The final verse is often translated “Wait for the Lord: be strong and let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord”. Somehow these words seem to sum up the whole experience of being Jewish.
We appear always to have been a people in waiting, mostly, but not only, for the coming of the Mashi’ach.
Judaism knows at least four crucial types of “waiting”. We might call them the theological, pastoral, practical and liturgical.
In theology the great characteristic of Judaism is that it is a forward-looking faith. Its great hope and ideal is for the world to “be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty”. It looks toward a culminating age in which messianic fulfillment will come to Israel and mankind.
The prophetic vision is of Israel restored to its land when “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”, and “every man can sit under his vine or fig-tree, and none shall make him afraid”.
But it is not just a simple matter of sitting back and waiting for these grand ideals to be realised in some supernatural way; human beings have the responsibility of working to improve the world and gradually bring about the age of the Messiah.
The pastoral aspects of “waiting” include the approach of life-cycle events: adulthood, marriage, the birth of a child, the onset of old age, the approach of death… Each stage brings its challenges and its opportunities, its blessings and curses (or at least its crises), and people should not merely let fate bring what it will but try to plan and prepare for each event.
For example: marriage is not only a personal blessing but the ideal human state, ordained by God for the good of society as a whole. A marriage partner should be selected on the basis of criteria that one has thought through beforehand, and then the couple should prepare for marriage with the help of a marriage educator.
Another example: death is neither to be dreaded or welcomed. It is an inevitable part of living, the only truly inevitable event. The sages said that because any tomorrow might be the day of one’s death, we should live every day in righteousness and repentance.
Now the practical aspects of “waiting”. A period of preparation leads up to every Shabbat, every great day in the calendar. These days must not suddenly appear and catch us unawares. Thus the last period of the working week must be given to preparing for Shabbat or chaggim.
The fourth kind of waiting is liturgical. Before prayer, either privately or in the synagogue, we should gradually get into the mood of worship. Prayer has to come and be unhurried, and the moment of communion with the Almighty has to develop, grow, and be savoured. Hence the three daily services begin with Psalms – in the morning, a succession of them – in order to tune in, as it were, before actually turning to statutory worship.
The pattern of “waiting” has always given our people, especially at times of persecution, the optimistic spirit to enable them to overcome the menaces of the moment and to look forward to the dawn even in the midst of the blackest night.