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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

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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 15 of 26)
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honoured, and worldly wisdom more prized than its doctrines,
worldly greatness more sought than the riches of the soul to be
obtained by the observance of the duties it enjoins ? Unwor-
thily, I said ; for what can be more unworthy than disobedience
and ingratitude 1 Were a man to present me with a thing I
ardently desire, what would he, what would you all expect
from me 1 but that I should not return evil for good, and that,
on the contrary, I should demonstrate my gratefulness by doing
every thing to please him. But we, unworthy sons of Israel,
did not so regard our obligation to God ! our shameful in-
gratitude caused us to ascribe our safety to the change of the
times, to the prevalence of a more enlightened spirit; and con-
sequently we proved that we had not been deserving of the
mercy we had received. For in place of duty there is diso-
bedience ; in place of religion there is apostacy ; in place of
union there is dissension ; in place of the fear of God there is
dread of worldly loss ; in place of the love of our Maker there
is such a love of public preferment and the amassing of wealth
as well nigh threatens to drown every feeling of religion which



142 THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

has yet escaped in the confusion and bustle of modern times.
But does it not strike you that this procedure is not consonant
with reason, that we are acting unwisely 1 Let us again ask,
Who gave us enlargement 1 and is He who gave it not able
to dispense unto us new afflictions 1 In former ages we have
seen how the wicked, who deemed themselves secure against
the visitation denounced by the prophets, were overwhelmed
when the time of wrath came, and how the destruction of the
temple, the slaughter of millions, the dismemberment of Israel's
kingdom but too clearly evidenced that the Lord had felt dis-
gust toward the sinning race, and had determined to cast them
, oft' because of their transgression. And now we deem that his
arrows are all expended ? that age has weakened his power ?
that no farther will He watch our conduct? He, who be-
stoweth power on all that has being ; in whose hands are the
destinies of all his creatures ; whom no labour fatigues, whom
no length of years weaken ! And lo ! in the distance the thun-
der mutters ! rumours of afflictions have reached our ears from
afar ! Israel is again threatened with danger ; again the per-
secutor has dared to accuse us of crimes we thought not of;
all, all, because we have sinned. It is possible that they who
are the objects of the persecution may not be as guilty them-
selves as we are, who are here assembled ; but nevertheless
we may freely say, as was said in the days of Joshua, that
" Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed the cove-
nant which God commanded them, that they have taken of
the accursed thing, have also stolen, and dissembled also, and
therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their
enemies." We may accordingly aver that for the sins of the
general mass, and doubtlessly to awaken our attention, has
the enemy been permitted to prevail for a while against our
brothers in a far-off land, in order to admonish us to beware
of the wrath that is impending, and to flee from the danger
which may reach us too, secure though we may believe our-
selves, because protected by the arm of laws which consider
all men equal. Yet are there no other terrors than civil per-
secutions ? is there not disease with its gnawing pain, is there
not poverty which falls like a blight upon the labours of our
hands ? is there not the spirit of melancholy which deadens the



THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT. 143

faculties of the brightest mind ? But amidst all the evil we have
cause to rejoice in this, that one of the effects we have men-
tioned, that of awakening our attention, has already been hap-
pily accomplished. From one end of the civilized world to the
other a simultaneous burst of sympathy has arisen from all the
sons of Jacob in behalf of their persecuted brethren ; all have
been taught to feel that, every blow struck at the victims of
tyranny was a blow struck against the happiness of the entire
Jewish people, that every cry uttered by those under torture
was a cry which called a shudder over every one known by
the name of Israel ! We have been made conscious that we are
brothers, though separated by distance, by climates, and dif-
ference of government ; that we are one people, although scat-
tered over every land ! O ! that the other object we have
alluded to might also be accomplished ; that we all might, being
awakened by the sufferings of our brothers to reflect on our
conduct, take it to heart and firmly resolve to return unto the
fold of the Lord, to again submit ourselves to his guidance, and
that " His rod and his staff might comfort us ;" that corrected
by his paternal chastisement we might forsake the evil of our
ways, and receive consolation in the outpouring of good over
all Israel, and again lean on his staff of righteousness for sup-
port and assistance ! For then we should again be sons of
Israel in truth and sincerity, and be children of salvation ; inas- .
much as then we would not have despised the chastisement of
the Lord, but been made whole through his instruction and
warning.

It was always thus with our people as a nation and ourselves
as individuals. Prosperity spoiled us, but adversity uniformly
taught us better things. It was said by the wise men of old :
" An humble state is well-becoming unto Israel ;" and is it not
so with most individual members of mankind? does not the
hurry and application to business withdraw us from the service
of the God of all ? Are we not. apt to attend to the details of our
worldly concerns, and forget that our soul too has claims upon our
time and attention? Why then, sinful man! wilt thou accuse
thy Creator of injustice because wealth is not granted to thee ?
why wilt thou look with envious eye upon thy neighbour's
flocks because they are many, and upon his fields because they



144 THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

are extensive '( Behold, thou in the humble state art not with-
out blessings. Thy daily toil provides thee with food ; the in-
dustry of thy hands suffices to clothe thee in decent raiment;
rest is sweet to thee when thy labour is ended for the night ;
thy mind is refreshed by the exertions thou hast made; not
heavy hangs on thy hands the time that to the indolent child of
wealth seems never ending ; and when the holy Sabbath comes
in its rounds to again bless the earth, how heartfelt will be
thy thankfulness that a day has been assigned thee to enjoy
religious repose in the bosom of thy own household ; and that,
if thou art able to teach, thou canst tell thy brothers of the
glory of the Lord, and of his great goodness to his people Israel,
and of the wonders He has wrought in their behalf; and if thou
art one of the many to whom no such power has been given,
that thou canst go and seek instruction in the ways of thy
Maker, and learn to do his will even as commanded in the law
which He gave as an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob.
Know also that with the possession of wealth not every plea-
sure has been obtained, and that a wise Providence has assigned
to the poor enjoyments which the rich often sigh for in vain :
and thou wilt be ashamed, that thou daredst to question an all-
seeing Goodness, for having appointed unto thee a lot of labour,
whilst to thy neighbour his wealth is perhaps a burden, and im-
poses upon him an involuntary state of ease and indolence.

Or thou arraignest the justice of God for having withdrawn
from thee those whom thou lovest. Short-sighted doubter ! are
thy friends immortal? art thou thyself imperishable? Perhaps thy
hopes were too strongly placed upon a beloved child perhaps
thou dotedst upon a lovely wife and didst forget in thy exulta-
tion that they live through God alone, and it may be that in thy
prosperity thou didst not call on Him, and prepare thyself for
the change that was impending. And now the doom has come,
they, the dear to thy heart, lie dead before thee ; soon the earth
is to close over them ; they are borne away to the home of all
the living, and thou art left alone to feel thy bereavement. But
O, accuse not thy God ! He is just even in his judgment, there
is no evil, no unrighteousness in Him ; He has struck the wound,
but can He not heal ? thou art mourning, but are not thy friends
at rest ? thou art alone, but are not the departed with their,



THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT. 145

with thy God? A space will elapse, and them art removed,
and over thee too the clod of the valley will be heaped, and thy
memory alone will live after thy form has been laid in the dust;
and long ere that, they, whom thou now seest rejoicing in their
wickedness, who are surrounded by gladsome groups of healthy
children, whose life seems blest by the love of friends, the ties
of spouse and kindred, will perhaps have perished as perish the
beasts of the field, and their name been left a curse and a by-
word, after their evil deeds have been exposed to the light of
day ! Ay, thou seest not the connection of things, thou dis-
coverest not the end of events at their commencement ; but art
thou like unto God 1 will thou measure his foresight by thine '(
his justice by thy fancies? Be then silent before Him, be
humble in his presence ; and where thou dost not discover the
whole scope of an event, learn to submit with humility, to suffer
with resignation. Thou now mournest thy child who departed
in innocence ; perhaps had he lived thy indulgent folly, thy pa-
rental weakness, might have opened for him a path of wicked-
ness, and covered thy head with disgrace ; or thy wife, weak-
ened by sickness, might have dragged on a miserable existence,
a burden to herself and others ; is it not better that she was
taken whilst her cup of life was overflowing with blessings,
before yet she had to drink deep out of the cup of affliction
which others have to drain ? Mourn then, stricken one, feel
the weight of the judgment that befel thee; but turn with re-
pentance unto God, and seek at his footstool the mercy thou
needest, and search in his holy word for the consolation which
is to revive thy spirit ; and learn to acknowledge that God is
just in all his ways, and that his punishments are merciful, as
his bounty is undeserved by any acts which thou canst per-
form.

It were well, beloved brethren, if at the occurrence of any
calamity every man were to address to himself considerations
like those just presented, in order to hush within himself the
tumult of rebellious thoughts which will often arise within us if
not timely checked. He who now speaks to you has to acknow-
ledge, that his heart has not always been free from the sin of
searching into his Maker's views when sorrow visited his bo-
som ; and he at times thought himself almost forgotten because

VOL. III. 13



146 THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

severe trials were not withheld from him, because the common
lot of man reached him too. But let us reflect, have we not
also our blessings, each of us, as well as our griefs ( Go and
see about you even in the wretched hovels of poverty, and you
will be convinced that more good might have been enjoyed by
the unfortunate inmates, had they but properly used the bless-
ings placed within their reach. We arraign, therefore, not un-
frequently the goodness of Providence, whilst we ourselves are
the enemies of our peace ; and as was done by Elijah who,
when called by Ahab " He who had troubled Israel," answered
" I have not troubled Israel ; but thou and thy father's house,
in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord"
(1 Kings xviii. 18.): the sinner should always be rebuked, be-
cause he it is who converts the good he has received or might
receive into curses and afflictions. And then, why should we
compare our lot with those more blessed than ourselves in order
to excite discontent, when we might think ourselves happy in
comparison with millions whose fate is by far more deplorable
than ours ? Besides this we are all apt to believe that, because
others have that which we need, they ought to be more content
than we; but they perhaps envy us some quality of mind or
body for which they would gladly sacrifice the half of that
wealth which we envy them. Believe me one thing, none is
altogether happy, none on the other hand entirely forsaken.
The Creator -regards alike all his works ; to his all-seeing eye
nothing is concealed ; the exalted are within his ken and power,
and the lowly He watches, and He shields them in the day of
trouble. Were it now, that the Blessed One had to act with
human means ; were it that his capacities were stinted, because
He had bestowed many gifts upon a few ; were it that his
memory could become weakened by the length of time which
has elapsed since the deeds of wickedness which we condemn
in the successful sinner were perpetrated, or, since we did those
acts which religion demands of us : then indeed might we ex-
cuse our littleness of faith, our presumption in accusing Him of
a want of mercy, of neglect of justice. But see we not with
our own eyes his unending power ? do we not behold daily his
bounty scattered far and wide, over earth and ocean, over
mountain and plain, over city and field ? Do we not constantly



*
THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT. 147

witness how the poor are lifted up from the dunghill, how the
needy are exalted ? Have we never beheld the fall of the pre-
sumptuous, the humbling of those who trusted in their wealth,
their power, or wisdom ? And yet we doubt ! and yet we fear
to pursue the way of truth, because we see them who forsake
it flourish awhile in their wickedness ! Therefore are we. taught
in Scripture, Psalm xxxvii : " Fret not thyself because of evil-
doers, be not envious against the workers of iniquity. For like
the grass they shall soon be cut down, and like the green herb
they shall wither. Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the
land, and exercise truth. And have delight in the Lord, and
He will give thee the desire of thy heart." And then continues

David :

*



xim vy HDSI -pm 'n

: 'n i" 5 ? D'bnn

" Commit unto the Lord thy way, and trust in Him, and He will bring it
to pass." Ver. 5.

Who more than the Sweet Singer of Israel, beloved brethren,
suffered from the attacks of the wicked, who was more pursued
by undeserved malice ! Taken from behind the flock, the oil of .
anointing was poured upon his head by the prophet Samuel,
to institute him the most worthy of the congregation of God the
future king of Israel. When the armies of his people had been
defied by the Philistine giant, he boldly stepped up to vindicate
the national honour. The people acknowledged him as their
leader. He was the son-in-law of Saul ; the chosen friend of
the disinterested high-minded Jonathan ; and yet he had to flee
from the country like one stained with crime, and no shelter
could he find in the land which he was destined to rule. He
was denounced to his revengeful enemy, and his steps were
watched wherever he went. It must have been under these cir-
cumstances which tested his sincerity, his confidence in God,
that he composed many of his songs of praise, it was under such
a state of trial that his soul was filled with the holy spirit, and
reproving in himself the weakness of faith, he says : " Commit
unto the Lord thy way ;" what matters it that I am a fugitive,



148 THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

an outcast ; what need I envy the wicked who are now prosper-
ous and happy; is not God my salvation? has He not promised,
and will He not fulfil ? Surely, his word will not fail, his pro-
mises are not given to deceive ; but whate'er He says is true,
whate'er He promises will be fulfilled. We know how David
became afterwards the leader of the people of God; we know
how greatly the Israelitish nation prospered under his rule ; we
are all acquainted with his sincere repentance when he had
sinned ; all of us have felt the force of his beautiful hymns ; his
confidence has inspirited our confidence, his filial faith has ex-
cited our faith. He became great in a worldly sense ; but how
much greater was the spiritual blessing which was vouchsafed
unto him ! and whilst the world stands, David's songs and Da-
vid's hopes will be the songs and hopes of Israel. And where
are they, whom David in his moments of weakness envied as
happier than himself? they are barely remembered, their deeds
stand recorded as evidence how far man can go astray when
he forsakes the fear of God ! Read, I pray you, the whole of
the Psalm from which our text was quoted, and you will rise
refreshed in faith and resignation, you will feel some of the
inspiration which dictated it, even when you are suffering, and
see those exalted whom you call wicked ; and you will become
sincerely convinced that it ill becomes you, the creatures of God,
to sit in judgment upon his government of the world. You will
be impressed, if you judge calmly and reflect with humility, that
you have suffered no injustice, that your case has not been for-
gotten by your Creator, and that the evil you have to endure is
a just visitation for your manifold sins, and that your Redeemer
lives to send you enlargement whenever in his judgment you de-
serve a return of his mercy. Be it therefore your constant study
to be content with your lot; do your best by labour and industry
to improve your condition ; and if success does not then follow,
be sure that an humble station is the best for you, and the sphere
assigned to you by Providence to contribute therein your por-
tion to the improvement of the world. But above all do not
grow careless of God's commands, imagine not that the way of
evil can become by any excuse the road to preferment; no,
" Commit thy way unto the Lord," do your part as becomes his
servant, live under and according to the law, obey strictly its



THE WAY OF LIFE. 149

precepts ; " trust in Him;" be satisfied with the judgment that
is dispensed unto you, be convinced THAT ALL THAT is is RIGHT,
altho' you do not'readily discover HOW this is. And if you in
all your ways know the Lord, remain steadfast amidst trials,
faithful in the midst of sickness and pains, upright in poverty,
and humble when fortune smiles : be then sure that God will do
according to his promise, send his blessing on the work of
your hands, become your Physician in diseases, your Support in
poverty, your Stay in the hour of success, and your Comforter
in sorrow. Such thoughts, such hopes, such a faith will render
your life tranquil, and make you as nearly sinless as mortals
can be, and make easy for you the hour of death, when your
soul must return to the God who gave it ; and thus purified by
virtue and faith you will become sons of everlasting life, inheri-
tors of bliss without measure.

O God of Israel ! be with us during our pilgrimage in this life
of sorrow and trial ; let thy countenance shine to us when evil
is sent, and subdue our stubborn heart to thy service, so that we
may glorify Thee, and proclaim thy goodness to all mankind,
unto whom and unto us we pray Thee to send peace and salva-
tion through thy blessed messenger the son of David, Amen.

Elull2th
Sept. 10th



DISCOURSE XIII.

THE WAY OF LIFE.

t

OUR God and God of our fathers ! we pray Thee not to enter
into judgment with us, for nothing living can be justified before
Thee ; but according to thy unending mercy do Thou deal bene-
ficently with us, and condemn us not altho' we have sinned.

13*



150 THE WAY OF LIFE.

For well we know our disobedience and hardness of heart ! and
that knowing the good we have preferred the evil, and chosen
the path of death, altho' the way of life lay open before us. Yet
art Thou ever ready to receive the repentant child ! Spare
us then, O our Father, and lead us by mild visitation to recog-
nize the sinfulness of our ways, and teach us to deserve thy
mercy by a sincere return unto thy service, even as Thou hast
commanded us through Moses thy servant. Amen.

BRETHREN !

We find in the portion of the law we read this day the fol-
lowing:



nan Dion nNi Dnn n DVH *]vs nru rwn

ro man



" Behold, I lay before thee this day the life and the good, and the death
and the'evil." Deut xxx. 15.

Moses, as we all know, had been employed in teaching the
people the will of the Lord, and informed them how and when
they were to engage in what is called divine service, and how
and when they were to abstain from certain acts which are
called disobedience to the commands of God. Every opportu-
nity had been seized during a period of forty years to again and
again urge upon the children of Israel the necessity of a com-
pliance with whatever had been taught them, and the danger
which attended a disregard of divine behests. They had also
been informed, that the Lord purposed their happiness, and not
his own aggrandizement, and that by choosing them as his peo-
ple He merely intended to set them up as living monuments of
his power and goodness to the other nations of the earth. And
now when but a few hours of earthly life were left to our great
teacher, when but few more words of instruction were to flow
from his lips : he addressed the Israelites who knew him to be
standing on the threshold of eternity, (since the forty years from
the Exodus were just then drawing to a close,) in the above
memorable words. Behold ! our blessed lawgiver at the head



THE WAY OF LIFE. J51

of the people sinking into the grave with strength undiminished
and eye unclouded, not dying because of the weakness of age,
or the debility of sickness, but simply because by a just decree
he had been doomed for a want of obedience on one occasion
only not to enter the promised land, exhorting his hearers to
follow the road of the law he had marked out for them, and
to hand down this law to their descendants for ever as the code
which it behooved them to obey. And if any one of all these
were now to have asked, " Why should he obey the precepts
of the law ?" the prophet says : " Behold I lay before thee this
day the life and the good." If you wish to obtain THE life,
adopt THE good ; that is to say, by obedience only can life ever-
lasting be obtained ; by obedience only can life on earth be ren-
dered happy. Look upon the ways of men, upon the passions
which agitate, upon the desires which impel them, and you will
not find that they lead unto life. Go, brethren ! and mix among
the crowds that throng the streets, with the inmates of lordly
palaces and the tenants of the abodes of wretchedness, and see
whether their unhappiness proceeds from obedience to our law
or from a neglect thereof. Look upon the drunkard, he trans-
gresses the law by converting the blessings of God into means
of degrading himself to the level of the beast ; has he life ? Alas
no ! they even, who love him and are depending in a measure
upon the labour of his hands for their support, are themselves
among the number of those who must regard his death as a
blessing more than an affliction ; for he is a burden to himself,
a disgrace to his family, and an outcast from the society of the
good. And when his end draws near, when his substance is
wasted, when his steps are tottering though he is young in
years, when his wife and children are dressed in the habili-
ments of wretchedness, and he looks with dread upon their help-
less state : how glad would he be, could he recall the past years
of sin, and how willingly would he now, if he were permitted
to live his life over again, fulfil the injunction : " Ye shall there-
fore be holy, for I am holy."* Yet in the days of his strength
and joyousness he did not regard with horror the intoxicating
drink ; he poured out the wine, say at the festive board, and

* Leviticus, xi. 44.



152 THE WAY OF LIFE.

watched its beautiful purling with the eye of fondness; he ad-
mired its fine 'colour, praised its age and vintage, and dwelt
with rapture upon its delightful flavour. Little did he then
dream that the delicious cup would deprive him of wealth, of
friends, of reputation, and bring him in poverty and sorrow to
an early death. Say, how came this to pass? Simply because
he used that which has been bestowed on man as an occasional
indulgence, or a strengthening stimulant, as an every-day drink,
and when it was not required to assist the process of nature;
regarding only its agreeable qualities without heeding the dan-
gers that follow its immoderate use. He drank at first perhaps
only when in society of friends to any extent ; he next craved
an equal share when alone in his house ; until by degrees his


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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 15 of 26)