« Isaiah, Awe and rest | Main | Literally Isaiah, but not literally »

Teach and learn, turn and turn

We begin the second verse (Isaiah 17) as we enter the home stretch of the Days of Awe.

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.

As I always bring up, the verb for learn and for teach are the same, as well they should be. I think a lesson, here, is that Isaiah doesn’t say do the right thing, but learn to do the right thing. When he is speaking to a generation in Israel whose hands are red with blood, it’s a powerful indictment that they don’t even know how to do the right thing. But when we, as the tradition suggests, read this verse every year what does it tell us? The first time, yes, we can be chastised and admit that we must learn to do the right thing. But the second year; what does it mean to us the second year? And the third? And the tenth?

Are we to believe that we forget righteousness, year to year, so thoroughly that we do not only need to remember but to learn all over again? Maybe that’s true. It would be hard to defend humanity, year to year, that we just need a little reminder. Or perhaps this is another injunction to turn it and turn it; for all we have learned in the past, we can always learn more about righteousness. Humility seems to suggest that is true as well.

Another possibility: read it in cycles, as learn one year and teach the next. We can’t help but do both simultaneously, though; the only way to really learn something is to teach it, and surely no-one can be said to truly have learned righteousness without passing it to others. Teach and learn, learn and teach; every year we both repeat what we know and learn new aspects of it. Turn it and turn it. Turn yourself and turn yourself. There is no end to it; everything is in it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.