Isaac Leeser.

Discourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 online

. (page 11 of 26)
Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 11 of 26)
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where is the home of the iron ; the ore is brought up to the light
of day, whilst yet the future metal is encumbered with uncon-
genial substances. Another equally skilful, and even more
daring, perchance ventures under the bed of the sea and ex-
tracts the fossil coal with which they smelt the iron. Next the
swarthy forgemen pile up in the intensely heated furnace the
ore and the fuel, and speedily urged by the blast of the mighty
bellows the liquefied metal flows in a fiery stream. Now behold
the rolling-mill smoothing a bar of one of the hardest products
in nature, as if it were flexible as the dough under the hands of
the industrious housewife. Again see the smith at his forge, his
brawny arm wields high in air the ponderous hammer and soon
the ploughshare is presented to view. The forester also lends
his aid, the hundred-armed oak totters, falls ; the artisan shapes
the plough; and the farmer harnesses to it the laborious ox or the
sinewy plough-horse, and rejoicingly he commences his task of
tilling the earth. The builder also is needed ! By the margin
of some rapid brook with busy skill the foundation is laid ; stone
after stone is carried to the spot, beam after beam is placed in
its resting place ; the masons ply their trowels, and the carpen-
ters their tools, and the mill stands finished before you. The
millwright's services are now needed ; the machinery is duly dis-


posed, the race is properly arranged, and the wheel is fixed in
the outer wall ; and soon the wagons laden with the produce of
the farmer's industry feed the voracity of the mighty engine
which so many skilful, busy hands have erected, and the stun-
ning din tells not of danger, of the battle-alarm, of the destruc-
tion of human life, but of the production of the most nutritious
food provided by Providence for our sustenance. These briefly
are some of the labours w r hich many have to undergo, in order
to supply the household with a common daily necessary of life ;
and the smallest morsel even which enters in your consumption
is watered by the sweat of hundreds, labouring to accomplish
one particular end.

This one illustration serves for all other employments ; and
we may say in truth, that man when alone is absolutely help-
less, and more unprovided than any other animal, from the
largest to the smallest, since each of these can obtain its food
without the multiplicity of labours which falls to the lot of man.
But were the farmer to sit down in despair and say : " How
shall 1 be able to procure iron ore, smelt it, forge it into a
ploughshare, how can I cut down the tree alone and make my-
self a plough ? what shall I do ? I shall never be able to till my
field;" what would any rational man tell him? surely, that he
should avail himself of the labour of others, procure the plough
which he can find ready made to his hands, although so
many preparatory labours were necessary, and just do nothing
more than that part of the work which is allotted to him, that is
the mere act of opening the soil, which he is amply able to do
by the assistance of the beasts of burden which the Creator has
assigned for the service of man. Any one would therefore be
reckoned unwise, who would refuse doing any thing, because
he could not accomplish every thing ; for it is only by every
man's doing his share for the general good that the welfare of
every individual is best promoted.

But, brethren, the same holds good not only in the physical,
but also in the moral world. Many are the wants of the mind!
multifarious are the duties which are demanded of us! and yet
they must all be satisfied, if we wish to be happy. Look at the
infant when scarce it essays its gift of speech ; watch its painful
efforts at utterance, and behold over it bending the fond mother


seconding the trials at articulate sounds which her offspring
makes; behold her joy when it succeeds in imitating the words
"My father! my mother!" and think you not that a great labour
has been accomplished ? that a trial steadily repeated for weeks,
for days, for hours together has at length been crowned by sig-
nal success? assuredly, and you can convince yourself of this at
the return of the father from his toil to his now happier home,
when his wife makes the child again repeat the lesson which she
has been teaching, and the fond kiss impressed upon the cheek
yet unclouded by sin or sorrow tells that he too thinks one task
has been happily accomplished !

Months roll on and the little prattler has received from his
mother all the instruction she can give him : she has watched
with unremitting care, and instilled in him the seeds of the fear
of the Lord, she has taught him to reverence the Holy One, who
alone is Israel's God ; she has so to say opened the mental soil
for more extended fruitfulness ; and the boy is dismissed from
the parental roof to the halls of learning to receive farther in-
struction in knowledge and wisdom. Daily new light dawns
upon him, hourly some new fact charms his mental vision, and
every instant he adds to his stock of knowledge. Does he weigh
the toil of the teachers, the care of his instructors ? Hardly ; he
drinks from the fountain which to him seems ever-flowing, and
he barely is conscious that it flows wholesomely only through
the care of those who are appointed its guardians, and who in-
struct him how he is to distinguish between the springs of life
and happiness, and those which are charged with death and wo.

The school-years at length are ended, and the youth enters
upon the broad road of life, mingling with the crowd, jostled by
the competitors who with him run to reach to the same goal.
He now gathers knowledge from experience, he has to unlearn
much of self-love, much of what inexperienced vanity had
taught him to think of himself; he sees things with a different
eye, he feels with a different feeling, he hears with a different
ear, and the sweets and the bitters of manhood's years force
upon him convictions which, if properly viewed and piously
dwelt upon, will make his declining years happy, peaceful and

Were now the mother to give up her endeavours at teaching



her child to speak, because he did not succeed at the first trial ;
\vere a teacher to dismiss the scholar because he found it diffi-
cult to make him comprehend his lesson \vhen he made his first
attempt ; \vcre the man to become alarmed at the great field of
knowledge before him, at the immense amount of learning which
he must leave unexplored though he should live ever so long :
how could the most eminent of men ever have obtained the
smallest part of knowledge ? since it is only the constant and
persevering labour of the individual, aided by the advice, the
tuition, and the care of others, in fact, by a united effort of
many persons, scattered over a long space of time, directed to
accomplish one common purpose, .that the eminence on which
he stands has been reached ; and it is only by perseverance,
union, care and labour that he can hope to maintain the position
he has once attained.

This being so, it may be well to inquire, how we are to do
in moral pursuits ? what share of excellence can we and others
justly demand of ourselves ? To enable us to give a satisfac-
tory answer we will consider the following advice contained in
the last paragraph of the second chapter of the Proverbs of the
Fathers, a collection of moral aphorisms from those wise men
who were the chief teachers of our religion during the latter
portion of the second temple and the first century after its de-
struction, a class of men, who though often reviled by the igno-
rant and the enemies of our faith were worthy pillars on which
the structure of Israel's religion could rest with safety, trusty
shepherds who guarded well the flock committed to their care.
Among other matters Rabbi Tarfone says :

p nnN vbi -noA ro^Son

: i"o '3 maic j

" It is not incumbent on thee to finish the work, nor art thou at liberty to
divest thyself entirely of its performance."

When a man surveys the wide field of the duties pointed out to
him by the law, when he is made conscious that all the pre-
cepts of the Bible are alike the word and will of God : he is but
too apt to become faint-hearted and inquire, " How can I do all
that I am told is good ? I am poor, and I cannot give charity ;


I am ignorant, I cannot teach ; I am feeble, I cannot attend the
house of God, am not able to administer to the wants of the
sick and suffering ; I fear there is no salvation for me, since it
is said in the Scriptures : ' Cursed* be he that fulfilleth not the
words of this law to do them.' Will the Lord have mercy on
one who is compelled to be so remiss of positive duties ?" To
one so conscientious the moralist says : " It is not incumbent on
thee to finish the work ;" the field of labour is in truth extended,
it spreads over all the actions and pursuits of life ; but thou art
not the only labourer in the service of thy Maker. If it pleased
Him not to endow thee \vith wealth, He will most assuredly not
be angry with thee, if thou canst not gratify the wishes of thy
heart by bestowing liberal gifts upon the poor that are with
thee ; if thou art not versed in his holy ways, if from want of
opportunity thou hast unfortunately not received an extensive
knowledge in the law of thy God, He will not expect of thee to
go abroad as a teacher of the word ; if thou art enfeebled by
age or sickness, and thy feet will not carry thee to the house
of prayer, thou wilt not be punished if thou stayest at home
and offerest up the breathings of thy heart at thy own fireside,
if thou within thy own walls thinkest over the wonders which
thy eyes behold, which thy every sense makes thee conscious
of; if thou in truth art disabled to administer to those who
need thy aid, it is not consonant with Mercy to punish the omis-
sion which proceeds not from a wilful neglect. In short, no more
than thy powers suffice for will be expected, and no want of
means will be regarded as a rebellion in the service of Heaven !
His servants are everywhere, from the rising of the sun to his
setting. His name is great among the nations; and each and every
man has received some capacity by which he can demonstrate
his faithfulness. The law contains many minute duties as well
as great actions ; it enjoins the saving of a human life,f and
the dismissal of the dam when the nest of a bird is found ;J it
commands the restoration of freedom to the bondman in the
seventh year and the Jubilee,|| and the fixing of a scroll on our

* Deut. xxvii. 26. f Levit. xix. 16. I Deut. xxii. 7.

Exod. xxii. 2, and Deut. xv. 12. || Levit. xxv. 10, 41, 54.


door-posts* and the wearing of fringes on the borders of our
garments,! matters as \ve see of difficult execution and rare
occurrence, and others which any child can easily and daily
observe. This proves that the law was intended to be the
means of salvation ; since every one can at all times, whether
exalted or low whether at sea or on land whether at large
or in prison whether rich or poor, find some precept which he
can obey, and consequently do something to gain the favour of
his Maker.

But now some one may say : " Since there are so many
labourers what for are my services needed ? I am too unim-
portant, too mean in the scale of society that my labours should
be missed ; I will sit contented in slothful idleness ; I will not
offend, but I will merely let others, greater than myself, do their
great acts, whilst I look on and profit by their examples." To
this excuse answers Rabbi Tarfone : " Thou art not at liberty
to divest thyself entirely of its performance ;" meaning, that we
were not sent hither to be idle spectators upon the great theatre
of life ; action, action, is the word ; sloth does not find favour
in the eyes of the Master of our labour. We are endowed with
hearing, with sight, with taste, with smell, with feeling that we
might enjoy the gifts which bountiful nature presents at every
point ; but we too have a thinking soul, a reasoning mind, which
should set our powers in motion to a higher aim than mere per-
sonal enjoyment and slothful indolence. Let us step abroad,
cast our eyes over the wants of our fellow-men, and is there no
one that can be benefited by our labours ? If we have riches,
is there no one who needs our bounty? if we have health is
there no one who lies stretched on a helpless bed of sickness ?
if we have joy is there no one who needs consolation ? if we
have learning is there no one whom we could enlighten ? if we
have religious hope, if we are firm in faith, is there no one
whom our appeals could reach, who might be warmed by the
zeal which burns within us ? Say you, " We are humble, un-
known beyond the bounds of our houses ; poor, afflicted and
ground down by oppression, how can we be useful ?" Deceive
not yourselves ; no matter how humble you are, despite of a

* Deut vi. 9, and xi. 20. f Numb. xv. 38, and Deut. xxii. 12.


thousand sufferings, there must be something which you can
accomplish some trifle which the great have left unfinished.
When the master-builder plans the house does he assign equal
tasks to all his men? on the contrary, while the mason with almost
miraculous skill builds an arch which may stand for ages, the
humble attendant furnishes him with mortar and stone ; while
the carpenter fashions the beam and fits the joiner's work, the
material is brought to him by persons unacquainted with his
art. How long and often would it withdraw the mason and the
carpenter from their work, were they to go out each time to
fetch the things they need; the attendance of the mere labourers
abridges their toil and brings the undertaking to a much speedier
conclusion than it could otherwise be. Just so it is with, our
religious structure. Our Master is the omnipotent Architect ;
the building is the improvement of mankind, for this is the aim
of all religion, whether we ourselves or others are the objects
of its operation ; the labourers are we all, the sons of man ; and
only by a concerted effort can the building be constructed, till it
show a beautiful front and a high elevation in the presence of
the Creator. There must be none weary, none slothful, none
an idle spectator ; but whilst the master-minds are busy in
executing the great designs for which they were fitted, let the
humbler in capacity encourage them during their toil, and en-
deavour by all means to make their task pleasant, their labours
more easy. But O, let no one say: " I cannot work ;" for no
matter how little one contributes, let that little be done ; and
many a one is endowed with a strength of which he himself is
not conscious ; many an intellectual Gideon there is who when
spoken to by an inward feeling, by outward circumstances
which demand his action, with : " The Lord is with thee, thou
mighty one of valour," will answer: "Oh my Lord! where-
with shall I save Israel? behold my family is the poorest in
Manasseh, and 1 am the least in my father's house." (Judg. vi.
12, 15.) Well is such humility becoming; it were wrong to
have an undue confidence in our own powers ; modesty is always
the true garb of distinguished merit, as we read in our section
of to-day : " And the man Moses was very meek above all the
men who were upon the face of the earth."* But, humility
* Number?, xii. 3.


nevertheless is no excuse for idleness. When Gideon had been
awakened to his own strength, he overcame the enemy who
sorely afflicted his people. Just so it is with the mind; when
the spirit is once aroused it may achieve wonders ! Abraham
lived in his father's house, worshipping in humility; he was
called forward, and became the light of the world ! Moses and
David were shepherds, one became the great prophet whom
all future ages will ever bless, the other was afterwards the
mightiest king of Israel, and what is more, the outpourings of
his soul excite now and will excite for ever the sweetest thoughts
of devotion, the noblest conceptions in the great Creator's praise.
Do you wish for more examples ? Go and search in the pages
of history, and see who were the true benefactors of their
species; they were but rarely those born in the purple, but
seldom those who inherited immense wealth ; but mostly the
children of humble parents, they who slowly and laboriously
had to climb the ladder which leads upwards. Every thing
requires a beginning, the wizard's lamp which calls up houses
at the moment they are wanted is no more a fiction, than the
idea that great results can ever be looked for if action is not
attempted. Only let every one throw into the common stock
whatever he is capable of, and as there is a Rewarder of virtue,
an over-ruling Providence, much good will result. But let no
one be so presumptuous as to suppose that his assistance is so
greatly needed, that the work must stop, if he is taken, or if he
does not lend his assistance. For the time never yet was, and
never will be, when the vineyard of the Lord was so destitute
of labourers, that for the want of one the work had to cease;
if one is removed, a hundred will spring up ; if one withdraws,
many will press forward to snatch up the tools which the slug-
gard has thrown down. Moreover it is not they, who are over-
weening or who are ostentatious, who either can teach, or whose
charity will be acceptable; but it is at the last those whose
wisdom wears the garb of modesty and whose charity is hidden
by the love for the welfare of and a regard for the feelings of
their fellow-men who can be truly acceptable. And thus speaks
an Israelite* of our own days, of his own labours which have

* Samson Raphael Hirsch, Grand Rabbi of Oldenburg in Germany.


won him a name among the children of his people : " I am still
far removed from the thought, as though these attempts (the
name he gives his book relative to the duties of Israelites,) as
though any work from my hand would fill up the gap ; for I
know too well the entire magnitude of the subject, too well my
own limited powers. Upon the whole, he must be a fool who
believes, that it is given to him, alone, to stand in the breach,
the healing of which is in the hands of God. But he too is a
fool, nay, more than fool, who, because he cannot accomplish
nil, attempts nothing whatever, and because he is not rich in
every thing, endeavours not to lay the smallest, poorest gift
upon the altar of his people. Only attempts I venture to offer,
nothing that is complete ; happy if here and there one thought
does not seem unworthy to one more richly endowed, to follow
it up, and there lay his hand on the work where my strength
failed me ; happy if my book should become the inducement
to one of the noble sons and daughters of my people to seek
refuge from the floods of the times with the only One Firm
amidst all the fleeting, to God and his word ; happy, if that
which is erroneous and false in my attempts may be recognized
as such, that it may not be the means to add to the sum of
error and falsehood ; but also if they contain any part of truth
and purity, which He in whose hands rest the holiest destinies
of Israel, may not despise to let it become ever so small a con-
tribution to a brighter building of life of the most holy thing in
Israel ; to have carried but one stone to the great structure,
to have poured but one drop of oil into the lamp of the sanc-
tuary who would not find too rich a reward in this ?"

Thus speaks one who has received a high endowment, who
has been raised to preside over the congregations of the Lord
in an extensive district in Germany ; and it is the right feeling
with which we should do our duties whatever they may be,
whether the contribution be a book, a deed of charity, or an
act of personal piety. It matters not which, every act adds to
the common stock of righteousness, to the empire of holiness in
Israel ; virtue is a plant which grows best when many watch
and labour for its progress ; let all therefore who now hear me
resolve to make it their study to promote the spread of righteous-
ness, to do all which they are able to perform themselves, and


to induce others to join them. Let the son follow the father,
and if need be let the father even learn from the son ; let the
wife lead her husband, if he should become neglectful of his
duty ; let the brother exhort the sister to persevere in the road
to grace and piety; in short, let every Israelite be a teacher,
an active labourer in the harvest of the Lord. Do you believe
the reward will be \vanting ? No, brethren ! our Master is
powerful beyond measure, rich beyond compare, bountiful be-
yond our wants ; and no matter how great the number of
those who enter his employ, there is happiness in store for all.
Come then one, come all, bend your shoulders to the burden,
lend your hand to the service, and see whether God will not
bless you ! Only be firm, be united, let not dissension chill the
ardour, check the concord which is so necessary ; and remem-
ber that in religion as well as in life, " United we stand, divided
we fall !" We have stood for many ages, though little difficulties
have frequently disturbed our harmony : it were time now that
we should forget them ; but let us as loving brothers in one Fa-
ther's house, unshaken like soldiers prepared for the holy war-
fare, united as labourers on the holiest structure of Israel, stand
shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot, ready for the work, but
also with the shield before us and with the brand by our side,
or in other words, let us be ever united by charity, by unison,
by virtue, by benevolence, and let us be armed with a know-
ledge of the word of the Lord, that we may with the blessing
of God be ever prepared to ward off the attacks of those who
love not the name of Israel ! Only let us be firm, and of good
courage, and we cannot fail, for the Lord is with us, as He
ever was with our fathers !

Father ! shield us with the shadow of thy wings, and grant us
peace, now and for ever. Amen.

Sivan 20th
June 19th




LORD ! Thou who judgest in righteousness and mercy, do
not visit our iniquities in wrath and indignation ; but according
to thy loving-kindness deal tenderly and forgivingly with our
sins, because we are flesh, frail, and prone to sin. Do regard
us with compassion, when thou reviewest our deeds ; and shed
over the remnant of Jacob the spirit of grace and supplication ;
and whenever the sword of persecution is raised above our
helpless heads, stay Thou in thy mercy the descending blow,
and disarm the uplifted hand of our vengeful opponents. Let
not the adversary prevail over the weak remainder that has
escaped, lest they, who honour not thy name as do thy people
Israel, say in their presumption and the pride superinduced by
the smiles of success and impunity, that we are forsaken of thy
protection, and cast out from thy bounty. O! do speedily open
the prisons of the captives, and let those go free, who have no
protector save Thee alone, our Father, who art the Guardian
of Israel ! and fill the hearts of those who now oppress thy
people with compassion, that they may deal beneficently towards
all our brethren of the house of Jacob thy servants. Amen.


Erst on Moriah's mount the temple stood, when on Zion and
in the streets of Jerusalem rolled the mighty mass of men who
thronged the highways to the sacred city where dwelt the glory
of God. Thousands pressed on thousands to prostrate them-
selves at the sacred threshold, to behold as it were the more
immediate presence of their God. Glad was the shout which
responded to the priest's blessing, sweet was the acclaim which
told that the Only One was the acknowledged Head of the
people that dwelt within thy gates, O Zion ! But hushed is

VOL. in. 10


now the tumult, the temple's splendid halls are levelled to the
dust ; in Jerusalem, on Zion, on Moriah, their rightful pos-
sessors are strangers, aliens, oppressed, outcasts, slaves ! and a
foolish people, a nation that hath no wisdom, reveis in its in-
vented rites on the spot where once was the glory of Israel ;
yes, the very spot, where the temple formerly burst upon the
astonished, delighted gaze of the pilgrim, no Israelite can now
approach unless at the peril of his life ; and in place of the reve-
rence and adoration of the Lord according to the laws of

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Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 11 of 26)