The pair of Biblical passages this week shares a most curious feature. Both display uncommon, prominent double uses of words. That’s odd…and exciting.
In Deuteronomy, we read one of the most significant statements in the Bible: Righteousness, righteousness you are to pursue, in order that you may live and possess the land that God is giving you.
There are many extraordinary explanations of the meaning of this verse. But let’s do something fresh. Let’s come at what Moses is instructing by looking at the unusual use of double words in our companion piece in Prophets. Here Isaiah is explicitly talking about the promise of return. But could it be that he is also teaching us something invaluable about what it means to live a life of righteousness?
Recall what we just read: the people were doubly taught in the way of righteousness so they might live AND persist in the land. But we now know centuries later that they did not persist in righteousness and they were exiled from the land. They lived but did not persist. Why? What was missing?
Isaiah begins this week with the remarkable, “Anochi, Anochi.” God says I, only I, am He Who comforts you. We are always to remember that it is God Who always seeks our presence and always consoles and redeems upon our return. It’s as if “Anochi” is repeated to show us that God starts with us as our Redeemer and endures as our Redeemer.
In another double call, the prophet challenges us, “Awaken yourself! Awaken yourself!” Have we lost our way? Are we so pained or subdued that we have forgotten the promise? Even in our lowest state, we may know God seeks our return. But awakening out of the pain requires more than a memory of hope; it sometimes takes a double shaking to move beyond being stirred to being fully awake.
Isaiah then beckons us, “Turn away! Turn away!” It’s not easy to see error, pick ourselves up, and return. We doubled up in losing our way and straying, ending up in exile. Now it will be a double challenge to start and then endure in the terribly difficult work of turning back.
Do we now have a new sense of what Moses is teaching in the first place? Perhaps this: It’s one thing to have learned the virtue of righteousness and made an initial commitment to it. But now we know from experience that’s not enough. The second use of the word tells us we must endure in the hard work of doing righteousness and carry through to its end in what we do. That’s how we live AND possess the expanse of God’s promise.
As Chasidic wisdom suggests, being righteous has a good and right beginning, but its proper effect is not achieved without demanding, continuing effort.