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
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
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.
Bitterness, bitter soul – what is it? Does it come from sense of loss, or from something else? Job feels condemned by God.
Naomi feels the Lord has dealt harshly with her.
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
Hannah says: You will see the affliction (ani) of your handmaid
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:
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.
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."]