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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 20 of 26)
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Another observation I have to make with respect to children
from one to three years old ; it is, to be very guarded against
nourishing the principles of envy and revenge at this early age.
It may be necessary as a punishment for disobedience, to deny
to one child the indulgence granted to another ; but great care
must be taken not to excite the feeling of envy in the delin-
quent ; tell him, that it is a consequence of obedience in the bro-
ther that he is more favoured, and that you hope that he will
to-morrow merit the same by doing what is right. It were
perhaps better at times not to bestow the distinctive mark of
favour before the other child, if you know from observation
that he is of a sensitive disposition. Be judicious in this point
especially, as it is not unfrequently the case that quarrels be-
tween members of a family have been the consequence of early
favouritism ; and it is unfortunately too true, that parents them-
selves are by degrees led to look upon one or the other of their
children with more kindness than the others. This is radically
wrong ; it not alone fails in correcting as a punishment, but it
becomes a downright incentive to stubbornness and a careless-
ness in doing the duties demanded : if the child should be in-
duced to think that he is ill-treated, especially if he discovers
that another's faults are either overlooked altogether, or not so
severely visited as his own. With regard to the feeling of re-



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. 195

venge, it will no doubt be self-evident to you, that there are a
thousand incentives to excite this unholy passion in the mind
of the young. If any thing unpleasant occurs to them, they will
naturally appeal to their parents for protection and redress ; and
if you have to interfere in their behalf, be it against a servant,
a stranger, or one of their own relatives, do it in a mild deco-
rous manner ; do not let your children see, that you think they
have suffered a great wrong ; do not go about executing justice
in a boisterous, excited manner ; do not speak loudly to the de-
linquent in the presence of the offended party ; for all such ex-
hibitions only encourage the children in tale-bearing and seek-
ing of revenge for every, even the slightest, injury. Nor is it
correct to pacify the child, if he should accidentally get injured,
by striking a chair or any other inanimate object, as though it
had offended ; for this too encourages in a very reprehensible
manner the feeling of revenge which should be repressed in a
good system of education, as unfortunately it is but too apt to
be called into play in later years by associates and circum-
stances. Moreover such a procedure is irrational ; and it is
evidently requisite to exhibit in your own conduct towards your
children, even in early youth, nothing which hereafter you
should have to tell him was the effect of folly. You lower
thereby your authority, and derogate from your dignity as
moral guides, and it is of the utmost importance that this should
not take place. For if you really wish to be not only beloved
but also respected by your children, you must endeavour that
in their eyes at least you should stand as high, if not higher as
moral preceptors, than any body else ; because by this means
the task of governing your household will be much lightened,
and rendered more pleasant to yourselves, and more profitable
to your offspring.

If you discover that your child has any evil propensity, no
matter how young it is, do not withhold punishment. For if
the fault is curable, it is more easily so in the beginning, and
when it first shows itself, than when it has become confirmed
and grown into an inveterate habit. Little children are men
in miniature, and all the germs of a good or bad character are
existing in them no less than in adults ; hence the necessity of
treating their foibles as the sources of crime in later years. For



196 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

instance, should you see one of your children snatch at any
little thing you give to another, or demand a larger portion for
his share : you may safely say, that this is a display of covet-
ousness, and you should lose no time in counteracting it. If
you see that your little son is fond of teazing domestic animals,
and taking a delight in inflicting pain upon them, or if you de-
tect him in pinching or beating his brothers and sisters : you
have cause to tremble for this early exhibition of ferocity, and
you must lose no time, and pretermit no diligence to remove so
hateful a characteristic. If you see him indulge in violent out-
breaks of rage, it is not well to buy him off or to bribe him into
good humour ; for this would be paying a premium for a dis-
play of an odious feature ; but the evident duty of a religious
parent is to endeavour to subdue this failing, both by mildness
as far as prudent and well-timed severity where this may advan-
tageously come into play. It is no doubt true, that a father or
mother, particularly towards an only child, may think it hard
to be so severe ; but let us ask, what benefit can result from a
winking at faults which will become daily more apparent and
fixed ? You would be truly ashamed, were your son at the
age of twelve to show a covetous, cruel, or quarrelsome tem-
perament ; you would be grieved to hear any one say : " What
an unmannered, rude boy this is !" why then will you not
begin at once, before his character is formed, to give his mind
a proper bend 1 or think you that you will be able to remedy
the defect of early indulgence by greater rigour and severity
at a later period 1 You should however consider, that if your
son could master you when an infant, he is not likely to submit
to control as he advances in years ; and even if you are deter-
mined to curb him then, and grant even that you should suc-
ceed, does it not strike you, that you will have to undertake
the unpleasant task of thwarting him at last, and to cause him
thereby grief and vexation as much as though you had always
restrained him ? If therefore you mean to govern, govern at
once ; and you are more likely to succeed in the discharge of
your duty, by the early exercise of a little authority and the
exhibition of a little severity, than you could hope for at a later
date by a positive insisting and an undue portion of vigour,
which, whether you will or not, will then be requisite, if you



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. 197

wish to have any control over your family, in even a small
degree.

Another point must be looked after in early childhood ; it is,
that you insist upon strict truth from your child. I know not,
whether it may not be a natural impulse to deny any thing we
have done wrong in ; at all events the smallest child will say
no if detected in any fault ; though even this may, like many
other defects, be the consequence of bad example, of which too
much is always presented to us in every stage of life. Be this
however as it may, insist (I need not say with mildness, for this
is a matter understood of itself) upon the strictest truth from
the youngest child ; reason with him if need be, and explain
in simple words the odiousness of falsehood ; tell him how des-
picable it is to be caught in an untruth, and that generally, if
not always, every equivocation will be detected, and bring ad-
ditional disgrace for every offence, no matter how small, which
might have been perhaps forgiven if the truth had at once been
confessed. But whilst you demand unvarying truth, be cau-
tious that you do not deviate from it yourself; never threaten a
punishment, if you mean to be begged off; let not the child see
that you are wavering and mean not to do what you say ; so
also if you promise any reward, be sure to fulfil your words ;
it will have a very happy effect upon the young mind, and
teach it imperceptibly to love truth and to abhor a falsehood.
In the same manner you must repress the pernicious habit of
tale-bearing among the family ; endeavour to instil daily into
every one under your charge to practise forbearance and good
nature ; tell him, that the offence was perhaps not committed
on purpose, and seek to discover whether the offended party
might not have committed the first aggression. It is certainly
mortifying to a high-spirited child to find his complaints dis-
missed in such a manner, and to have the wrong laid to his
charge ; but what matters it that he suffers pain in this way ?
can it do him any injury? is his temper not improved thereby?
is not turbulence repressed '( malevolence rebuked ? and con-
tention stifled? Now reverse the case; suppose in your pa-
ternal fondness you would listen to the accusation brought by
your son against a neighbour's child, and were without investi-
gation to insist upon your friend's punishing the delinquent for

17*



198 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

the injury which has, for all you may know, been accidentally
done, or perhaps in self-defence; let your son know that you
got the offender well whipped for the outrage, and show your
evident satisfaction at the result, and recount the minute cir-
cumstances to your wife in the presence of the accuser; do
you not thus tell him to persevere in his course ? to do what-
ever mischief he pleases to others ? that you only will believe
him your darling your- child? Or perhaps tell him in so
many words that you will see him righted after this foolish
fashion ; and as sure as you live, you lay the foundation for a
tricky, quarrelsome, and highly unamiable character. Under-
stand distinctly, education should tend to correct the evil pro-
pensities of the human heart, to counteract the evils of bad
examples ; and surely your system would be worse than no
education at all, if you encourage and by that means foster
one of the worst traits to which we are naturally addicted.

A domineering propensity is also occasionally shown by
young children ; they will at times insist upon having this thing
or the other, and will not unfrequently aim a blow at a servant
or an older brother or sister if not immediately gratified. If
you discover this feeling, you must oppose it at all hazards; for
if persevered in and not early eradicated, it will grow with
every day, and cause them much unhappiness as they advance
in life, and render them truly odious in the eyes of others. The
more wealth you have, the more you are likely to leave to your
children : the stricter you must insist on an humble and kind
bearing from them to all around them, especially to servants,
who naturally must feel some reluctance in informing you of
such a fault, unless your sense of religion demands of you, to
ask for a correct statement of your children's conduct in your
absence. Observation has taught us, that children are not un-
acquainted with their parents' superior power which wealth
gives them, and that they are sufficiently apt to avail them-
sevles of all the advantages arising therefrom ; especially as
rich men's children are only too often the objects of regard to
visiters and others who may some way or another wish to pro-
pitiate their parents' favour. If you are therefore judicious,
and can yourselves set a proper value upon the glittering dross
which we are all striving for ; if you yourselves are impressed



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. jgg

with the unsubstantial tenure you have in worldly goods and in
your mortal life : you will pretermit no effort to enforce humi-
lity and patience, and to insist by all means upon an amiable
and decorous behaviour even to subordinates. Your children
in this case also as in others should have your example to teach
them the duty practically, which your words call for in theory;
you yourselves should be kind to servants, mild in your reproofs
of them, and never show any arrogance or pride to these and
all others under your control and direction. You may think,
perhaps, that your children will always be provided for, and
that they, who work for money, are not of sufficient importance
to deserve protection against the favourite offspring of wealth
and affluence ; but you err if you judge so. It is not so much
the protection of the subordinates, though this also is of vital
moment, as the improvement of the children themselves, the
rendering them amiable, which can be attained only by the
means we have indicated; it is your duty to improve their
minds, and clear away thence all those evil qualities which
may become prejudicial to their peace and future happiness ;
and as we said, and as the good sense of every man will tell
him, no quality is more hateful even in the great and exalted
than arrogance and overbearingness. Besides this, you ought
to reflect, that in the constant mutations which are going on
in the world no one can determine, whether the servants now
at your beck and call may not at some future day become ex-
alted above your children, and whether these may not be com-
pelled to ask of those, who once served you and them for pay,
for aid to assist them in their necessities. Now grant that this
should never be, still man may become useful to another in a
thousand great and little ways ; and the love of a menial secured
may stand in good stead to you and them in situations where
the assistance of the great is of no avail. In addition to all
this the servant is a child of God, and as such claims your pro-
tection, the more so because he is subject to your power ; this
therefore is an additional reason, why you should insist upon a
conciliatory conduct from your children, the younger as well
as the older, to your domestics, and show to them that you
likewise are not backward in this important duty which you
as servants of God must exact of them.



200 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

If by the visitation of the Lord you have been deprived of
one or more children, let this be no excuse for indulgence ex-
tended to those that remain. It were indeed making a bad use
of the admonition of Heaven to convert it into a curse (for so
indulgence is) to intelligent accountable beings. The mother
may perhaps fancy, that in the cry of the child before her she
is impelled to kindness by the memory of those who were taken;
but it is a mere weakness which may readily be overcome
by a little fortitude; by considering that to indulge the living
cannot restore the dead. It is surely a singular infatuation,
which can only be explained by supposing that the parents at-
tach a greater value to a child because they were deprived of
others, to overlook faults in the survivor which otherwise would
have been checked ; and it requires no profound thinking, that
it is unwise for many reasons. First it looks like dissatisfac-
tion with the will of God, and a stubbornness in submitting to
his irrevocable decree ; and secondly, the child so educated will
not have any reason to thank his parents for spoiling him ; not
to mention other considerations which readily present them-
selves.

We will now sum up this part of our subject briefly. It is
the duty of the parents conjointly, to watch over the disposi-
tions of their children from the earliest age ; to check every
fault, and to counteract every evil propensity. Not to be moved
by tears, by petulance, or perseverance; but to act with the
responsibility to the Lord before them. This supervision must
not be entrusted to others, no matter who they are ; but father
and mother themselves must fulfil the trust which they have
received, and to execute which they are mutually pledged to
one another. They should reflect that David, who is styled " a
man after God's heart," is censured in the holy Scriptures for
a neglect of his authority in the case of one of his sons, who in
consequence met with an untimely and violent death. It is not
to be supposed that early indulgence will have this unhappy
effect in all instances; but the resulting evils are sufficiently
great and appalling without supposing extreme cases. Still if
w r e could examine carefully the lives of great malefactors and
sinners, we would no doubt find, that the early folly of their
parents laid the foundation for their temporal or permanent un-



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. 201

happiness. Let me appeal to you then, brothers and sisters of
the house of Jacob ! to fulfil your trust in the spirit and letter
of the law, and cause thereby that your' children may live long
and happy in the fear of the Lord, and bless their earthly pa-
rents who early restrained their sinful propensities, and pointed
out to them thus the road which leads to the mansions of ever-
lasting felicity !

May the Lord our God enlighten our spirit with his wisdom,
and bless us with his grace, even as He was with our fathers !
Amen.



Heshvan 24th > -/,/,
November 20th ( OW1<



DISCOURSE XVII.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

UNTO Thee, O our Lord ! be praise and glory, for all the grace
and truth which Thou hast done to thy servants, for the many
innumerable benefits which we have received at thy hands, for
the many acts of goodness which, undeserving though we be,
were showered down upon us in liberal measure, and in seasons
of affliction no less than in hours of rejoicing. O! that we
might all be alive to the debt of gratitude we owe unto Thee,
and that all might endeavour to merit thy beneficence by obey-
ing thy holy word, and spreading a knowledge thereof unto
those not yet acquainted with thy service and worship. But
do Thou ! in thy mercy, give us the spirit of counsel and
understanding, that we may be enabled to teach the truth even
as it is pleasing to Thee, and to bring many precious souls to
seek for shelter and salvation under the shadow of the wings of
thy glory. May our eyes see this, and may all Israel be wit-



202 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

nesses of the outpouring of thy holy spirit at the coming of the
redeemer, thy messenger. Amen !

BRETHREN !

In my preceding address I endeavoured to sketch out a
simple and comprehensive plan of a domestic education of
young children in accordance with the principles of our
heaven-born religion ; and I trust that the rules which I con-
sidered it my duty to lay before you will be found both practi-
cable and consonant with reason. And I candidly believe that
the duty of early government of the household is, like all other
duties demanded by our law, the best promoter of domestic
happiness and a useful life in after-years. Let us to-day pursue
the subject in its more distinct branches and later applicability.
We are taught in the Proverbs of Solomon :



no*

: moo



" Train up the boy in the way he should go : and even when he is old he
will not depart from it." Prov. xxii. 6.

Another version of this verse is : " Train the boy according to
his capacity;" which, although slightly differing from the
common translation, does by no means change its meaning.
The wise king of Israel wished to impress upon the parents the
duty of watching over the conduct and progress of the child,
and to afford him such instruction, suited to his capacity and
years, as will engrave itself deeply upon his mind, and will not
be eradicated or forgotten even when the frosty years of old
age have long since banished the days of youth, and the early
instructors are laid low in the silent grave. To insure this
happy result it is necessary that you should begin correctly
and start in such a manner, that you need not retrace any
step you have once taken. Begin therefore with correct
principles, and inform the child early, in a manner suited to his
years, of the duties which he owes as the creature of the
Supreme, and as a member of the human family at large.
And as soon as he is able to learn teach him, after the good cus-
tom of our people, to glorify the Lord by the word of his mouth;



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.



203



make him early familiar that He, our God, is ONE, that He is
the sole Ruler and Governor of the universe, and that from
Him alone proceeds all the good we enjoy. Let his first
thoughts be fixed upon the profession of our faith ; let him
know by heart, as the first of his acquisition in knowledge, the
Shemang, " Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is
One ;" let him learn it loo in the sacred tongue, which, together
with the law, is a blessed inheritance from our fathers ; instruct
him in simple and to him intelligible words how to address the
throne of Grace ; so that he may at once be made to feel that
he is a dependant and a servant of a spiritual Being who
watches over all his acts, and rewards the good and punishes
the evil. In doing this, however, you should speak to him as a
rational being, and not make use of superstitious terrors to
frighten him into an unwilling obedience, nor attribute to the
Deity feelings and qualities which are foreign to the Bible
doctrines. Our God is so exalted, so pure, so unspeakably
holy, that every attempt to invest Him with human frailties is
blasphemous in the extreme ; and in serving Him we cannot
go farther astray from true piety, by any misconduct whatever,
than by an indulgence in superstition. It is thus your duty,
as guardians of. an accountable spirit, to make your child a
devoted worshipper, not an ignorant bigot, not a terrified
believer in nonentities. Religion in its most extended sense is
diametrically opposite to such fqlly ; and it is therefore your
first duty to teach the true worship without admixing imaginary
fears and ideal terrors. Hence you must not permit on any
account to let your child be entertained by ghost-stories or the
exploded notions of witchcraft, lest his reason become obscured
by such revolting inconsistencies. And there is danger of this
being the case ; for it is true, though an apparent paradox, that
the mind of most human beings has a fondness for the marvel-
lous and for harrowing recitals ; they are a species of stimu-
lants which the vitiated taste will drink in with the ear, as the
corrupt drunkard swallows the intoxicating poison as though it
were a pleasant and wholesome beverage. If therefore early
impressions of superstition are permitted, if the child is suffered
to become acquainted with such absurdities, as will cause him
to invest with fancied terrors many an innocent action, and



204 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.

people with imaginary beings the receptacles of the dead or
dark corners in your dwelling : you expose him to one of two
great evils ; you may cause him in maturer years to run the
danger of embracing infidelity and unbelief, when he discovers
that the terrors of youth are idle, and when a defective educa-
tion has blended these intimately with the everlasting truths of
religion. For in the presumption of boyish arrogance many
are induced to judge from uncertain premises and hastily
drawn conclusions ; they think they have a thorough knowledge
of every abstruse subject presented to them, because they have
a little information in popular sciences or a superficial acquaint-
ance with one or the other of the learned professions. If they
now have any cause to connect religion with acknowledged
falsities, they are too apt to reject both, because they do not
weigh the evidences and the overwhelming authority by which
the former is supported. Now it is against this unhappy result
that you must guard the child from the beginning; let therefore
acknowledged truths alone be brought to his view, that he may
not have any occasion to unlearn or reject as false and unrea-
sonable any thing he has once imbibed under your instruction
or by your sufferance. Besides the danger of infidelity which
may possibly be the consequence of an acquaintance with
superstition, there is another but little less injurious. If the mind
has become once saturated with horrors, it is with some tem-
peraments likely enough that the impression will never wear
away, but give a colouring to thoughts, feelings and actions
throughout an entire life. It may perhaps be said, that the
age of superstition has passed away, that general enlightenment
will cause a greater tendency to an entire unbelief in all
spiritual beings, than an adoption of acknowledged nonentities.
There may be truth in this remark, with regard to the majority
of men in civilized countries ; but experience has also shown,
that there are many exceptions, and that the mind can be
warped by false inculcations to adopt any absurdity which can
enter the imagination of the veriest madman that ever lived.
Superstition and mysticism the most horrible have existed side
by side with the most reckless infidelity ;* and daily experience

* The atheism of the French Revolution was accompanied by the exist-
ence of the theophilanthropists, and the goddess of reason.



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. 205

proves that at this very hour, there are men, nay among the


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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 20 of 26)