Girls in Trouble is an indie-folk song cycle about women in Torah by musician, writer and Torah teacher, Alicia Jo Rabins. The Girls in Trouble Curriculum links these musical midrashim with their source texts, Alicia's notes, and other artistic interpretations, inviting teachers, students, and individual learners on a journey through the world of women in Torah. We hope you enjoy this concise version of the Hannah unit. To download the full unit, including teacher's notes, please visit www.girlsintroublemusic.com.
Behind the Music: Notes from singer/songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins
Hannah's story reflects the questions we all face when we want (or need) something we can't have. Is it better to accept our life for what it is, or try to change it? What are the risks and costs of each of these decisions? And how should we approach the Divine – with humility or chutzpah?
Hannah carries us through various approaches to these questions. She is a model for dealing with our desires and disappointment, a companion in our times of suffering, and an inspiration for our power to find a way out. Hannah can inspire us to ask for what we really want – and maybe even to demand it.
(1) There was a man from Ramataim… whose name was Elkanah... (2) He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. (3) This man used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to God of Hosts at Shiloh. — Hofni and Pinchas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of God there. (4) One such day, Elkanah offered a sacrifice. He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; (5) but to Hannah he would give one portion only — though Hannah was his favorite — for God had closed her womb. (6) Moreover, her rival, to make her miserable, would taunt her that God had closed her womb. (7) This happened year after year: Every time she went up to the House of God, the other would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat. (8) Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why are you crying and why aren't you eating? Why are you so sad? Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?"
(9) After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose. — The priest Eli was sitting on the seat near the doorpost of the temple of God. — (10) In her wretchedness, she prayed to God, weeping all the while. (11) And she made this vow: "O God of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to God for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head."
(12) As she kept on praying before God, Eli watched her mouth. (13) Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. (14) Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up!" (15) And Hannah replied, "Oh no, my God! I am a very unhappy woman. I have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but I have been pouring out my heart to God. (16) Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; I have only been speaking all this time out of my great anguish and distress." (17) "Then go in peace," said Eli, "and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him." (18) She answered, "You are most kind to your handmaid." So the woman left, and she ate, and was no longer downcast. (19) Early next morning they bowed low before God, and they went back home to Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah and God remembered her. (20) Hannah conceived, and at the turn of the year bore a son. She named him Samuel, meaning, "I asked God for him."
JPS Translation, slightly edited
Questions for Discussion:
1. What problems or questions do you find in this text?
2. What is your favorite moment in this story?
a song in Hannah's voice by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble
I opened my mouth but no words came
I lay down to sleep but I did not dream
I looked up at the stars but the sky was dark
like a mirror held up to my heart
A B C, D E F
Take away this alphabet
it’s heavy on my tongue
You can want a thing so bad it seems
That you lose yourself and everybody else
So I got down on my knees on the marble floor
And I cried until my throat was sore
A B C D, E F G
Tell me what you want from me
I’ll do it all I swear
I was not drunk, I was awake
I could not open so I had to break
to let the light come in
A B C D, E F G
Take this alphabet from me
It’s heavy on my tongue
1. What is your initial response to this song? How is it similar or different from your
imagination of Hannah’s character and experience?
2. What parts of this song can you find in the original story? Which parts did the
songwriter add as part of the midrashic process? What parts do you resonate with? If you were writing Hannah's story from her point of view, what might you do differently?