Chana and her seven sons-lessons in self-sacrifice
Mrs Chana Bromberg
"Because for Your sake we are killed all the time, we are considered as sheep for slaughter." Rav Yehuda said this verse alludes to an incident concerning a woman and her seven sons. They brought the first son to the king and said, "Worship this idol." He answered, "It is written in the Torah 'I am Hashem your G-d.'" They took him and killed him. They then brought the next son before the king and said to him, "Worship this idol." He responded, "It is written in the Torah 'you shall not have other gods before Me.'" They also took him away and killed him. The Gemara continues to relate how they brought each son before the king to worship the idol and each one of them confirmed their faith and was then killed. Finally, after the last son also confirmed his belief in Hashem, the king said to him, "I will throw down my signet ring so you can bend down and pick it up. In this way, people will think you have accepted the king's authority." The child answered, "Woe to you, king, if this is how concerned you are over your own honour, how much more so should I be concerned with the honour of Hashem." Before they took him out to kill him, his mother said, "Please let me kiss him." She said to him, "My sons, go tell Avraham Avinu, 'you bound a korban on one mizbeach, altar, and I have bound korbanos on seven mizbechos, altars.'" (Adapted from Gittin 57b)
One of the moving highlights of the era of Greek dominion over Judea, is the episode of Chana and her seven sons. Unfortunately there have been many other instances throughout the course of the bloodstained exile of our beleaguered nation where mothers were compelled to (rachmana l'tzlan) relinquish their children, even unto death, to a heinous enemy. Those of us raised in easier circumstances can but stand, heads bowed, in humbled awe at the courage of Jewish motherhood, and pray that neither we, nor any of our sisters, ever be faced with such challenges.
Upon closer inspection of the Gemara we are confronted with a puzzling contrast. In the case of our forefather, Avraham Avinu, Hashem requested of him to take his son Yitzchok, bring him to the designated mountain, and offer him as a human sacrifice. Faced with this trial Avraham had a choice, to follow the express command of Hashem, or to question Him or doubt His mission. The Chumash bears witness to his remarkable trust in the Ribbono Shel Olam, and his obeying of Hashem's command, without hesitation.
The case with Chana, on the other hand, seems quite different. At no point does it appear as if the king offered Chana any alternative to the brazen slaughter of her children. How then, can she justifiably claim "V'ani akaditi sheva mizbachos" "and I brought up seven sacrifices"? Did she do any deed which would make it appear as if she were an active participant in the affair? Apparently not. She was forced, to passively witness the execution of her children. So the question still stands, how could she say, "I brought up seven sacrifices" if she had absolutely no choice to do otherwise?
Do not be deluded into believing that Chana was but a bystander in this drama. Where would her children find the strength and the moral courage, all of them, without exception, one after the other, to face death rather than compromise their faith? This was not the martyrdom of a single moment, it was the culmination of an entire lifetime of supreme dedication and self sacrifice. It was the natural conclusion to a life with which every breath and every deed was preparing itself for a moment such as this. Who trained these tzaddikim? Who imbued them with a desire to sanctify G-d's name with their every action, so that even when circumstances demanded death, they willingly sacrificed their souls rather than compromise their faith? From where did they draw such strength? This was Chana's awesome self-sacrifice; the raising of her children in such an exemplary fashion was what she referred to when she said, "I brought seven sacrifices". From the moment they were born, she dedicated herself totally to the task of raising them. Their upbringing was the sacrifice she brought to G-d, in their life, as well as in their death.
We, as Jewish women, also have this potential for raising our children with self-sacrifice. Perhaps it may be lying dormant within us, but it's waiting to be fanned to life. The deeds of our matriarchs are our spiritual inheritance. Their supreme self-sacrifice has placed their spiritual conquests into the realm of their offspring, even though we may fall pitifully short of their stature.
If we can learn from Chana the benefit of the enormous investment we should place in our children, then we can learn another lesson, equally important from our matriarch Leah. In introducing the sisters Rachel and Leah, the Torah says "V'einei Leah rakos v'Rachel hayisa yifas toar v'yifas mareh" - "Leah's eyes were tender while Rachel was beautiful in form and beautiful of appearance." Rashi explains that the eyes of Leah were 'tender' from weeping. She heard people commenting "Rivka has two sons and Lavan has two daughters. Let the elder daughter (Leah) be for the elder son (Esav). Let the younger daughter (Rachel) be for the younger son (Yaakov). What an astounding introduction to our worthy matriarch Leah! One sister is beautiful and the other has red eyes. Is that the most flattering thing that can be said about her? Yes! In this passuk lies the strength of Jewish womanhood, as well as the enduring praise to Leah. Wild rumours would not bring Leah to despair - it was the truth behind those words. There were aspects of Leah and Esav. which were mutually compatible. Had Esav withstood his trials, he too could have risen to the heights of the Avos. But since he failed so miserably, Leah had no wish to be united with him. Therefore she prayed, she entreated, she wept, until the power of those tears altered her destiny, and she became the wife of Yaakov.
We, Baruch Hashem, are blessed to live in a malchus shel chesed, a benevolent and accepting country, where we can raise our children in an atmosphere of peace. With Hashem's help, we should never be faced with the challenges of Chana, yet our mission remains the same - to raise our children, untainted by the obsessive consumption and endless self-gratification that form the idol-worship of the 20th and 21st centuries. Today as well, self-sacrifice is vital to the raising of dedicated children, who will be willing to dedicate themselves sincerely and earnestly to their identity as Jews. If, unlike earlier times we need not toil over providing basic needs of Orthodoxy - we need not kasher our own chickens, or travel to distant Yeshivos by foot, the need for self sacrifice hasn't diminished. Only through dedicating ourselves with all the gifts we possess, through embracing our mission in the world enthusiastically, can we hope to avoid slipping into complacency that places us at risk of falling into the modern equivalent of idol worship. If we take a brutally honest look within ourselves, it will be apparent that we are so far from the generation of our ancestors that in the final analysis we have to rely heavily on the inheritance of Leah's tears.
"B'zchus nashim tzidkaniyos nigalu avoseinu miMitzrayim uv'zchus nashim tzidkaniyos asidim lihigael "'
"We were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of righteous women and in the future we will be redeemed in the merit of righteous women."
We, as women, have a unique part of play in this drama. May He take notice of our tears, and grant us what should be our fervent wish, to be zocheh to the final Geula.
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