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Isaiah and the Days of Awe, Day Nine: Plead for the Widow

Well, and if I’ve done this write, it is posting on Yom Kippur, the last of the Days of Awe, and before I begin the last bit of Isaiah 1:16-17, let me quote myself from last year at this time:

I do hope that Gentle Readers will forgive me for the things that I have done and left undone that have hurt y’all in any way, and I regret doing (or not doing) those things, whatever they are. But of course not knowing what they are means that I can’t really resolve not to do them again.

I’ll add that if I am doing something hurtful, or leaving something undone that is hurtful not to do, then please let me know so that I can make such a resolve—and then please let me know again when I fail at that resolve so I can try again. I do try; I keep trying.

OK, Isaiah:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

I want to do that thing I do where I attribute connotation to the etymology of words, which is highly suspect in terms of meaning but may still influence the way they are read. Or not; I have no reason to thing that Strong’s is any more accurate than any of the folkloring word origin stuff in our English dictionaries. Anyway, just as with yesterday’s fatherless, and like the English word, the Hebrew word for widow does not contain the missing thing. Strong’s links the word to the idea of silence; the person who is silent is a widow, because there isn’t anybody left to talk to. Even if this is crap etymology, it makes for a lovely poetry in this verse. We plead for the silent. Particularly if you imagine a world sufficiently patriarchal that the widow has no standing to sue for herself, or to speak in court, or even to be taught her legal rights. For her, widowhood is enforced silence, and we are commanded to be—not her voice, but a voice for her, such as her husband was required to be.

Speaking of connotations, both this one and the last one strongly smell of the legal system, but I think that may best be taken as a metaphor. Or if not a metaphor as a sort of schenectady, in which we take our lesson from that sphere and apply it to the greater world. I mean, clearly Isaiah didn’t just mean that we should plead for the widow in legal proceedings, but kick her to the curb in business and social matters. It’s an interesting figure of speech, though, because I think we would not ordinarily be inclined to say that we should act in all our lives as if we were involved in litigation. Perhaps we ought to—hold ourselves to a standard of fairness, of evidence before judgment, of openness, of opportunities of appeal, of dispassion and deliberation. On the other hand, it’s not as if we hold our court system up to such a standard, so how useful is the metaphor?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


We don't collectively hold our court system to such a standard as an enforced reality. However, I do hold our court system up to such a standard as a metric, and find our court system severely lacking. It is important to do so, because in holding our court up to such a standard as a metric resides our only hope of eventually holding our court system to such a standard as an enforced reality.

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