimah," regularly, as if the priests in Shiloh were appropriate priests. Notably, he came _to Shiloh_, although haphni and Pinchas were there, because it was the preferable thing to do.

But perhaps one would say "but Elkannah was wealthy, therefore Haphni and Pinchas would show him respect and treat him well?" Therefore the text tells us that "haish" went up, without using his name. He did not go because he was Elkannah, wealthy person of importance. He went because he felt he needed to do so as a moral duty.

We see a similar use with Channah in 1:23. Channah says to Elkanah "ishah," her man, that she will not go up with Shmuel until the baby is weaned. Elkanah "ishah" replies "do what is good in your eyes...but be sure to fulfill your oath to Hashem." The pasuk concludes "Vatashev haisha vatanek et bna ad gamla oto" and the woman stayed and nursed her child until she had weaned him.

Why "haisha?" Even if the text wishes to inform us that this action was worthy, why not "haisha Chanah?" Because even if the act was worthy and appropriate, we miight think that Channa was influenced by her natural desire to care for the child as long as possible. Therefore the text refers to her simply as "haisha," the woman. Her decision to wait until the boy was weaned flowed entirely from her evaluation of what was best to do, rather than from any personal or selfish desire.

This is also the case case in 1:18. After receiving Eli's blessing, "and the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was nno longer sad." Why "haisha" and not "haisha Channah?" Because again, we might think that her decision to eat and no longer be sad was a function of her natural desire to break her fast and be merry. Thus we are told it is "haisha," the woman with faith in the promise of God through his servant Eli, that breaks fast and is no longer sad.

Finally, it is noteworthy that the word used to describe the relationship between Channah and Elkanah is "ishah" (her man) and "ishto" (his woman). First, we observe they were on equal levels with one another. Second, we say that each behaved toward one another always with love and mutual respect. This is important, for lines such as "am I not better to you than 10 sons" can be spoken in many ways. Had it referred to Elkanah as "ba'alah" (her master), we might take it as an expression of impatience. But the fact that each regarded the other as equals, ish and isha, should tell us that it was kindly meant.

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