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VCU Menorah Review Winter/Spring 2010
Number 72
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

An Interpretation of Isaiah 6.8-10

By Isabelle Taylor

God said to Isaiah (6.8-10)
Go, say to the people,
Hear, indeed, but do not understand;
See, indeed, but do not grasp.
Dull that people’s mind,
Stop its ears,
And seal its eyes--
Lest, seeing with its eyes

And hearing with its ears,
It also grasp with its mind,
And repent and save itself

This passage has always been troublesome. It clearly states that Isaiah should not help his people understand or learn about the dangers they face, as if their free will has been removed so there is no possibility of their return to God. One interpretation is that these words come to the prophet when he is old and disillusioned. This is the distressing result of a prophetic ministry that he believes has failed. The problem with this interpretation is that the words come to Isaiah immediately after he has been chosen by God to be a prophet.

I would offer another interpretation. The words relate to a spiritual experience without the ego or sense of self “getting in the way” the purest, most direct and simple kind of experience, not unlike the idealization of the wilderness period when the Hebrews were in direct relationship with God. But the moment the idea of “self” enters the relationship, the mind begins to grasp for answers and gratification. It is then that it would repent to save itself, meaning that the individual would try to save his own being instead of thinking of the greater good of justice and compassion for all, especially for the oppressed and vulnerable. At the beginning of Isaiahs ministry, therefore, God is giving him a mission virtually impossible: to instill within his people a faith so pure and immediate that it is not compromised by the ego.

Isabelle Taylor is president of the Virginia Commonwealth University Philosophy Club.

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