Lo Yarey’u

On Shabbat, our tradition encourages us to focus on enduring values.  In that spirit, we cannot help but pay attention this Shabbat to both the violence and our heart-felt hopes for peace, or at least calm, in Gaza and Israel.   Y’hi ratson mil’fanecha — may it be God’s will — that adults stop fighting and start talking, so that children (and adults) will no longer live in fear and learn hate.  Lo yarey-u v’lo yash-chitu b’chol har kodshi, said Isaiah: They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.

But if you spell yarey’u with an alef instead of an ayin, this verse teaches an additional lesson:  “They shall neither fear nor destroy.”

TIll just now, I mostly knew these words from a song I learned at camp long ago, an incredibly lovely 3-part piece.  I never realized, till I looked up the sentence in Isaiah (chapter 11, verse 9) a few minutes ago, that it’s yarey’u with an ayin, from the root ra’, “bad” or “evil,” not yarey’u with an alef, from the root yara’ , “fear.”  So the original text was meant as poetic redundancy: “They won’t do anything bad, they won’t destroy/obliterate/cause destruction.”

But I’ve heard it and translated it this other way for 30 years.  The rabbis of the Talmud often made their points based on this kind of midrashic word-play, taking off from the sound of words instead of sticking with their original meaning; so I feel comfortable doing the same.

It is fear, after all, that leads to the destruction we are witnessing (or hiding our minds from) now. “They  shall not fear and [therefore] they shall not destroy in all My holy mountain.” May both Israelis and Palestinians have the opportunity to live those words!  SOON!