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 19 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 19 of 26)
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members o the Jewish community. It is true, that it is the duty
of every Israelite to assume the covenant himself, if his parents
have been neglectful of the commandment ; but what reason
have you to expect, that your children will be sufficiently
strong in faith to submit to the law, if you thought it unreason-
able and cruel, or unnecessary, in their infancy 1 Let me im-
press it solemnly on your mind, that it is no small crime to cut
off an entire household, or an entire family, from communion
with Israel. We know well enough that but few temporal
advantages are to be gained by this communion ; perhaps the
knowledge of our being Israelites may be an injury to our ad-
vancement; for as yet the prejudice against our name and our
religion have not vanished from the face of the earth. If now
you value the fleeting advantages of life so much as to deny
your children their rights as Jews ; or if you are so weak in


faith as to neglect as unwise and unimportant what we deem
of the first necessity: you will have incurred a responsibility
which will weigh heavily against you on the day of trial. Be-
sides this, what avails all your seeming religious conduct in
other respects, what use can be in your coming to the house of
God and claim affinity with and the rights of Israelites : if you
are determined, that with your death your family are to be
cast out from the community of the Lord 1 ? Or do you believe,
that in the progress of time the old covenant will fall into dis-
use, and that symbolical or imaginary rites will take its place,
and that among such Jews your children will be welcome
members ? You greatly err, if so you think ; for trust in the
word of God, trust in Him whose promises have never de-
ceived, the covenant of Abraham will never cease to be revered
and observed by his latest descendants. For what does the
text say : 0*71^ JvnV DDiBan 'nnj nrvni " And my covenant shall
be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant?" Now this is both
a commandment and a prophecy. As a commandment it is
certain and undeniable that for thousands of years the covenant
has not alone been observed, but has been highly prized as a
glorious gift by the children of Israel. And as a prophecy,
I will merely say, that as great dangers have passed over us
as are likely ever to occur again ; and that amidst all the
persecutions we had to endure and all our own apostacies this
ordinance never was forgotten or unobserved. Ay, when the
heathen oppressors prohibited the holy ordinance under pain of
death, the mothers in Israel risked even life itself to obey the
will of God ; and in every age and every land the state of un-
circumcision was considered a disgrace upon the sons of
Jacob. If therefore you wish that your children shall not be
cast out, now and for ever, from the community of the Lord :
neglect not to fit them by your own act to be worthy members
of Israel's household ; reflect that their apostacy, if they should
be driven to worship strange gods, will rest upon your own
souls ; and that we, the sons of Jacob, will never hold them as
brothers who like us bear not the seal of the covenant. And do
you not tremble at the thought, that your descendants shall be
mixed up with the nations of the earth ? prize you not the holy
privilege, the sacred birthright of being the followers of


God, the inheritors of the merit of Abraham, the followers of
the law of Moses ? You yourselves are elated at the thought
that you are adorers of God, the believers in the one, undivided,
unchanging UNITY: and you care not to hand down this preroga-
tive to your children? You feel that a high destiny is yours ; you
are convinced that the doctrines your parents taught you, that
the creed you imbibed with your mother's milk, that the confes-
sion you early breathed, " The Lord our God the Lord is ONE,"
are thoughts worthy of the unending God : and yet you idly
cast your offspring into the arms of unbelief, of false worship, of
ideas uncongenial to Scripture, unworthy of the holy everblessed
Creator? You would be shocked, were any one to invite you to
join another religion, to forswear directly your allegiance to
Jacob's God : yet do you feel the same regard for your children's
future happiness when you exclude them by your own sins
from the congregation of the faithful? Perhaps you feel indiffe-
rent about religious duties ; perhaps you are tinctured with infi-
delity ; and you neglect therefore the commandment, because
you do not believe in its necessity ! Even then your conduct
is unwise. For understand, the time may come when your
convictions may become stronger, when unbelief may yield to
a firm faith in the truth of Scripture and the necessity of obe-
dience to the commandments ; how will you then do, when you
find yourselves surrounded by children NOT of the covenant, by
sons who have NO RIGHT, NO PART IN ISRAEL ? Or why will
you not leave to your children the choice of being Israelites or
not ? The covenant can do them no bodily or mental injury ;
it is only an acknowledgment that in the flesh they belong to
the house of Israel ; and surely it is their right, as well as- it
was yours at your birth, that nothing should be done by their
parents which of necessity makes their entrance into the great
body of Jews more painful and more difficult, and consequently
more uncertain, than it ought to be. You were children of the
covenant and yet you rebelled ; let your own children have the
same choice ; let them if they think proper become Israelites,
if their conviction be stronger than yours, if they are more
disposed to obedience than you ; but let them never have cause
to say, as many no doubt have said : " It is my father's and
mother's fault that I am not an Israelite."



If littleness of faith will then stand in the way of obedience,
fathers and mothers in our ancient people ! it a useless and
causeless timidity will instil in you doubt and hesitation : reflect
from what stock you have sprung. You are believing children
of believing ancestors ; I will never credit that there is one Is-
raelite, no matter how irreligious, who is without religious
belief; yes, you are of that people to whom a trust in God is
natural in all their backsliding : your forefathers were they
who in their own persons and that of their children ever sanc-
tified the name of the Lord ; and then arouse yourselves and
resolve to be worthy of such an enviable ancestry. Abraham
was faithful, so was Isaac, so was Sarah, so was Zipporah, so
was Joshua, so were the millions who have so long borne the
name of the congregation of Jacob ; and at this late day, when,
after the clouds of oppression have been almost totally chased
away, the sun of freedom begins to shed his benignant light
also upon our long-oppressed race, it were surely ungrateful
to the Deity to refuse to observe any longer on our part the
terms of the covenant, w'hen He, true and faithful to HIS word,
has been our God as He was the God of Abraham, and never
has withdrawn from us his light, his law, his knowledge, his
protection and his goodness, as we see clearly proven this day.
Arise then in your might, beloved brothers ! and in the words
of the prophet (Isaiah li. 2) : " Look unto Abraham your father,
and unto Sarah that bore you ; for one he was when I called
him, and I blessed and increased him." Yes, it was through
faith that he was blessed ; alone he wandered forth, childless
at the age of seventy-five, from his father's house, to follow the
guidance of the Lord ; childless as regards Sarah he was at
the age of ninety-nine years ; then he became perfect through
obedience, through faith, and the covenant, and since that
period he became through Isaac the father of a multitude of
people, of a people that has maintained the glory of the Su-
preme in all parts of God's earth ; of a people trodden down
and pillaged, yet upheld by faith, living in the belief of the truth
of the Lord, confiding in the justice of his decrees. It was
Sarah's happiness to shelter in her bosom the first of those cir-
cumcised on the eighth day ; and like her companion through
many a weary pilgrimage, through many a sore trial, she thus


had a share in sacrificing in faith her own feelings, her own
repugnance, in obedience to the will of her God. May her
daughters feel the same call to sanctify ; and may they hasten,
in order to ward off" danger from their husbands, and condem-
nation from their children, to enter these into the covenant of
Abraham. And may the fathers glory that none of their
pledges of conjugal love are excluded from the household of
our Lord ; but that sons alike and daughters are children of
salvation, heirs to the glory and hope promised unto Israel !

And thou, angel of the covenant, the messenger of happy
tidings ! be present in spirit, whenever this sacrifice is brought :
bless, in the name of the everlasting God, each child and every
parent ; and proclaim before the mercy-seat of Glory, that we
are true to the law, unforgetful of the ancient statutes, and
submissive to the divine command. And join thy prayer with
ours, and entreat for salvation and redemption for all Israel,
in order that it may be announced to us as, in days of yore :
" And I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thy own
blood ; and I said unto thee, In thy own blood shall thou live ;
and I said unto thee, In thy own blood shalt thou live."*

O God everlasting ! remember the covenant and the fathers
who early obeyed Thee, and have compassion on thy people
Israel, and forgive them and bless them, because that Thou art
their God, the merciful and long-suffering; and redeem them
speedily even for the blood of the covenant, and because of the
promises Thou didst announce to their forefathers thy servants.
May this be thy will. Amen.

Heshvan 10th
November 6th

* Ezekiel xvi. 6.




O THOU ! who art nigh unto all who call upon Thee, be
attentive to our prayers, and grant us the aid we need at thy
hands. Bless our labour with productiveness, and deny not a
happy increase to our undertakings. And give us contentment
and peace of mind, to be satisfied with thy decrees, and enable
us to fulfil the duties of our appointment on earth. Guard us
from evil, defend us from the malice of the ungodly, and let the
light of thy law guide us securely in the path we should go; so
that we may live and deserve the blessing which thou hast
promised to those who do thy will. Amen!


In reading the Bible, the record of the will of God and of the
doings of the forefathers of our people and of those who came
in contact with them, it is requisite that we should not mistake
history 'for example, and look upon all the transactions we read
of as acts which we may freely imitate. For^the Scriptures
nowhere say, that we should strive to copy any one of all
those whose lives are recorded ; and if we are even informed
that one or the other of the Bible characters was a man after
God's own heart, it by no means follows that every act of his
life was praiseworthy. On the contrary, we are presented
with the law; and by its standard we are to measure our
lives, to do nothing which is in opposition to the same, regard-
less what others may have done, and to judge likewise of the
transactions which are related to us, whether they be examples
to be followed, or instances of deficiency in virtue or faith
which it is our duty to avoid. The Bible is a veritable record
of all matters which it concerns us to know ; and as the great
and good characters of which it speaks were like ourselves
fallible and sinning : it gives us a faithful statement of their bad


no less than their good deeds ; since the prophets and inspired
writers, whilst recording the backslidings of God's favourites,
knew that no one could be misled by the bad examples occa-
sionally exhibited by these, because the rule was also transmitted
according to which every action of theirs or of other men must
either be justified or condemned. If then we find not a single
perfect man in the Bible, if every one whose life is recorded
was at times guilty of faults and want of faith : it is no more
than saying, that the great men of ancient days were, like those
of our own times, compounds of good and evil. And herein we
must admire the perfect artlessness discoverable in the inspired
writings. Nothing is told for effect ; no elaborate defences of
characters are any where to be found, and no extenuation is
offered to make us think kindly of the acts which our own
judgment must lead us to condemn, but which our feelings
might extenuate if our sympathies were appealed to. It is
therefore very questionable, whether the cause of religion can
gain any thing by our offering, at this late day, excuses for
acts which the Bible merely records ; for if such a course had
been deemed necessary, no doubt the Lord's spirit would have
impelled the prophets to adopt the same ; their silence should
accordingly teach us caution, how we attempt to clear the fame
of those we justly prize of the charge of occasional disobe-
dience and crime which the holy Text has laid against them.
We may safely, maintain moreover, that infidelity gains nothing
by the frailty of the servants of the Lord ; nor can religion lose
by our candidly admitting that human nature was the same in
all ages ; and that though some have had greater light, no one
was so perfect that he did not at some period or other of his
earthly existence call for and need the forgiveness of God.

I deemed this much necessary before introducing to you the
text to which I wish to draw your attention to-day ; inasmuch
as it is an expression of censure on the life of David, just
thrown out by the sacred historian in the account he presents
to us of the last days of this renowned king of Israel. You
are all well aware how highly David is valued as. a man
devoted to the Lord, still we find him occasionally in the light
of a grievous offender ; he retained the humility of a shepherd
on the throne of Israel, still he suffered his inclinations to


prompt him to the commission of incest and an act akin to
murder. With all this he was a character of great excellence,
and a mind but rarely found among men. And in his repent-
ance and his prayers we have an illustrious example of humilia-
tion of the mortal before the Everlasting, and an incentive not
to despair of mercy even when we have sinned. David had
all his life been the mark for malice and persecution; and what
from external enemies, intestine confusion, and the misconduct
of his own children, his days were by no means of an even and
happy current. Even his last moments were embittered by the
arrogance of one of his sons, who aimed to usurp the govern-
ment before his father's lamp of life had expired. Now the
Scriptures do not enter into long details to account for the
heinous crime of Adonijah, but state simply :

n:o yno "10* voo

" And his father had never aggrieved him, saying, Why hast thou done
this 1" 1 Kings i. 6.

Parents ! look well to the fate of the son of David, who had
never been checked by his father. He was a man described as
exceedingly handsome, as a favourite of many of his father's
friends, and the oldest in point of birth of the yet remaining
sons of the dying king. He must have known that it was his
father's wish, by the express command of God, that the younger
Solomon,* on account no doubt of his greater wisdom, should
succeed to the government ; and yet would he not forego his
imaginary rights in deference to his father's will, but rebelled
and proclaimed himself king by means of a faction in the state
who doubtlessly were in fear of losing their influence if the peo-
ple were to elevate Solomon to the vacant throne. Adonijah
we are told had never been reproved by his father, and this in-
dulgence, unwisely extended, caused him in this weighty point
too to regard his own will merely : and the sequel was, that
David during his lifetime appointed Solomon his successor;
and the folly of the disappointed aspirant was at length the

* 1 Chronicles xxviii. 5.


cause that he was slain by order of his brother as'an enemy to
the internal repose of the realm ; since with his first failure he
had not yet learned to rest content with a private station, for
which he was better fitted than the rule over a people like

Parents ! regard well the evil effects of indulgence to your
children, and learn early to avoid a similar fault in your
own families. The responsibility resting upon you is of the
first magnitude ; you are the progenitors of beings who have
an intelligent soul and a mixed disposition which both prompts
to good and to evil. The Lord, we may freely say without
employing the words figuratively, has placed in your hands
intelligent souls for your safe-keeping ; as we read in Psalm
cxxvii. 3: " Lo ! children are a heritage of the Lord;" and it
is your business, the employment of your whole life, to see that
no neglect of yours should jeopard or injure their earthly or
heavenly happiness. Understand, though you have a claim
upon them as their bodily parents, there is yet ONE who is
your and their Author, and who has consequently a claim upon
your own selves, and a superior right in your children, and He
has a just title to demand of you a due care and watchfulness
over the charges He has entrusted to your temporary custody.
You must therefore begin at the very outset to educate them
with correct principles, and to train them early in the way
they should go. Let us endeavour to sketch a plan of domestic
education. The infant of a few months old has some penetra-
tion, and it speedily contrives ways and means to satisfy its
cravings. If any object strike its fancy and its weak powers
prevent it from seizing the same, it will probably cry and weep
till it be satisfied or it find its striving ineffectual. If the child
succeeds but once in thus gaining its point, it will to a certainty
repeat the experiment to gain its end by a few tears opportunely
applied. Here now begins the duty of the mother, and it is
her province to discover whether the infant's petulance pro-
ceed from pain or a perverse disposition. If from pain she
will of course apply soothing remedies whether internal or
otherwise to remove the cause of suffering ; but if she is con-
vinced it is mere wilfulness, it would be highly injudicious to
bribe it into quiet. Although a noisy child is very troublesome



and unpleasant, it is much better both for its own sake and that
of the parents that it should weep and fret till exhaustion at
length produce quiet and submission. It is of course out of the
question to reason with a small child ; a passive overcoming of
a perverse disposition is therefore perhaps the only remedy, and
it is requisite that it should be employed despite of its apparent

Another duty springs from this consideration as a neces-
sary consequence of what we have advanced. It is, that it
is unwise for the mother to surrender her child into the care
of servants, even at the tenderest age. It is natural, that
a servant, the best even of her class, should endeavour to make
her task as easy as possible, and to gain the favour of the
mistress by quieting her charge at all hazards. I will not now
mention the danger of bodily injury, arising from giving it
sedative or stupifying medicines, though this too has been done;
but confine myself merely to the moral evil of spoiling the dis-
position by early indulgence. The mother, as a professor of
our religion, is not at liberty to divest herself of the duty
incumbent on her, both by nature and religion, of watching
over the moral progress of her offspring. If the child were
sick, even slightly, the icarld would call her unfeeling, if she
were to leave it in the hands of a nurse and go about seeking
her pleasures abroad ; how much more has the moralist a right
to tax her with neglect, if she is so callous to its moral happi-
ness, as to leave the developement of its dawning mind in hands
who can naturally feel no inducement, except in rare instances,
to do what is asked of them with the least more labour than it
is absolutely requisite. There are among those who undertake
the charge of infants females of excellent endowments, whom
poverty or adverse circumstances compel to enter the service
of their fellow-beings ; there are such who in a menial station
are anxious to discharge the duties they have assumed with
honour and fidelity; but they are. not so general as to render it
a safe thing for parents to transfer their prerogative, or their
duty rather, to strange hands ; and besides, how can the mother
expect that her child shall be well cared for by others for the
sake of the small pittance of weekly wages, if the ties of nature
cannot secure for it the mother's superintendence ? I do not


mean to say that the mother is bound to be perpetually with
the child, that she is to take no recreation, and not permitted
to leave it for a moment with others ; no ! but that she is not
at liberty to rest satisfied if the child does not trouble her, and
to be content to leave it in the hands of servants three-fourths
of the day, provided it does not happen to be sick. In short,
education should begin from the cradle; the child must be
thwarted if it is petulant and unruly ; its temper and inclination
must be curbed as soon as it displays any undue anger or
unreasonable demands; and it must not be forgotten, that
indulgence once commenced, it may be very difficult, if not
altogether impossible, to remedy the fault in after-life.

As soon as the child begins to speak and his reason becomes
in a degree more developed, the difficulty which hitherto existed
in discovering the source of infantile sorrow, will of course be
in great degree removed, and consequently the remedies to be
applied will be more apparent. But as at this period children
are perhaps more interesting than at any other, especially to
their parents, greater care should be used to guard against in-
dulgence. Moreover, as speech is now in his possession, the
child can demand more intelligibly what he wants than formerly
by mere dumb signs and motions. And if you value the peace
of your house and the welfare of your offspring, be resolute to
persevere in your refusals, and to promise nothing which you
might think injurious to the child. It is no use whatever in first
saying no, and then to be persuaded or coaxed into yielding ;
for depend upon it, children are very quick-sighted, and soon
discover, if yielded to, that they can gain the mastery over
their parents by petulance and perseverance. They will at first
try the experiment in small matters ; but they will soon rise in
their demands, and increase with an increase of years and op-
portunity in exacting compliance from the over-good nature of
their elders. Make it then a rule, not to refuse any thing that is
necessary or reasonable to the child's comfort, or occasionally
even to his pleasure ; for it is well at times to encourage him,
though not by offering a direct bribe for obedience. But if you
have refused, let no tears or entreaty move you from your pur-
pose. It may seem hard to be so persevering in refusing a
trifle which is perhaps of no importance whatever ; but it be-

VOL. III. 17


comes of importance as soon as it may tend directly or indi-
rectly to relax wholesome domestic discipline ; and the only
way to avoid this disagreeable alternative is not to refuse in
haste and without due consideration. If you are then resolute
in your determination, and exhibit withal no unnecessary petu-
lance or testiness in your expression of dissent : the child will
speedily learn that he has nothing to gain by a teazing perseve-
rance, and the father's refusal or the mother's no will then be
a sufficient answer to all his silly demands, especially if he finds
that every thing reasonabb is readily conceded. Let me sum
up this part in a few words : obedience should be made one of
the first things which the child should be able to recollect ; it
ought to be the earliest principle instilled in the mind ; and the
necessary consequence will be, that obedience in maturer years
will become more easy on the part of the son or daughter, and
be more easily exacted by the father or mother.

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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 19 of 26)