"Isaiah was not the first-born. His mother had had a stillbirth in 1907 and been told she would never be able to have children again. His parents greeted his arrival with the astonishment reserved for miracles. These facts -- the stillborn sister, the longed-for realisation of his parents' wishes, the injury at birth, an only child -- are vitally important, though interpreting their signifiance is not easy. He himself never liked interpreting them at all. But there is a story in the Bible that might be taken as an oblique fable about his own beginnings. It is the story of Hannah, the barren women who goes to the temple to pray for a son, and who is so distraught that the high priest takes her for mad: 'And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.' In her desperation, Hannah promised that if God would grant her a son, she would give him into His service. Her faith -- her primitive, intense desire for a child -- was eventually rewarded. She and her husband Elkanah had a child, who grew up to become the prophet Samuel. Isaiah's mother, Mussa Marie Berlin, was intensely moved by these verses and by the promise of hope that they contained, for they spoke so directly to her own desperation: having lost one child, having been told she would never give birth again. She was at the relatively advanced age of twenty-nine when her deliverance came. It is easy to see why, whenever Berlin himself brought to mind the desperate faith of Hannah, his eyes would fill with tears."
--Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 10-11