The ancient location of Shiloh, in the Shomron, is where the first Mishkan, or Tabernacle, stood for 367 years, before the Philistines came and destroyed it.
The biblical Joshua picked the spot, and many amazing stories from the Tanach occurred there, most notably the story of the barren wife Chana, and her prayer that God should grant her children.
God answered Chana’s prayer, and sent her the prophet Shmuel, along with four other kids.
Shiloh is the place where Shmuel served out his apprenticeship to Eli, the High Priest. Shmuel famously heard God calling to him in Shiloh, which cemented his position as one of the Nation of Israel’s foremost spiritual leaders.
The first time I went to Shiloh was about 7 years’ ago, and I loved it. I’m a huge history buff, and the idea of walking on the same ground as Joshua, Samuel and Chana thrilled me to the core.
Seven years’ ago, I also had another strong motivation for visiting Shiloh: I wanted God to do a repeat performance, and to answer my prayers to have more children.
Fast-forward to Pesach 2015, and we decided to go to Shiloh over Chol Hamoed, as they do one of the best family day outs in Israel.
I could go and look at all the ancient, ‘boring’ stones, while my kids biked around, made mosaics and wove themselves bracelets.
We got there, and the weather was gorgeous: a perfect, sunny cloudless sky, but with a strong breeze, so you didn’t feel you were baking alive in your own skin. Israel in Spring is always beautiful, but the Shomron takes it up a level: every where we looked, there were natural Spring flowers, trees in bloom and green mountains (and signs for the ‘LadyPal’ account at the Palestinian Bank, in Arabic.)
The kids went off to do their thing, and me and my husband wandered up to the site of the ancient Mishkan. On the way, there were guides stationed every few metres, to tell you a bit more of the story of ancient Shiloh.
We got to the Mishkan, and there was a bloke with a guitar, seated next to a huge canvas screen that had Chana’s prayer printed on it.
The bloke started singing the prayer that many Jewish mothers say when they light candles on Friday night, asking God to grant them children who will stick to the path of Torah, and be beacons of spiritual light in a world of darkness – and out of the blue, I suddenly got all choked up.
You see, I’d forgotten about all the prayers I’d offered up to have more kids. The last few years have been so crazy, with multiple house moves, failed businesses and serious identity crises, that the idea of expanding the family had pretty much disappeared.
The melody, right next to Chana’s prayer, brought it all back.
And then, I had a big question to deal with: “God, why didn’t you answer my prayer, the way you answered Chana? What was – is – lacking in me, that I can’t seem to get my prayers to work?”
I’d love to tell you that it’s just the prayer for kids that apparently hasn’t been fulfilled, but the last couple of years, I’ve had more prayers than I can count come back with a ‘rejected’ stamp.
Like the prayer I should be able to find a community to belong to; or the prayer that I should be able to buy a house in Jerusalem; or even the prayer that me and my husband should finally get some peace of mind and sheket nafshi.
Rav Arush teaches that no prayer ever goes to waste, so I know all these prayers are going somewhere, and doing something. But at Shiloh, I wanted to know what.
I can’t say I got a direct answer, but I definitely got a response.
After a couple of minutes, it’s like some big internal block dissolved, and God started whispering at me: “It’s all good. You’ll soon see why it’s had to be this way. Trust me, it’s all good.”
And I believed it.
I left Shiloh feeling happier and calmer than I have done for at least 12 years, which is saying something.
Chana was 130 when God finally answered her prayers, and I have a way to go before I’ve reached that milestone. One thing I learned, again, at Shiloh is that patience is definitely a virtue. The game isn’t over yet, and my prayers are still being processed – and yours are, too.