Hannah’s Prayers: The God of Hosts, The God of Minds ‎

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			Hannah was the wife of Elkanah, a righteous man. Elkanah had a second wife ‎named Penina who had blessed him with many children. Not satisfied with her own blessing, ‎she tormented Hannah over her lack of children. On an annual trip to the Mishkan, Hannah, in ‎a state of particular bitterness over her cruel lot in life found herself whispering a prayer to ‎Hashem while weeping. In the course of this tearful prayer she made a vow: ‘Hashem of ‎Hosts, if You see the affliction of Your maid, and You remember me and do not forget Your ‎maid, and give Your maid male seed, then I will give him back to Hashem for all of his life; a ‎razor shall not go on his head’ (Samuel I 1:11). The High Priest, Eli, mistook her for a drunk ‎as she seemed to be just mumbling words right in the middle of the Mishkan. She vouched ‎for her actions, saying that she was not drunk at all, but bitter and angry over her ‎circumstance. Eli blessed her that her request should be granted and she left with all of her ‎bitterness removed. ‎
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Sure enough, when she got home, Hashem remembered her and she conceived and bore a son. ‎She called him Samuel (Shmuel), for she had asked him of Hashem. The next year ‎when Elkanah went up to the Mishkan, Hannah did not accompany him. She explained that ‎when she weaned the boy, she would bring him to the presence of Hashem and he would ‎remain there for the rest of his life. When this day finally came, she brought her son to Eli and ‎explained to him that she was the woman who had prayed so earnestly and that the boy with ‎her was none other than the son that she had prayed for. She told him that she was ready to ‎‎‘lend him to Hashem’ for all of his days since he was ‘borrowed from Hashem’ (1:28) to ‎begin with. ‎
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At this point, Hannah then prays again. Her prayer has become the epitome of what genuine ‎prayer is supposed to be – the spirit of holiness combined with personal feelings. ‘There is ‎nothing as holy as Hashem, for there is nothing aside from Him, and there is no rock like our ‎God. Do not continue to speak haughtily, nor have arrogance come out of your mouth, for ‎Hashem is a God of minds, and their plots do not count (work out as planned)’ (2:2-3). ‎
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Analysis ‎
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The phrase ‘Lord of Hosts’, or YHWH Tz’vaot, is about the most Biblical phrase imaginable. ‎It is used here, in this story and in Hannah’s prayer, for the first time. The Talmudic rabbis say ‎that Hannah introduced this phrase to the world. Before we get into explaining this phrase ‎and the image that it portrays, we have to ask our obligatory round of questions. Her initial ‎praises of Hashem sound pretty traditional – nothing as holy as Hashem, there is nothing ‎aside from Him, there is no rock like our God. But then she throws in this other image, ‎‎‘Hashem is a God of minds’. What could that mean? How does this image relate to the Lord ‎of Hosts? ‎
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‎‘Hashem is a God of minds’. Not everyone translates the phrase this way. There is one key ‎word that everything hinges upon. It is the word deot in Hebrew. This word describes a ‎unique ability of Hashem. ‘Deot’ can mean opinions, knowledge, or minds. Those three ‎meanings are not as different in the Bible as they may seem to us.   ‎
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We have already seen with the ‘God of Spirits’ image the first indication that Hashem knows ‎emotions and inclinations which are usually relegated to the domain of people. But the God ‎of minds goes beyond that image. What Hannah experienced was God entering her mind and ‎manipulating it. When she prayed the first time, God sensed her bitterness. Eli blessed her, ‎and her bitterness was removed. God can plant feelings in the mind. ‎
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God knows what’s cooking in the murky chambers of the mind. God understands them even ‎better than we do. God may even subtly manipulate our feelings. This verse would then be ‎saying the following: ‘Don’t get too into yourself; God knows what’s going on inside your ‎mind and only God can make things happen.’ The comparison of God to people is stark. ‎People are fickle and arrogant and don’t even know what is going on in their own minds, ‎while God knows what’s up with us and makes things happen accordingly. ‎
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This is a fascinating idea that is usually ignored in the austere Biblical framework of God. ‎This image of God gets into our heads and pokes around a little bit. This image is just as holy, ‎just as solid a rock, as any other image of God. It just focuses on a completely different thing. ‎The ‘God of minds’ knows what we need and what we don’t need. This God ‎understands our deepest motivations and our most devious inclinations. There is no pulling ‎the wool over God’s eyes. The God of Minds is that voice that speaks to us silently each time ‎we try to fool ourselves with some other rationalization or allow ourselves to be swayed by ‎some selfish urge. It whispers words of wisdom and soft rebuke, so silently that they are ‎hardly heard and easily ignored. But they are spoken in some deep recess of the mind. This is ‎the voice of the God of minds. ‎
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How does Hashem of Hosts fit into all this? Hannah used the expression ‘Hashem of Hosts’ ‎to introduce her prayer of desperation. She didn’t use it when voicing her prayer of gratitude. ‎In a prayer of desperation, a person grasps for any straw to get what they need. They may ‎have nothing to justify their request, but that inconvenient fact does not stop them from ‎asking away. ‎
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She calls Hashem ‘Hashem of Hosts’. To her, Hashem is more than a solitary God dwelling ‎alone in the heavens. To this desperate woman, Hashem dwells among countless ‘Hosts’ – the ‎heavenly angels and the physical earthly creations all exist surrounding Hashem. Hashem can ‎call on any one of them to do His bidding under any situation. Hannah is one of those ‘hosts’. ‎She is one among the myriad of creations existing in Hashem’s great domain. She awaits her ‎fate like any one of them, but she has the ability to ask it to be altered. Hashem knows her ‎situation and knows her state of mind. Hashem can sense her bitterness and taste the salt of ‎her tears. Hashem knows what she desperately desires and needs in order to make her life ‎fulfilled, and whether or not she is worthy. She may not have the merit to deserve this son, ‎but Hashem alone can provide it nevertheless. ‎
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Hannah’s request was granted, perhaps through no merit of her own. But it was granted. This ‎has become the classic paradigm for monotheistic prayer throughout history. Stage one of ‎prayer is when a person begs God for something they need. They may not deserve that need ‎but they ask anyway. If they are denied they may ask again. Eventually, one of two things ‎happens: either they give up in frustration, acceptance, or indifference, or the request is ‎granted. In Hannah’s case, it was granted and she was eternally grateful. She fulfilled her ‎sacrificial vow, difficult as it was, and then prayed again. She prayed out of gratitude. This is ‎stage two. She prayed to the same image of God, of course. It would make no sense to ‎express her gratitude to a different image of God after her prayer was answered. But in ‎gratitude she found a slightly different nuance to voice to God. ‎
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She called Hashem the God of minds. The God of Hosts is the God of minds. God knows ‎her mind better than she does. God knew her bitterness and removed some of it, enabling her ‎to find joy and gratitude. God facilitated a change that she herself was unable to elicit ‎internally. She couldn’t do it but Hashem could. Hannah saw that it was Hashem, the God of ‎Hosts, who was able to notice one of His countless hosts desperately in need of something ‎and change her state of mind from desperation and bitterness to fulfillment and gratitude. ‎Are there any miracles greater than this? ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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We believe that we are at the helm of our own ship. We may be battling unseen forces or ‎uncontrollable genetic or chemical conditions, but we still steer the wheel. To admit that this ‎isn’t so is to throw in the towel in the most important of personal struggles. This confidence is ‎vital to self-esteem, motivation, and coping with life. But is this confidence really true? Do ‎we truly have the ability to control our own minds, to change what we want to change and to ‎maintain what we want to maintain? We may think that we have complete control of our ‎minds, but we only have to look at our experience in life to know that this is the greatest of ‎self-deceptions. How many times must we experience the helplessness of some rogue emotion ‎wreaking havoc on our entire life, while we can only watch from the sidelines and hope that ‎something stops it, before we recognize that there are forces beyond our control? This is ‎among the most common of human experiences. It is life itself. We may have some control, ‎but we are not in complete control. There are other forces at work. ‎
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This realization is vitally important to a healthy outlook on life. Otherwise, one is living in an ‎egotistical dream world, a bubble of self-deception that refuses to recognize the reality ‎within. These forces are strong and they mean business. But there is another factor at work. ‎That factor is God. God enters the mind and notices things that we may not. God has the ‎ability to change things that we cannot, no matter how much we believe otherwise and how ‎hard we try. The God of minds enters the mind and sees those struggles as they play out. The ‎God of Hosts, if asked in the right way, may alleviate some of those struggles. The two ‎images work together. They are a tandem force, one working inside and one working outside. ‎There is nothing wrong with asking this force to help in your struggles. You do what you can, ‎and God helps you along with the things that are too tough. It’s a pretty good system. ‎
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These two images are always around us, though we may not want to notice them. The God of ‎minds image floats inside in such a subtle manner that it is easy to miss or to ignore. It is like a ‎ghost in the mind that is usually invisible but occasionally haunts us. But it is really there to ‎help us notice things that we may overlook. The God of Hosts exists all around us. We are ‎one of the hosts. We perceive the image of the God of Hosts when we recognize that we are ‎one of those countless creations and God is in control of them all. It may be a little ‎threatening to see this image, a little ego-deflating and religious sounding, but it does ‎straighten things out a great deal. It may even get us out of an emotional or spiritual jam every ‎once in a while. These two images form the backbone of prayer. They constitute the image ‎that prayer is directed towards. It is the act of the very personal mind calling for outside ‎help. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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The God of Hosts is the classic God of monotheistic religion. It invokes many unfavorable ‎images due to its admission of an external invincible power. The God of minds is equally ‎unsavory to those who cannot abide by the thought of God invading their privacy. They are ‎difficult images to live with, but can we live without them? ‎


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