1/15/2005

Chana vs. Eli

First Chapter of Shmuel, pretty well known story. Chana is the hero, sincere. Eli misjudges her.

I was bugged by a Midrashic comment, though. Midrash explains that Eli asked the Urim Ve-Tumim for a 'p'sak' on Chana. Urim Ve-tumim is consulted on matters of national consequence, not personal issues. It wasn't a stam azoi oracle. So why, according to this Midrash, would Eli be consulting it in this instance.

What I came up with reframed the entire chapter. Eli is the religious establishment, and promotes the continuation of the religious establishment. He really believes in the religious establishment, to the extent that he doesn't see how it will corrupt. Thus, when confronted with a woman whose actions run against the grain of the establishment, he feels that there's a true threat, a matter of national consequence.

The question remains, however, where di he go wrong. Is he correct in consulting the UvT in the first place, except that he 'misunderstood' its answer? Or does the flaw reside in his consultation in the first place?
In other words, was Eli's suspicion of Chana's motives appropriate? Is it his responsibility to judge each and every mode of religious expression that he encounters, giving a hechsher to some and disqualifying others?
Depending on the answer, Chana can either anti-establishment or simply naively non-establishment - temimusdik. Is her consecration of Shmuel, in addition to an expression of gratitude, also her attempt to reform the establishment from within (alluded to by another strange Aggaddah, whereby Shmuel is challenging Eli's authority already on day One, as though his very presence in the Mishkan is a threat to Eli's authority)? Or are those God's machinations, not her own? The central issue would be whether or not Chana was self-conscious of her own innovation.

Shmuel does, ultimately, succeed in reforming the system from within, until the cycle repeats in the next generation.

Eli's dilemma persists. To what degree should the Rabbinic establishment insist on evaluating the motives behind religious expression? And if they do, how do they insure that their evaluations are unbiased?
Open question.
SHR

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