Occasionally I hit a moment when I just have to sit back and watch the movie. Here are a couple of them, and also some insights that turned up that are satisfying although not as cinematic.
(I'm using Mikraos Gedolos, Meam Loez, Daas Sofrim, the brown sefer entitled Torah SheBaal Peh, and Abarbanel on occasion. Who said what – ask me if you need to know; if I stop to look it up again now I'll never get this published.) Do not take my word for anything.
1:1 “...and his name was Elkana... an Ephratite.”
Q. Why is he called an Ephratite, from the tribe of Ephraim, since he was really a Levi?
A. The answer I always heard is that Ephrati is a generic term for a distinguished person, “a leader among his peers.”
Also, of course, he lived in the territory of Ephraim.
But this year I saw that one of the commentaries – I don't think I made this up – puts the two together: he lived in Ephraim, and he was a leader there. (You may have gathered this from that other Midrash that he used to take different routes up to the Mishkan every year, encouraging as many people as possible to come with him.)
In other words, he was such a great influence on Ephraim – which is what the Leviim were scattered around the country to be – that he is called an Ephrati, as if he were a member of the tribe himself.
1:3 This is the pasuk (verse) from which we learn that he would take those special routes up to the Mishkan to encourage people to come with him; and it concludes, “and there the two sons of Eli... were kohanim...” – dun dun dun – now we see why that extra encouragement was necessary.
1:6 “And her co-wife would anger her...”
Q. The Medrash tells us what Penina said to get Chana to daven (pray). It bothered me incessantly: in what tone of voice did Penina say this? I tried it over and over and the right tone of voice was just not in my repertoire. So, I called a rav, and asked him; and he read the Midrash, and all of a sudden it made sense. Moral of the story, if you need to know the tone of voice of something in Tanach, call a rabbi.
One theme of this perek seems to be how to get someone to do what you think they should do. Penina tries to get Chana to daven. Elkana tries to get Chana to cheer up. Eli tries to get Chana to sober up. And Chana tries to get Hashem to give her a child. Some are more effective than others. Discuss.
1:8, when Elkana is trying to cheer up Chana, someone says she understood from his words that he had reconciled himself to her childlessness; so she finally saw clearly that if anything was going to happen she was going to have to be the one to daven for it.
All these needlings finally add up to Chana going to daven after all.
1:14, Eli – explains someone – is suggesting that Chana go take a nap and come back later.
1:17, Eli's response to Chana is a play on words. Yiten has two meanings.
Sheila, spelt oddly as it is in this pasuk, also has two meanings: a request, or a child.
You can read Eli's words as a blessing: Hashem should give you the request that you have asked.
Or you can read them as a promise – Eli is having a flash of prophetic insight: Hashem will give you the child which you requested.
1:18, the very next verse, Chana hears Eli's bracha but she also hears the other meaning, the prophecy, and she lights up and the whole way home she can't stop smiling.
At least, that is how I read it; I don't have a source for that.
There is a Midrash – the kind that you read and say What? - that says that until now, Chana looked like a monkey; but after this encounter with Eli she didn't anymore. I think it is the Malbim who explains that what that means is that her intense sorrow was disfiguring; but now that she was happy she looked beautiful again.
The Midrash says Shmuel was a preemie.