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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Days of Repentance!

I was alerted to a tradition maintained for thousands of years, a daily prayer of repentance said by orthodox Jews, but not on Sabbaths and festivals. The event that caused King David to write Psalm 25 immediately invoked my fascination. Every day this psalm is read as a personal plea for forgiveness, but I question its broader implications. Strangely this psalm is read immediately following the most sacred point of the daily prayer ritual, so the reader is expected to traverse the highest point of spiritual elevation to the lowest point of repentance. It seems odd these extremes would be juxtaposed; perhaps to draw the reader back to the reality of their human condition? So why this psalm when many others could have been selected?
The event that inspired its writing, toward the end of King David’s reign, caused the death of 70,000 people who lived in Israel's north. David’s ill-fated, self motivated decision to conduct a national census was singled out and blamed. David had chosen this divinely inflicted plague over punishments by human hands. In the aftermath David and others sighted the angel of death poised to destroy Jerusalem, but it stopped, well short of the three days David had agreed, via Prophet Gad to endure on his people as punishment for his census oversight. Immediately the Prophet told him to build an altar where David had seen the feet of the angel standing on the top of Mount Moriah on the threshing floor that belonged to the King of the Jebusites who was still living in Jerusalem's City of David. Why was the nation inflicted when the fateful census was his decision alone?
Here we must turn to commentaries that also ask whether the altar he built was for personal or national use? In those days it had already been decreed that no national altars could be built outside of the temporary sanctuary. Furthermore the Ark of the covenant and elements of the temporary sanctuary had already been transported to the City of David many years prior. However, an altar had not been formally erected and all tribal leaders knew once erected, the altar would mark the spot for the permanent temple. Custom has it that the location of David and Gad’s altar, on the threshing floor, became the beacon by which plans for the permanent temple were finalized by David. His son Solomon completed the temple construction, which was once located somewhere near the site of today’s golden Dome of The Rock on the Temple Mount. According to Jewish law the future permanent altar can only ever be at the very same location Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, not by any other measure.
Although it may be logical to argue the daily recitation of Psalm 25 reminds that national disloyalty or disrespect for the nation's leader could cause a decision that will bring harm, these traits do not constitute sin. It’s more likely the daily recitation is associated with a recurring event that specifically requires repentance. As you will see from my blog links in the article body, I maintain a view consistent with commentaries that the absence of Israel’s national temple each day is as if each person individually destroyed it. Therefore I conclude, in addition to the many other proofs I have already brought, that Psalm 25 was written because King David knew the altar’s location he selected would lead to the temple’s destruction.
Until we discover the correct and permanent place of the altar and rectify the problem, this psalm will continue to be recited by and for each reader and for that fateful national decision.