The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Hannah and her Seven Sons.
During the terrible times which followed the fall of the Holy City, Hannah and her seven sons were cast into prison.
According to their ages they were brought before the tyrant conqueror, and commanded to pay homage to him and his gods.
"God forbid," exclaimed the eldest lad, "that I should bow to thy image. Our commandments say to us, 'I am the Lord thy God;' to no other will I bow."
He was immediately led out to execution, and the same demand made of his brother, the second son.
"My brother bowed not," he answered, "and no more will I."
"Wherefore not?" asked the tyrant.
"Because," replied the lad, "the second commandment of the Decalogue tells us, 'Thou shalt have no other God but me.'"
His death followed immediately his brave words.
"My religion teaches me, 'Thou shalt worship no other God'" (Ex. 34: 14), said the third son, "and I welcome the fate accorded to my brothers rather than bow to thee or thy images."
The same homage was demanded of the fourth son, but brave and faithful as his brethren, he replied, "'He that sacrificeth unto any God save unto the Lord only'" (Ex. 22: 19), and was slain pitilessly.
"'Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God, the Lord is One,'" exclaimed the fifth lad, yielding up his young life with the watchword of Israel's hosts.
"Why art thou so obstinate?" was asked of the sixth brother, when he, too, was brought before the tyrant and scorned the propositions made him.
"'The Lord thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty and terrible God'" (Deut. 7: 21), he said; and died for the principles he proclaimed.
Then the seventh and youngest boy was brought before the murderer of his relatives, who addressed him kindly, saying:
"My son, come bow before my gods."
And the child answered:
"God forbid! Our holy religion teaches us 'Know therefore this day, and reflect in thy heart that the Lord he
is God, in the heavens above and on the earth beneath there is none else' (Deut. 4: 39). Never will we exchange our God for any other, neither will He exchange us for any other nation, for as it is written, 'Thou hast this day acknowledged the Lord' (Deut. 26: 17), so is it also written, 'And the Lord hath acknowledged thee this day, that thou art unto him a peculiar people!'"
Still the tyrant spoke smoothly, and with kind words.
"Thou art young," he said; "thou hast seen but little of the pleasures and joys of life, not as much as has fallen to the portion of thy brethren. Do as I wish thee and thy future shall be bright and happy."
"The Lord will reign for ever and ever," said the lad; "thy nation and thy kingdom will be destroyed; thou art here to-day, to-morrow in the grave; to day elevated, to-morrow lowly; but the most Holy One endures for ever."
"See," continued the other, "thy brothers lie slain before thee; their fate will be thine if thou refusest to do as I desire. See, I will cast my ring to the ground, stoop thou and pick it up; that I will consider allegiance to my gods."
"Thinkest thou that I fear thy threats?" returned the unterrified lad; "why should I fear a human being more than the great God, the King of kings?"
"Where and what is thy God?" asked the oppressor. "Is there a God in the world?"
"Can there be a world without a Creator?" replied the youth. "Of thy gods ‘tis said, 'mouths they have, but speak not.' Of our God the Psalmist says, 'By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.' Thy gods have 'eyes but see not,' but 'the eyes of the Lord run to and fro in the whole earth!' Thy gods have 'ears but hear not,' but of our God ‘tis written, The Lord hearkened and heard.' Of thy gods ‘tis said, 'a nose they have but smell not,'
while our God 'smelled the sweet savour.' 'Hands have thy gods but they touch not,' while our God says, 'My hand hath also founded the earth.' Of thy gods ‘tis written, 'feet they have but walk not,' while Zachariah tells us of our God, 'His feet will stand that day upon the mount of Olives.'"
Then said the cruel one:
"If thy God hath all these attributes, why does He not deliver thee from my power?"
The lad replied:
"He delivered Chananyah and his companions from the power of Nebuchadnezzar, but they were righteous men, and Nebuchadnezzar was a king deserving of seeing a miracle performed, but for me, alas, I am not worthy of redemption, neither art thou worthy of a demonstration of God's power."
"Let the lad be slain as were his brothers," commanded the tyrant.
Then spoke Hannah, the mother of the boys:
"Give me my child," she cried, "oh, cruel king, let me fold him in my arms ere thou destroyest his innocent young life."
She threw her arms around the lad, clasping him tightly to her bosom, and pressing her lips to his. "Take my life," she cried; "kill me first before my child."
"Nay," he answered, scoffingly, "I cannot do it, for thy own laws forbid; 'Whether it be ox or sheep ye shall not kill it and its young in one day'" (Lev. 28).
"Oh, woe to thee," replied the mother, "thou who art so particular to regard the laws." Then pressing her boy to her heart, "Go, my dear one," she said, "say to Abraham that my sacrifice hath exceeded his. He built one altar whereon to sacrifice Isaac; thy mother hath built seven
altars and sacrificed seven Isaacs in one day. He was but tempted; thy mother hath performed."
After the execution of her last son, Hannah became insane, and threw herself from her house-top. Where she fell, she expired.
Happy are ye, ye seven sons of Hannah; your portion in the future world was waiting for you. In faithfulness ye served your God, and with her children shall your mother rejoice for ever in the eternal world.