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 2 of 26)
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moderate possessions fail to promote contentment?

Yet there is a turn in the tide of prosperity, as well as of wo,
and when greatness is at its height, it suddenly changes to de-
gradation, shame and ruin. Need we cite examples ? History
teaches us of great conquerors, overthrown on the day of tri-
umph; and experience has informed us, that wealth, when
seemingly the strongest, secured almost beyond the reach of
casualties, is then nearest utter prostration, and we may almost
say penury. The occurrences of the last few months have
amply confirmed this, and also that success or failure in our


enterprizes are from a Source higher, greater, holier than
human power or human wisdom ; and that person indeed must
be blind to the events of the moral world, who would suppose
that what our own eyes have seen has not been the work of
God. Yes, we may freely assert, that in order to prove how
vain, how deceitful, how impotent are human endeavours, has
the Almighty permitted the blight of reverses and sudden
changes to fall on many lands ; thus showing us that not by our
wisdom, not by our own energies, not by our own combinations,
no matter how skilfully soever they be arranged, can we look
forward to success, if He, to whom all is subject, denieth his
blessing. Call it not superstition, imagine not it is blind bigotry,
to assert that in our own daily experience we see the finger of
God made manifest ; no, friends, no, believing brethren, it is
indeed in these daily occurrences that we are reminded, that
there is a judging God superintending the affairs of man, ready
to exalt the humble to a high eminence, and to cast the pre-
sumptuous into the depth of degradation. If we take such a
view of life, we will be comforted in our stations, and be con-
tent with the sphere of action pointed out to us by circum-
stances, the unerring indicators of our call. Understand me
not as saying, that there is an inspiration vouchsafed to us by
which we are taught to know the precise calling we are to fol-
low ; but only as maintaining that to every man light is given,
and a road pointed out, which, if followed, will teach him how
to be useful to himself and others. There are, accordingly,
many in private life who, as fathers, as friends, or advisers do
more to promote the service of Heaven, than those who profess
to be teachers of religion. To such it may be freely said, " Per-
severe, pious ones, your reward will be great ;" and of them it
may be maintained, that they are happy, useful, and content,
although wealth and importance in the sight of the world are
not their portion. How few, however, are found willing to
abide content with their lot ; alas ! how small is the number of
the meek in spirit, who seek not vain-glory !

Man steps abroad, and finds that wealth gives the possessor
a rank in life, which no wisdom, no probity can impart ! He
sees the man of power courted, flattered, praised, envied by the
thoughtless multitude ; he farther discovers, that a strict pursuit


of religion will restrain the unceasing toil for wealth ; he fan-
cies, that in place of the ways of the law being ways of plea-
santness, they only tend to keep him hindmost in the race, in the
scramble, to use an expressive word, for the shining baubles
which lure the million. He sees no necessity for him to be dis-
tanced, outdone by his equals. He therefore pursues means
equally noxious, equally culpable, in order to reach the same
end. No day of rest is now known to his active spirit ; no fes-
tival, no Sabbath, restrains his step from busy pursuits ; nay,
not sleep know his eyelids in the noon of night. For awhile
his prosperity is seemingly boundless, and wealth, gold, jewels
crowd upon him in masses uncounted, he only sees before him
an unending career of greater and farther aggrandizement ; he
therefore perceives no evil in his course. But suddenly the airy
fabric breaks up like a spectral illusion of a nightly vision, and
the deceived dreamer at length discovers to his horror that he
has grasped a shadow and pursued an atom, an almost nothing.
Or take the man of power, who imagines in his rapid ascent to
greatness, that to his superior soul the grovelling multitude
must yield ready obedience ; he may perhaps imagine in his
self-delusion that he is fortune's favourite, and that to his pros-
perity there is no end ; but suddenly the evil reaches his heart
also, like the tornado that shivers the bark, the hope of the
mariner, upon the very strand where he trusted to find a speedy
and safe harbour ; and when too late, he discovers that his fan-
cied security was his ruin. What consolation can such as these
find in their downfal ? where are they to seek for comfort, see-
ing that their desired happiness has taken wing and left them
to despair 1 And, nevertheless, for ends like these will men
turn their backs, as it were, upon the law of God, and turn a
deaf ear to the admonition of the Most High ! They lightly
regard his favour, provided they can be esteemed wealthy and
powerful ; and if but riches and glory are theirs, they heed not
how many unwary have been deceived, how many rivers of
blood they wander through. And why ? because they know
not the pleasure of humble content ; because they heed not,
believe not, know not the word of God. I speak advisedly,
they believe not, they know not ! Think not, brethren, that a
mere knowledge of the words of Scripture is such a knowledge


as is required of us, or that a mere acquiescence in the dogmas of
the Bible is the belief demanded ; something more is necessary ;
for you should know religion practically ; you should be agents,
foremost among the energetic who love God with all their
heart, with all their soul, and with all their might ; and your
belief should be displayed by an ever-resisting to all temptation
which might make the pursuit of wealth and power the primary,
that of piety the secondary object of your life. The want of
such knowledge and faith it is now which causes so many to
err ; they have never learned to feel how happy, how content
they can be with small means, whilst they are active in the ser-
vice of their Maker; they know not, they believe not, that the
righteous do not envy their powerful neighbours, and wish not,
though humble, to exchange places with the proud and pre-
sumptuous. Besides, though acknowledging constantly in words
their being mortal and accountable, they act as though their
mortality were doubtful, and their accountability as if it never
would be exacted. Hence, as we said above, they halt at no-
thing in their chosen course, and year after year elapses, and
they pursue the same path of destruction, and excuses ridicu-
lous in the extreme are offered to lull their own conscience, and
to impose upon others the idea that they are sincere in thinking
themselves acting rightly. Shallow devices ! whom do they
deceive ? can they hide their enormity from themselves, though
others are deceived 1 or even if they do impose on themselves,
does the Almighty not know ? does he not search their inward
thoughts ? does He not understand the desire of every heart ?
Yes. truly does this OXE know, truly does He understand
the vanity of our striving ; the impotency of our knowledge ;
the \veakness of our strength. He has therefore ordained two
remedies for our sinful nature. The one, the law He imparted
to our ancestors, the second, repentance. The law contains
the living precepts, which if a man obey he will live through
them. In their execution there is no strife, no oppression, no
hatred of our equals, no envy of our superiors ; but all is peace
within and love without. For the man that truly endeavours
to shape his course .by the law of Moses has the cynosure of
the bright starry heaven, which never sets, which never is ob-
scured by clouds and darkness, but ever guides him onward


onward to his port of destination the embrace of his Maker
the favour of his Father the countenance of his God. But
if misled by folly, by the love of gain, by the dictates of sinful
ambition, we go astray from this holy path ; if the temptation
of a sinful life have induced us to forego our inward peace
our love of God our affection for our fellow-men : then is the
remedy of penitence provided for us by which we can become
reconciled to the Lord of our destinies. We are not utterly
rejected, because of our* wrongs ; we are not abhorred, because
we have erred. No ! for " He being merciful forgiveth iniquity,
and destroyeth not, nor awakeneth all his wrath;" this is the
language of Scripture, and presents us the consoling hope, that
the God of love, " all whose ways are justice," and who him-
self is TRUTH, will receive us again in favour when we return
to Him in confidence of pardon, in consciousness of sin. We
must not however exculpate our misdeeds by vain excuses, by
false, specious, self-complacency ; for this would be clinging
with lingering affection to our deformity, whilst we profess to
regret its existence. Neither must fear of loss prevent our
leaving off the evil of our ways. For such a course would be
telling in effect that, though w r e acknowledge our sinfulness, \ve
cannot renounce the cause of our sinning, and that we love
thus the creature more than the blessed Creator ; the means of
subsistence better than everlasting bliss ; in short, the world
with its allurements better than God !

Nor must the opinion of the world deter us. For there are
many who sin from a love of companionship, so to say ; they
have associates who pursue an ungodly course of life, or who
at first have but light foibles, or sins in miniature ; by degrees
they increase in sin as they grow older; foibles then have
become habits ; again time elapses, and inveterate habits have
degenerated yet further into vices, but still the companionship of
others causes us to look upon them as excusable, aye, as matters
perhaps to boast of. Need I prove to you by examples innume-
rable, that men have been drunkards together? robbers together?
blasphemers together? debauchees together ? when each by him-
self would not have dared so to brave public opinion ? Say not
it was the mean, low-minded villain that sunk thus would to
Heaven that this were so ! but in all ages the wise too have


sinned, and a Korah, a chief in his tribe, rebelled against the
chosen of God, the confided in of men ; princes of their families
maligned the land of promise ; a son of David drove his father
from his home ; a Jeroboam erected golden calves to mislead the
people, and innumerable others, renowned for intellect, have ever
sunk in the slough of iniquity. Were it that no man could hope to
find others willing to join him, he would hardly be so eccentric
that is the precise idea which rules many as to act wickedly
for himself; but as unfortunately the sinners are so innumerable,
the lover of fellowship cannot see why he should be so unfa-
shionable, so odd, so eccentric, so singular, as to adhere to the
homely ideas and customs of the Jewish nation, " for who now-
a-days," he may say and think, " heeds such antiquated notions ?"
But let us argue the point with him. What is there of the
weakness of garrulous old age in the precept, " Thou shall love
the Lord thy God with all thy heart ?" What of dotage is to
be discovered in the ordinance, " Thou shall not hate thy bro-
ther in thy heart 1" Or say, has the advanced state of society
made the observance of the Sabbath less useful ? We will admit,
that the wealthy idler, to whom time is a burden the endurance
of which is intolerable, may not find any necessity for allowing
his horse to rest on the seventh day ; he may not be able to
appreciate why he should abstain from following his pursuits
of pleasure on the day of rest ; but how is it with the labourer,
the artizan, the husbandman have they not also a claim to
enjoyment and relaxation ? is their toil never to end 1 is their
life to be one continual, unbroken, perpetual servitude ? Or
again : " And thou shall make the Passover." Can the man
of the world gainsay the debt of gratitude that is due to the
Deity for the many benefits which Israel received from his
bounly ? We could multiply these instances, but for the present
enough has been shown to prove the ulter absurdity of such
excuses. Yet the sociable sinner will allege, thai it is unrea-
sonable to forego the advantage of sinning as others do. He
imagines that others will outstrip him in the race of \vealth and
preferment, unless he strives to emulate them. If one works on
the Sabbath, he will earn more than he who rests. This is the
excuse constantly offered. Yet does it nol appear lo you,
wilhout any argument, that sabbath-breaking cannot be de-
fended on such grounds ? for, if ever so much is gained thereby,


it is wrong to offend against acknowledged obligations. Be-
sides all this, it is not clear that offending the Deity is produc-
tive of wealth piety the companion of poverty. This, how-
ever, no one will maintain, for not all the wicked are rich, nor
are the servants of God all languishing in want. Still, and
despite of all this evident refutation of the excuses of back-
sliding, we are deterred from amending, because we would
thereby appear inconsistent. We would be laughed at, if we
went to Synagogue, when before we were seldom seen. We
would be ridiculed, if we were to cease our labour on the Sab-
bath, which before \ve regarded not. We would be called
weak-minded, if we refused joining a sinful repast, participating
in a drunken carousal, because our conscience had only been
newly awakened to the sinfulness of such doing. But why
should we hesitate to separate ourselves from the throng of the
thoughtless, when we feel a call within to seek the approach to
God ? Why should we fear to incur loss, when we seek to
make our peace with our Maker? why should we wish to
frame excuses unto ourselves, when we come to appear before
the Searcher of hearts with the humble offering of prayer?
This then should be our repentance, a sincere self-accusation,
an entire elevation above the thought of paltry gain, a complete
separation from associates whose manners are corrupted and
corrupting.' If this is our new conduct, we will soon lose the
pride of self-elevation, be enabled to serve God in truth, and to
resist temptation, no matter how seductive it may appear. This
is the heart of flesh of which Scriptures speak ; this is the liberal
spirit, the pure soul for which David prayed. And thus speaks
Ezekiel xviii. 31, 32 :

on onytra WK DD^^S SD n DD'Sy
no irnan noSi nenn nm cnn nS
D>nSx 'n o&o nan man

: 3" 7 K^J n"< Sxprrr ;

"Throw off from you all your transgressions with which you have trans-
gressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, and why will
you die, O house of Israel! For truly I desire not that the guilty should
die, saith the Lord God ; return then and live."



" Throw off from you all your transgressions," how is this
to be effected ? by " making yourselves a new heart and a new
spirit;" if formerly you were presumptuous, self-sufficient, loving
the world more than God, placing the temporal above the eter-
nal, you should alter all this, and endeavour to love your Father,
walk humbly before Him, and follow his ways, and as He is mer-
ciful, be you merciful ; as He is truth, so love you truth, and as
his goodness is over all his creatures, so do you scatter the fruits
of your beneficence unto the rich as well as the poor. If so you
act, ye who are of the loins of Israel, how sweetly will your
memorial rise before the Judge of all! brighter far than the
morning will your light break forth, you will call, and the Lord
will answer, and the glory of God will receive you, will gather
you unto happiness. Glorious indeed a Day of Atonement
which closes with such changes ; happy indeed would we all be
if the coming morrow would receive in this house penitents, ser-
vants newly awakened to the service of the Most High. Then
indeed would our sins be forgiven, and like to David of old, would
it be recorded in the book of life : " The Lord has also caused
thy sin to pass away, thou shall not die."

Father! in thy name do Thou bless us; remove our transgres-
sion from thy sight, and rend the evil decrees which concern us;
and renew to us a year of happiness and content; a year of love
and rejoicing; a year of peace and repentance; and open unto
us and all Israel the gates of favour and mercy, of prayer, of
knowledge in thy law ; restore thy kingdom unto thy chosen
David son of Jesse ; guide us unto thy truth, and receive us into
thy embrace, there to dwell securely unto everlasting. Amen.

Tishry 7th ) ,-CQQ
October 6th \ K

NOTE. The foregoing address was composed with especial reference to
the distress in the commercial world, which fell like a blight upon many
countries in the year 1837, as it appeared to me of sufficient importance and
significance to call the attention of the brethren to this fact, as proving the
inefficacy of human means to insure success if divine blessing is not sent to
prosper the labour of our hands.




GUARDIAN of Israel, who hast preserved thy people amidst
all their sorrows in all their wanderings in the lands of their
alien oppressors, and hast guarded them as the apple of the eye,
so that there never was wanting one of the children of Jacob to
stand before Thee and to serve Thee: continue unto us also thy
favour and guide us with thy knowledge, that we may know the
ways of thy law; and lead us with thy grace, that our feet may
stand firmly ; bestow on us thy bounty, that we may be satisfied
of thy abundant goodness ; and let thy countenance be lifted up
unto us, that we may enjoy peace when in this perishable life,
and obtain glory and happiness when Thou takest our spirits
unto thyself, when by thy decree our appointed days on earth
are fulfilled. May this be thy will, now and for ever. Amen.


The festival, on which we annually celebrate our redemption
from the slavery we had to endure by divine decree in the land
of Egypt, is close at hand, and it is meet, according to the cus-
tom sanctified by usage, law, and feelings of gratitude, that we
should reflect upon this event with emotions of thankfulness to
that infinite Being who watches over us in our afflictions and is
the Arbiter of all events which occur among the children of his
creation. To the unthinking the recurrence of a festival is
viewed either as a time of physical rejoicing, or they neglect it
as a season which merits not their regard. But not so with
Israelites fortified by faith and instruction ; to them the festivals
bring rejoicing and gratitude, they honour them as seasons de-
voted to the service of the Almighty, and they improve them as
fit occasions to awaken a love of the divine law in their hearts.
Let us view the going out of Egypt in the proper light, not with
the levity which unbelievers are apt to indulge in, and we will
discover in it, what it was intended to be, a beginning for the


dawn of liberty, not for Israel alone, but for all nations, and a
liberation of the mind from false ideas of the Deity, not for
Jacob's sons alone, but also for all the descendants of Noah.
Without going too far into the details of history, we will briefly
advert to the state of society in the days of Abraham and sub-
sequently thereto. The only book which can correctly guide us
is the book of Genesis, as there exists no account having the
least claim to authenticity equal to this, and surely fabulous his-
tories cannot much assist the inquirer after truth, farther than to
teach him how far the minds of reasoning men may be misled
if incorrectly informed. To proceed : When Abraham first
began to diffuse the worship he possessed, we find that the coun-
try in which he lived, then and now called Palestine and the
land of Canaan, was divided into innumerable little principalities
and kingdoms, and every city almost appears to have been inde-
pendent of its neighbour, yet each subject to a king, the arbiter of
life and property, as will appear from the address of the king of
Sodom to Abram : " Give me the persons and the property taken
unto thyself." (Genesis xiv. 21.) War and bloodshed, even to the
extermination of entire tribes, seem to have been the occupa-
tion of these petty tyrants ; whilst the morals and worship of the
people seem to have been totally neglected. The warnings of
the flood and the miraculous confusion of tongues appear to
have left no trace behind, so regardless was every one of the
divine decrees given to Noah. A man was assaulted for har-
bouring strangers ; and even in Egypt, a country so boasted for
its learning, and knowledge, as some aver, of true religion, a
wayfarer justly dreaded the loss of life, because his wife was
blessed with a comely person. The countries surrounding Pa-
lestine were no better off, since we find that princes of various
tribes confederated to make a murderous inroad from the dis-
tant Euphrates unto the confines of Egypt. Also in a later pe-
riod, when Jacob left the country of Aram between the rivers,
he was pursued by his relation Laban, who carried with him an
armed band of his own followers ready to do his bidding even
to the slaughtering of women and children. What the condition
of the more distant regions from the centre of civilization was
we have no means of ascertaining ; still we may reasonably con-
clude, that only the strong hand of every individual could secure
VOL. in. 2


to him the possession of life, liberty, and his laboriously acquired
wealth. Peaceful pursuits, uninfluenced by fear of predatory
warfare, could not be thought of; the sword alone gave security,
and the strong of hand ruled heavily over the weak and timid.
Whatever of truth was known on earth became the exclusive
property of, and was communicated, as mysteries, to an exclusive
class of priests, who had peculiar privileges, peculiar dress,
manners and knowledge from the rest of the community, even
if we admit that a knowledge of the true God was in their pos-
session. This, however, is by no means certain. It is no doubt
true, that when first began the apostacy of mankind it was a
wilful going astray ; man refused to submit to divine rule, and
followed ordinances of his own inventing ; and that whilst so
transgressing the knowledge that there exists an almighty Cre-
ator, who communicated his will to the progenitor of the human
race, was not taken from him ; yet it is not absolutely certain
that he should teach his children the duties which he refused
to execute, the knowledge which did not withhold him from
error. If even then the first ages, to go a step farther, commu-
nicated the truth to a chosen few, and held up a symbolic wor-
ship to the multitude which they in their own hearts held to be
false : yet we may maintain that this did not continue for many
ages, and that within five generations from the confusion of lan-
guages one chaotic state of irreligion pervaded all mankind with
the exception of the few, who practised the precepts handed
down to them by " the father of a multitude of people." In his
day we yet find that a Malchi-Zedek was a priest of the Most
High, residing in Salem, afterwards the renowned city of Jeru-
salem. But when the land was conquered we do not find a ves-
tige of the true worship among the Jebusites who then inhabited
this part of Palestine, and doubtlessly did so in the days of Abra-
ham. It is due, however, to truth, to state to you in this place,
that there is one passage in the book of Genesis which gives
some colour to the hypothesis that it was customary to commu-
nicate the knowledge of the truth to a few, to the exclusion of the
many. It is in the following words (Gen. xviii. 18, 19) : " Seeing
that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation,
and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I
know him, that he will command his children and his household
after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice


and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that
which he hath spoken of him." In this extract, where I have
quoted the Bible Version, we find that Abraham is praised for
the knowledge God had of him, " that he would command his
children and his household after him, to keep the way of the

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 2 of 26)