If the Lord Arthur James Balfour was given the opportunity to come back to life and give a talk on his experiences here, no doubt the lecture would be titled “Repentance.”
The story of the 20th century British prime minister’s repentance began with an Austro-Hungarian journalist, as distant from Judaism as can be, who began rallying the Jews in the late 1890s, convincing them of the dire and immediate need to find a permanent homeland.
Theodor Herzl traveled around Europe and Asia Minor, going from kaiser to sultan, empire to federation, to speak about the possibility of establishing some sort of Jewish autonomy in Palestine.
But after several meetings, the movement seemed to be at an impasse.
Herzl didn’t experience any victory in convincing the world powers to put aside a portion of territory for them in Palestine, nor did any of the other Zionist leaders record any real successes.
In 1903, a year before Herzl’s death, in response to the outbreak of the Kishinev pogroms, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered Herzl 13,000 sq. km. in British East Africa.
While not being directly responsible for the offering of the Uganda Scheme, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann later wrote that Balfour, who was prime minister at the time, seemed to have been quite supportive of the plan to move the Jewish people to a remote territory in eastern Africa.
But where was Balfour’s knowledge of the Bible?
Did he not understand that the People of Israel belong in the Land of Israel?
A talk with Zionist activist Chaim Weizmann knocked some sense into him.
“Conversations I held with Mr. Weizmann in January, 1906, convinced me that history could not thus be ignored, and that if a home was to be found for the Jewish people, homeless now for nearly nineteen hundred years, it was vain to seek it anywhere but in Palestine,” Balfour wrote in the introduction to Nahum Sokolow’s The History of Zionism, 1600-1918.
As much as Balfour became known as a man who lived his life according to God’s word, the case being in 1904 seemed to prove the opposite.
This is why the Balfour Declaration is about repentance. Not only about Balfour’s repentance in making sure that it was known throughout the world that the only way the Jewish people could thrive as a nation could be in Eretz Yisrael, but also repenting in the name of the nations of the world for them having stolen the land from the Nation of Israel, and actively doing what he could to hand back the stolen territory.
Balfour died in 1930, his conscience clear, having done what he could to repent for the theft of the Land of Israel.
It might be said differently of his successors.
The British policies in Palestine that followed the First World War made life very difficult for the residents of Palestine, and His Majesty’s Government did all that it could to renege on the Balfour Declaration, which had become binding according to international law, to establish a home for the Jewish people.
The British also made the decision to take away Transjordan from a future Jewish state.
Finally, and reluctantly, the British handed over the reins of Mandate Palestine to the United Nations, which, although it resulted in the 1947 UN Partition Plan offering a state to the Jewish people, it only included slightly more than half of the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine.
But these stumbling blocks on the way to reaching the ultimate boundaries God promised to Abraham, from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, were clearly meant to be.
For what would be left to do if the Jewish people were handed the entire territory promised to them on a silver spoon?
What role would other righteous gentiles, like Balfour, be able to fulfill if all of the land already had the names of all the idolatrous places wiped out?
And of course, what role would the Jewish people have themselves if the commandment to conquer the land – removing all those who demonstrate the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods and teaching to sin against God – was already completely fulfilled?
The Balfour Declaration and the Partition Plan, celebrating their 100th and 70th anniversaries this month, respectively, were two amazing moments in the past 100 years, and appended to them were even more amazing moments such as the liberation of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria 50 years ago.
But it is quite clear that there is still a while to go, and a lot of repentance that needs to be done, before we reach our ultimate goal.
It makes it difficult to wait on the one hand, but also gives each individual and nation the opportunity to play a hand in declaring God’s unity to the world.sign up to our newsletter