Teach No More War
“Each rose is an island of the promised peace, the eternal peace.
In each rose dwells a sapphire bird whose name is "They shall beat their swords..."
And the light of the rose seems so near,
and its fragrance so near,
and the silence of its leaves so near,
that island so near -
take a boat and cross the sea of fire.”
Ukrainian born poet Zelda, wrote this Hebrew poem, Translated by Marcia Falk, while living in Jerusalem, walking in the footsteps of the Prophet Isaiah whom she quotes: The bird living inside the rose bears the name of one of Isaiah’s most famous prophetic calls - found in today’s chapter.
The first chapter was an overture to Isaiah’s prophetic saga. This chapter also gives us no context for Isaiah’s identity - his origins, political reality and enduring message.
He launches into a powerful and hopeful vision about the end of days - the utopia worth waiting and fighting for, echoed by so many poets and prophets, artists and activists since.
It’s likely that this prophecy was recited by him during his early days, as King Uzziah, his cousin, is on the throne, prosperous and powerful. Jerusalem is at its heyday. Yet the prophet, though privileged, sees below the surface, recognizes the corruption that comes with power and greed, the dangers that define the days of glory that refuse to take care of the weakest in the land. The idolatry that Isaiah rails about is symptomatic of the bigger problem - humans worship themselves, centering their needs - and not humbling themselves as relative players in a much more complex ecosystem that is not all about us.
Isaiah’s words became the hallmark of the hope for better days - the end of days - when weapons are transformed into art, and when we overcome our fear of each other - choosing to work together for the greater good.
The vision is of all the people worshiping as one - united by one god, one vision that transcends differences. He depicts this aspirational universal unity in the symbols that he knew - all the people of the earth will travel to Jerusalem, like a river moving upstream to climb the sacred mountain and there praise the divine -together. From there the light will spread to the rest of the world. Every synagogue echoes those words as the Torah scrolls are removed from the holy ark - the symbol of the holy of holies on the top of the sacred mountain:
וְֽהָלְכ֞וּ עַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֗ים וְאָֽמְרוּ֙ לְכ֣וּ ׀ וְנַעֲלֶ֣ה אֶל־הַר־יְהֹוָ֗ה אֶל־בֵּית֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְיֹרֵ֙נוּ֙ מִדְּרָכָ֔יו וְנֵלְכָ֖ה בְּאֹרְחֹתָ֑יו כִּ֤י מִצִּיּוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֣א תוֹרָ֔ה וּדְבַר־יְהֹוָ֖ה מִירוּשָׁלָֽ͏ִם׃
וְשָׁפַט֙ בֵּ֣ין הַגּוֹיִ֔ם וְהוֹכִ֖יחַ לְעַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים וְכִתְּת֨וּ חַרְבוֹתָ֜ם לְאִתִּ֗ים וַחֲנִיתֽוֹתֵיהֶם֙ לְמַזְמֵר֔וֹת לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹֽא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה׃
And the many peoples shall go and say:
Let us go up to the Mount of YHWH,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That God may instruct us in God’s ways,
And that we may walk in God’s paths.”
Torah shall come forth from Zion,
The word of God from Jerusalem.
Thus God will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many peoples,
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.
From Zion the Torah shall emerge.. But few know that those are indeed prophetic words that go back to the 8th century BCE. They may also be a bit younger - Micah, the prophet who lived alongside Isaiah but was just a bit younger, also includes these very words in his prophecies. Scholars are divided on why these appear in both books. The best guess is that its a very early scribal error.
Isaiah’s words linger and matter - found on the steps of the UN in NYC, on monuments and postal stamps, carved into stone and remembered by heart. Aryeh “Lova” Eliav, an instrumental founder of the State of Israel and an avocate of the peace process, wrote about Isaiahs’ global message of peace:
“Out of all the prophets, the ultimate prophecy is Isaiah’s vision of future national and universal peace…the message is simple: peace, peace for all and peace forever.
Thus, over two and a half millennia ago, in a small country surrounded by enemies and consumed with conflict and corruption, a new, tantalizing vision of world peace was conjured up for the first time.
Fifteen Hebrew words depict this image: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor shall they train for war anymore” (Is. 2:4).
These words have been the motto of all those who strive for peace since the days of Isaiah’s vision. They have been carved upon stone and inscribed upon parchment, painted, drawn and sung, uttered by politicians and screamed by battle-weary soldiers…How proud I am of the prophets of Israel who stand upon the pinnacle of human hope – the hope for peace.”
image: No More Flowers. Josue Rob/Deviantart.com