In 1878 Naftali Herz Imber penned the now famous words to the Israeli National Anthem, Hatikvah. Called ‘The Hope’ it embodies the yearning for our Land and our return to it:
As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
This Hope is not ‘merely’ about a return to the Land, but also to see a rebuilt and functioning Temple in the heart of Jerusalem, the Place where G-d has alone placed His Name. Such deep longing has driven the Jewish soul for 2000 years, but we weren’t alone in our yearnings. During the first Diaspora when for 70 years we lived and dreamt of a revived Land and Temple in Babylon, a certain young man called Daniel penned a similar prayer of hope and longing. His prayer is both revealing and instructive if we have eyes to see it, and should lead us to seek the real path of repentance in our days, as it was in Daniel’s time.
He begins with a deep confession to our national and corporate sins. There is no plea to the earlier merits of the Fathers to cover up our sins, or even balance them out in some form; No plea to a status based on the election and choice of G-d of Israel as if we could never become unclean, just a dawning realisation that we had fallen gravely short of His glory and standards of righteousness. Daniel faced reality, stared it in the eye and didn’t blink from the consequences. Again and again Daniel quotes from the Torah the cause and effect relationship between Israel and the Torah, our sins and the consequences of them. This was no fleeing from the reality of Diaspora, nor an angst-driven re-assessment of Israel as ‘merely’ the apparent victim of other states’ aggression. Verses 10 and 11 of chapter 9 frame the reality perfectly:
<We have not obeyed the voice of Adonai our G-d, to walk in His Commandments which He set before us by His servants the prophets.
Yea, all Israel has transgressed Your Torah, and turned aside, that they might not obey Your voice. Therefore the curse has been poured out on us, and the oath that is written in the Torah of Moshe the servant of G-d, because we have sinned against Him.>
Facing the reality however means not just acknowledging guilt and seeking forgiveness. Daniel enshrines for us some deeper truths too about who our G-d is and why seeking His Face is never an empty act. He prays : O Lord, righteousness belongs to you. The understanding that any righteousness MUST come from HIM alone, and not from any fake self-delusional ideas that we can ever be that righteous in ourselves, sits at the heart of true repentance and ultimate forgiveness. Daniel reiterates a similar concept at the end of the prayer: Do not delay for your own sake my G-d. This has always been about who G-d is, how He deals with us and how He demonstrates His presence and redeeming power in the world. If we truly want to see a revival in our people unto the Lord and a spiritual transformation of our Land and nation, then we too must begin to pray this prayer.