Texts of Affliction, Bitterness, and Complaint: Job, Naomi, Hannah
1 א

Job, through God’s agency, loses his animals, his dwelling, and his children, and his skin is inflamed from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job calls out to God, complains, in the bitterness of his soul

2 ב

(יא) גַּם־אֲנִי֮ לֹ֤א אֶחֱשָׂ֫ךְ פִּ֥י אֲ‍ֽ֭דַבְּרָה בְּצַ֣ר רוּחִ֑י אָ֝שִׂ֗יחָה בְּמַ֣ר נַפְשִֽׁי׃

(11) On my part, I will not speak with restraint; I will give voice to the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

3 ג
(א) נָֽקְטָ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֗י בְּחַ֫יָּ֥י אֶֽעֶזְבָ֣ה עָלַ֣י שִׂיחִ֑י אֲ֝דַבְּרָה֗ בְּמַ֣ר נַפְשִֽׁי׃ (ב) אֹמַ֣ר אֶל־אֱ֭לוֹהַּ אַל־תַּרְשִׁיעֵ֑נִי הֽ֝וֹדִיעֵ֗נִי עַ֣ל מַה־תְּרִיבֵֽנִי׃

(1) I am disgusted with life; I will give rein to my complaint, Speak in the bitterness of my soul. (2) I say to God, “Do not condemn me; Let me know what You charge me with. [why you dispute against me]

4 ד

Naomi also experiences bitterness. What did Naomi lose? Her husband, her two sons, and, according to Ruth Rabbah II:10, all their animals. Like Job, she not only loses everything, but knows “utter desolation as a consequence of her losses.” Zornberg, pg 126 Zornberg, Avivah Gottlieb, in Kates, Judith A. and Twersky Reimer, Gail, eds. Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994

5 ה

(כ) וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֔ן אַל־תִּקְרֶ֥אנָה לִ֖י נָעֳמִ֑י קְרֶ֤אןָ לִי֙ מָרָ֔א כִּי־הֵמַ֥ר שַׁדַּ֛י לִ֖י מְאֹֽד׃ (כא) אֲנִי֙ מְלֵאָ֣ה הָלַ֔כְתִּי וְרֵיקָ֖ם הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי יְהוָ֑ה לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וַֽיהוָה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי׃

(20) “Do not call me Naomi,” she replied. “Call me Mara, for Shaddai has made my lot very bitter. (21) I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. How can you call me Naomi, when the LORD has dealt harshly with me, [Adonai ana vi] when Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me."

6 ו

Hannah had a bitter soul. What is Hannah’s loss? The Lord had sealed up her womb. (I Sam 1:5). For ten years, while her co-wife, Penninah, has born child after child, and despite the love of her husband, Elimelech, Hannah has been barren and empty.

7 ז
(ה) וּלְחַנָּ֕ה יִתֵּ֛ן מָנָ֥ה אַחַ֖ת אַפָּ֑יִם כִּ֤י אֶת־חַנָּה֙ אָהֵ֔ב וַֽיהוָ֖ה סָגַ֥ר רַחְמָֽהּ׃

(5) but to Hannah he would give one portion only — though Hannah was his favorite—for the LORD had closed her womb.

8 ח

(י) וְהִ֖יא מָ֣רַת נָ֑פֶשׁ וַתִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל עַל־יְהוָ֖ה וּבָכֹ֥ה תִבְכֶּֽה׃ (יא) וַתִּדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר וַתֹּאמַ֗ר יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת אִם־רָאֹ֥ה תִרְאֶ֣ה ׀ בָּעֳנִ֣י אֲמָתֶ֗ךָ וּזְכַרְתַּ֙נִי֙ וְלֹֽא־תִשְׁכַּ֣ח אֶת־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וְנָתַתָּ֥ה לַאֲמָתְךָ֖ זֶ֣רַע אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וּנְתַתִּ֤יו לַֽיהוָה֙ כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו וּמוֹרָ֖ה לֹא־יַעֲלֶ֥ה עַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃

With a bitter soul (marat nafesh), she [Hannah] prayed to [against, upon] YHVH and wept copiously. She vowed a vow, saying: YHVH of Hosts, if seeing, You will see the affliction (ani) of Your handmaid and remember my request and not forget Your handmaid, and You will grant Your handmaid male seed, I will give him to YHVH all the days of his life, and a razor will not go on his head. (Penina's translation)

9 ט

Bitterness, bitter soul – what is it? Does it come from sense of loss, or from something else? Job feels condemned by God.

10 י
(ב) אֹמַ֣ר אֶל־אֱ֭לוֹהַּ אַל־תַּרְשִׁיעֵ֑נִי הֽ֝וֹדִיעֵ֗נִי עַ֣ל מַה־תְּרִיבֵֽנִי׃

(2) I say to God, “Do not condemn me; Let me know what You charge me with.

11 יא

Naomi feels the Lord has dealt harshly with her.

12 יב
(יג) הֲלָהֵ֣ן ׀ תְּשַׂבֵּ֗רְנָה עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִגְדָּ֔לוּ הֲלָהֵן֙ תֵּֽעָגֵ֔נָה לְבִלְתִּ֖י הֱי֣וֹת לְאִ֑ישׁ אַ֣ל בְּנֹתַ֗י כִּֽי־מַר־לִ֤י מְאֹד֙ מִכֶּ֔ם כִּֽי־יָצְאָ֥ה בִ֖י יַד־יְהוָֽה׃

(13) should you wait for them to grow up? Should you on their account debar yourselves from marriage? Oh no, my daughters! My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the LORD has struck out against me.”

13 יג

All experience great loss – barrenness is a sense of loss and emptiness, as much as losing children whom one has borne. Job, Naomi and Hannah are emptied out by life. I [Naomi] went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. I read the texts to say that their bitterness comes, not from the emptiness alone, but from feeling that God has caused their desolation. Our of their bitterness, they each cry out against God. Job will give rein to his complaint. Naomi’s complaint takes the form of saying to the other women that Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me. Hannah is more indirect. When she prays to the Lord about her affliction, according to bBerachot 31b, she prays against God

  • R. Eleazar also said: Hannah spoke insolently [literally “she hurled words”] toward heaven, as it says, And Hannah prayed unto the Lord [The Hebrew word is 'al, lit., 'upon', 'against'] (I Sam. 1.10). This teaches that she spoke insolently toward heaven.

They cry out to God because they feel afflicted. What is affliction? The word used in common for all of them for affliction is ani. Job says

14 יד
(טו) אִם־רָשַׁ֡עְתִּי אַלְלַ֬י לִ֗י וְ֭צָדַקְתִּי לֹא־אֶשָּׂ֣א רֹאשִׁ֑י שְׂבַ֥ע קָ֝ל֗וֹן וּרְאֵ֥ה עָנְיִֽי׃

(15) Should I be guilty—the worse for me! And even when innocent, I cannot lift my head; So sated am I with shame, And drenched in my misery. [ani]

15 טו

(יז) תְּחַדֵּ֬שׁ עֵדֶ֨יךָ ׀ נֶגְדִּ֗י

(17) You keep sending fresh witnesses against me.

16 טז

Hannah says: You will see the affliction (ani) of your handmaid

17 יז

(יא) וַתִּדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר וַתֹּאמַ֗ר יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת אִם־רָאֹ֥ה תִרְאֶ֣ה ׀ בָּעֳנִ֣י אֲמָתֶ֗ךָ

She vowed a vow, saying: Lord of Hosts, if seeing, You will see the affliction (ani) of your handmaid

18 יח

Zornberg talks about affliction in relationship to Naomi and Job.

  • Naomi uses this strange expression: Hashem ana vi, God afflicted me. What exactly does “afflict” mean? Rashi says, “He testified against me, that I had been guilty in his presence.” I had been guilty of something. He testified against me, that I am incriminated of some unknown crime. Then Rashi quotes another reading. Ana vi: midat hadin, God’s faculty of judgement has afflicted me. God in his role as judge, as punisher, has come out and afflicted me. So ana vi can mean to afflict, to produce pain, to impose pain upon me, or it can mean to testify against me. Zornberg, pg 68
  • In interpreting Hashem ana vi – God has borne witness against me – Ibn Ezra...refers us to Job 10:17: techadesh edekha negdi – you are constantly sending new witnesses against me. Zornberg, pg 69

If we understand affliction for one of our biblical characters, we can better understand affliction for the others. Job mentions his affliction (עניי) (anyi) in almost the same breath as accusing God of continuing to send witnesses against him. As interpreted by Zornberg, Ibn Ezra and Rashi would have us understand that Naomi’s sense of affliction (ו'הוה ענה ב') Hashem ana vi, comes from feeling that God is testifying against her, bearing witness against her, and that this can be compared to Job saying that God is constantly sending new witnesses against him. That is, Job feels that God is punishing him for “some unknown crime.” See again this text:

19 יט

(א) נָֽקְטָ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֗י בְּחַ֫יָּ֥י אֶֽעֶזְבָ֣ה עָלַ֣י שִׂיחִ֑י אֲ֝דַבְּרָה֗ בְּמַ֣ר נַפְשִֽׁי׃ (ב) אֹמַ֣ר אֶל־אֱ֭לוֹהַּ אַל־תַּרְשִׁיעֵ֑נִי הֽ֝וֹדִיעֵ֗נִי עַ֣ל מַה־תְּרִיבֵֽנִי׃

(1) I am disgusted with life; I will give rein to my complaint, Speak in the bitterness of my soul. (2) I say to God, “Do not condemn me; Let me know what You charge me with.

20 כ

Bitterness, and bitterness of soul, may be taken as words of specific meaning, associated with being afflicted by God, as we find similar associations voiced by Naomi and Hannah. In this verse, we may say that Job’s soul is bitter (that is, his bitterness is deep indeed) because he feels that that God has condemned him, charged him with an unknown crime, born witness against him. Job’s bitterness, then, arises perhaps not from losses within his life, but from his feeling that God has afflicted him for unknown reasons. Job’s response is to complain, to hold God accountable, to insist that God uncover God’s reasons for punishing him.

21 כא

There is, additionally, an interesting intertextual relation between bitterness as Hannah experiences it, and bitter in Parsahat Nasso, as discussed in the Talmud Berakhot 31b.

  • As for the double language in the verse, “if you will look upon [im ra’o tireh],” Rabbi Elazar said: Hannah said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, if You will look upon [ra’o] me now, fine, and if not, in any case You will see [tireh]. What was Hannah threatening? She said: I will go and seclude myself with another man before Elkana, my husband. Since I secluded myself, they will force me to drink the sota water to determine whether or not I have committed adultery. I will be found innocent, and since You will not make Your Torah false [pelaster], I will bear children. With regards to a woman who is falsely suspected of adultery and drank the sota water, the Torah says: “And if the woman was not defiled, but was pure, then she shall be acquitted and she shall conceive” (Numbers 5:28). [The sota waters are the "water of bitterness."]
22 כב
(יח) וְהֶעֱמִ֨יד הַכֹּהֵ֥ן אֶֽת־הָאִשָּׁה֮ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָה֒ וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֣ן עַל־כַּפֶּ֗יהָ אֵ֚ת מִנְחַ֣ת הַזִּכָּר֔וֹן מִנְחַ֥ת קְנָאֹ֖ת הִ֑וא וּבְיַ֤ד הַכֹּהֵן֙ יִהְי֔וּ מֵ֥י הַמָּרִ֖ים הַמְאָֽרֲרִֽים׃

(18) After he has made the woman stand before the LORD, the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering of remembrance, which is a meal offering of jealousy. And in the priest’s hands shall be the water of bitterness that induces the spell.