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 24 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 24 of 26)
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once arrest their labouring hand upon their first coming here:
shall people like these be compelled to hold out their hands to
ask for alms from strangers to their faith ? shall they be com-
pelled to resort to the poor-house, that refuge for the vicious

* See Discourses, vol. ii. pp. 269 277.


and improvident no less than the honest poor 1 or shall they be
left in want of every thing at times perhaps when the female
has to bear the pangs of maternity, or when the aged sire is un-
able to raise his drooping head, sinking fast into the grave of
his forefathers, from his bed of sickness? Or shall they be told
to toil away, like the cruel Pharaoh said to our oppressed an-
cestors : " Go ye now and toil, and straw shall not be given
you?" Shall they be left in such distress that the fear of
starvation must compel them to transgress the law of our
Maker and Redeemer ? Surely this cannot be, this is not the
wish of one of you, my honoured hearers ! and I am not far
wrong in maintaining that many if not all would divide their
last loaf in order to obviate such extreme cases of hardships.
But such a demand is not made. God has helped us, we
have means, we have more than we absolutely need for our-
selves ; and even if the last year has deprived us of a part of
our wealth, still enough has been left to compel us to confess in
honest truth, that though less wealthy, we have yet means suf-
ficient to assist, even if it be with a mere trifle, those less
favoured than ourselves. Let us give this trifle, let us bestow
it this day on the ladies' society, the members of which are our
security that the amount collected will be distributed so as to be
made subservient to promote the greatest amount of good con-
sistent with their rules, and we may be assured that, no matter
to whom given, great benefit will be the result ; for experience
has taught us, that the recipients of relief from our various
benevolent associations have often, I may almost say, generally,
been enabled ultimately to obtain a livelihood by their own
industry, perhaps through the very charity originally bestowed
by these blessed treasuries, yes, thrice blessed treasuries of the
Lord ! and when they obtained a moderate competency many
have reimbursed the amount obtained, and joined themselves in
turn to us in order to propagate the good work themselves, and
to be bestowers in place of receivers of benevolence. And herein
lies the chief characteristic difference between the charity of an
individual and a society. If an individual gives, it is almost
universally an absolute gift, and the receiver is placed under
obligation to the donor for as much as is given, and even if he
should advance in life, he can hardly insult his benefactor by


offering him back the small amount received ; and consequently
a species of superiority on the one, and dependence on the other
hand is thus maintained, extremely injurious at times to the
existence of friendship between persons who might otherwise
have been friends. But if a society is the almoner, no feeling
of dependence on individuals is engendered, the idea of an irre-
deemable obligation can find no place in the mind of the poor,
and if he is afterwards blessed and sees that he now can return
what was given him in the hour of his need, there is a ready
opportunity of his doing so, for the treasury of the association
will always gladly receive back what it dispensed ; and there-,
fore although the debt of gratitude is not cancelled, still it
presses not down the individual independence, which, if pro-
perly fostered, is the basis of every honourable character. I need
not cite instances where charity thus given was returned ; nor
if even this did not take place, where the bounty once bestowed
produced a permanent relief; for your experience will supply
such instances. And surely the idea that with a small gift you
may be the means of raising a fellow-being from absolute want
to comparative ease and affluence ; the idea of saying by timely
assistance a despairing brother from the depth of temptation,
crime, and misery : must be enough to induce all of you to
give " each according to the blessing of the Lord which He
has given you."

Another advantage resulting from labours of a society is, that
charity can be and is given with more discrimination ; since the
managers of a public charity are bound by every consideration
to guard against imposition by persons feigning necessity where
none exists ; whereas individuals, however anxious to distin-
guish, can seldom spare the time to make the necessary inves-
tigation. It may perhaps be urged, that the certainty almost
of obtaining relief may embolden many to lay their situation
open and demand relief, who perhaps by their own application
and perseverance might have been able to help themselves.
This is certainly often the case, and persons have been known
who thus in a measure fraudulently obtained assistance ; but
the number so transgressing against the commandment implied
in the annunciation, " By the sweat of thy face shall thou eat
thy bread," bears no proportion to those who have honestly


a claim upon our sympathy, and truly it is better that now and
then our managers should bestow largesses where none are
properly required, than that the really deserving should suffer
from a too cautious distribution. It must at the same time be
observed that a hesitancy in replying to questions when an
applicant is examined, does not always demonstrate unworthi-
ness, or a consciousness that direct replies would debar him
from relief; on the contrary, it may proceed from a sense of
shame, that he has been brought by reverses to the necessity of
asking the aid of man. For there are many who in their own
homes have always maintained a character unsullied by aught
of reproach, who have perhaps themselves been of those who
feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But lo ! in the hour of
night the wind of Heaven carries up the clouds from the dis-
tant ocean, with sulphurous gases the air is filled, mass of va-
pour piles itself on mass, and with heavy portents rests the
atmosphere's weight upon every man's breast. Hark ! yonder
sound is the roll of the distant thunder ! See yon sudden flash !
it is the lightning's vivid glare ! all nature seems now convulsed
and sound and fire and the torrent are commingled, and man
hastily forsakes his pillow, terrified at the awful display of his
Creator's mighty power ! Now the storm is at its height ! and
the fierce flame seizes hold of man's labour, and soon blazes up
in the gloom of the terrific night. Quick in succession the
bucket is plied from hand to hand of compassionate neighbours,
high in streams issues out the volume sent forth by the aiding
engine ; but vain is all the toil, useless is the friendly aid, rafter
after rafter tumbles into the fiery pool, walls fall in, beams are
crushed, and all fly aghast from the threatening ruins ! Yet
none of those dear to his heart* are lost, and the father leaves
his devastated home for a foreign clime, bereft of all the riches
he once possessed, and claims peradventure your aid to obtain
bread for his helpless little ones. Is he deceiving you, because
in a strange land the blush of shame mantles on his cheek
when he hesitatingly recounts the tale of his wo ? Is his wife
to be blamed, if she is unwilling to let strangers know the
full extent of evil which the Lord has in his judgment de-

* Partly borrowed from Schiller's " Lied von der Glocke."


creed unto her ? For although compassion is raised in the
mind of the benevolent by a knowledge of the sufferings of
the unfortunate : still the sensitive delicacy of many who are
oppressed by poverty shrinks from disclosing the tithe of
what they have to endure. Those therefore who really wish
to be a blessing to their species, those whom the Lord has
blessed with means to relieve the wo they see, should not wait
till the sufferers are knocking at their gates ; but should of
their own accord seek out the modest inobtrusive indigent
whose lips are sealed by shame and delicacy from laying their
sufferings open to public gaze. And if they are unwilling to be
such agents of beneficence in their own persons ; if they like
not to enter the abode of wretched indigence and to bestow
with their own hands a part of their superfluities ; or if age or
sickness or unavoidable occupations prevent them from being
angels of mercy : let them then give unto those, who, like our
society here present, will gladly assume the task, and will faith-
fully and impartially administer relief to all who need, and who
require not abject humiliation in order to move their pity, and
who never will, never can, because they never should, send a
distressed sister unheeded from their doors, since they have
voluntarily bound themselves to spread consolation, sustenance
and contentment among the needy according to the utmost
extent of their disposable means. It need not be urged upon
you who are at ease and in affluence how lovely it is in all to
feel for those who are afflicted ; for there are but few indeed
who have not felt an emotion of tranquillity and satisfaction
with themselves when they parted with what made them not
poorer, and lighted up the smile of gratitude in the countenance
of the persons they benefited with their charity ; and all must
have experienced how sweet a reward was the " God bless
you" coming from a heart overflowing with gratitude. Yes !
charity blesses the giver as much as the receiver ; for whilst the
one is relieved of a load of care, the other thereby purchases
himself a better heart, he conquers the disposition to retain
worldly goods which cannot benefit him, and acquires the
good will of his heavenly Father. For what says the prophet
(Isaiah Iviii. 6-9) ?


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: iprun HDID S:n D'jran D^IVI nS:n HDIO
D no N'nn DHTID oj;n *]orrS DjnS 015
w : oSynn a6 "peaoi worn any nann
"|Sm nosn mno "jro-ian
'm anpn rx

: 'c-'i n": n

" Is not this rather the fast which I choose, to dissolve the bands of wicked-
ness ; to loosen the oppressive burdens ; and to let the oppressed go free ; and
that ye should break asunder every yoke ] Is it not to distribute thy bread
to the hungry? and to bring the miserably afflicted poor into thy house?
when thou seest the naked that thou clothe him, and that thou hide not thy-
self from thy own flesh 1 Then shall thy light break forth like the morning;
and thy health shall spring forth speedily ; and thy righteousness shall go
before thee ; and the glory of the Lord shall receive thee. Then shall thou
call, and the Lord will answer, thou shall cry, arid He will say, Lo, I am

This is the extensive field of universal benevolence in which
we are commanded to labour ; and the harvest unto ourselves
will be ample indeed. For we are promised a boon far above
our own acts ; we are told that our light shall spring forth as
the morning; yes, like to the exhausted mariner upon the sink-
ing wreck is welcome the blessed dawn that shows him the
friendly haven : so shall in the gloom of despair the divine light
illuminate the path of those acting righteously. And like the
same mariner's health and streng h are reinvigorated when he
finds that safety is within his reach : so will virtuous deeds
constantly make us progress onward when we have escaped
shipwreck against the rock of passions. And as the seafarer
rejoices when he casts his anchor in the harbour of security,
when all perils are overcome : so shall we rejoice when we
are received into the embrnce of the divine Glory, the perma-
nent resting-place of the righteous. If our conduct deserves
this, we may indeed call, and the Lord will answer, and unto
the voice of our entreaty He will surely grant us his favour.
We thus see that witli our small endeavours we can purchase
ourselves everlasting joys ; eternal bliss by temporal sacrifices.

VOL. in. 21


Let me then again call on you, brothers and sisters, to act up
to the demands of our Father ! give according to your means !
right the injured ! assist the oppressed ! relieve the indigent !
and as God loves the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, to
give them bread and garments : so be you his agents on earth,
bid the stranger welcome, be parents to the orphan, and pro-
tectors to the widow ! so that when you may call in your need
upon the Omnipotent, the Seer of all secrets, He may mete out
to you enlargement and deliverance, as your virtue may deserve
from his unexhaustible bounty, and from his mercy which never

Heshvan 5th
November 7th




ON MONDAY THE 2d OF ELUL, (AUGUST 12th,) 5599.


On but one occasion previous to this time have I stood before
you ; it was when the benevolent guardians of the poor and the
orphan sent for me to appeal to you in behalf of their charges.
Little did I then dream, that he who on that day stood by my
side and administered in this holy house would so soon be called
from the field of his labours into the presence of the omnipotent
Judge ; little did I on that day think that ere three years had
passed away, I should be summoned to address you over the
bier on which his mortal remains are laid. I almost shrink
from the task, and gladly would I have been absent this day,
and not tasked my feelings by officiating on this mournful
occasion. But it comports not with the duty of a servant of
the holy One to withhold his aid when it is required at the
grave of the departed, and it is not for him to hesitate when his
services are demanded. Still I would earnestly have wished
that I had been spared this trial, and that some other one could
have been selected to perform the duties which are now de-
manded of me. For I too must mourn with his bereaved
family over the father, the husband, and friend ; since, inde-
pendently of the family connexion subsisting between us, my
first associations in this country are connected with our de-
ceased brother. When I had crossed the broad Atlantic Ocean,
and had escaped by the almost miraculous interposition of


Providence from the fury of the equinoctial storm and the
raging of the mountain billows, and when I had recovered
from a painful illness after my arrival on these shores, and
when I repaired to the house of God : it was Mr. Seixas' voice
that I first heard lifted up in prayer to the throne of Grace, and
in his presence it was that I returned thanks for the undeserved
mercy that had been shown unto me. Several years after this
elapsed that I lived under his ministry, and I will mention it to
his credit, and it is a fact with which few of you are acquainted,
that he was the first who proposed what has since been carried
into successful operation, I mean the gratuitous instruction in
religious matters on certain days in the week. It was in the
Synagogue at Richmond where he, feebly assisted by me,
commenced teaching on the Sabbath and the first day such
children and youths as desired religious instruction. If the
success was not so great as we at one time hoped, it was
owing to the great difficulties we had to encounter. But I may
freely say, that the seed was thus sown, and one at least has
ever since had hopes of a revival of religion among our brethren
in this land, and he hopes to be spared to see the devoutly
wished-for consummation happily accomplished. Blessed time
indeed will that hour be, when our youths and maidens, natives
of this soil, will be joyful servants of the Most High, devoted
followers of the law of the God of Jacob ! And when we see
the spread of piety, when we see many disenthralled from the
bonds of selfish gain : let us pronounce a blessing on the name
of him who was the first to commence the righteous work
which has since been undertaken with promise of better suc-
cess by the pious daughters of Israel in different places, -as is
known to you all this day.

But this is not the only cause why I should mourn with the
nearest friends and relatives of the deceased. It was under him
that I first learned the accepted mode of our worship, and was
thus fitted to be summoned to officiate in the sanctuary where
I have these ten years endeavoured, though I fear unworthily,
to proclaim the word of life, which has been graciously be-
stowed on a sinning world by its merciful Creator. Many
times, since that period, has the hand of affliction, and the suf-
fering of severe bodily illness been laid on me ; death in various


forms has threatened me, once especially, when the beloved, the
only other son of my parents was removed from me : I could
not then imagine that I should be suffered to survive to officiate
on this occasion, and to perform the last solemn rites of our faith
over him whom I may freely call my teacher, without a great
stretch of the imagination. But so are the inscrutable decrees
of Providence; " He woundeth, and his hands also heal," " He
bringeth down to the grave, and raiseth up again ;" and we
see his omnipotent power displayed no less in his visitations
than in his mercies. Let us therefore improve the occasion,
mournful and afflictive though it be, so that the death of this
servant in the house of God may redound to our advantage.
It was but, so to say, yesterday, that he walked among us ; not
two weeks have elapsed since he accompanied me on my
return to the city where I have been chosen as the messenger
of the congregation; we parted in the principal street of this
extensive city ; he appeared in health, and surely no thought of
so speedy a dissolution could have entered into his imagination.
Yet scarcely had a week rolled on in the ceaseless course of
time, when I heard tidings of his illness, and next of his unex-
pected and lamented death. Often and often has this truth
been forced upon our view, that the tenure of life is uncertain,
that we are not assured whether to-morrow's sun will shine for
us, or whether the rising moon, which finds us in high expecta-
tion of a length of years, may not send her setting rays upon
our couch of death. Yes, so uncertain is life; and still our
plans reach as it were into the space of centuries ; we grasp
the exisience of many generations, when scarcely one hour may
yet be ours. But does it not strike you that this grasping and
this striving do not become man destined to die? should one,
whose life is so limited, extend his view so far, and seek for
things which he cannot reach ? Better indeed would it be for
each and all, were every man early to reflect on the fleeting
state of his existence here, and to fix his hopes on yonder haven
beyond the grave the grave, the embrace of which no one can
escape, were he to live a thousand years, instead of the three
score and ten allotted to us. These hopes would teach him
that he has the power given him of earning felicity by an
obedience to the will of his Maker, who, in giving him life



and being, also bestowed on him a law which, if obeyed, will
lead to happiness. But there is no time for delay next year
next month to-morrow nay, this day, this hour, may be our
last, and the opportunity may thus be lost of acquiring felicity,
if we do not act immediately. It becomes therefore our duty
to act always so, as though every day were the last of our life,
and to endeavour to repair through repentance any evil which
we may have committed ; in order that we may deserve the
favour of our Maker at any moment when it may please Him
to summon us to his presence. Obedience to the will of God is
truly the balm of life, the real object of our existence ; for its
riches no tyrant can ever take from us, its wealth no misfor-
tune can snatch away, and no canker-worm can deface the
beauty of the garment which it throws around our spirit; for
thus teaches the Bible :

vmvo nxi NT o'nStfn nK ^DBO SDH -m

: y- 3"< nSn '

" The end of the matter, even all that hath been heard is, fear God and
keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." Ecc. xii. 13.

If we are then snatched away after a brief notice from earthly
life and its enjoyments : we shall have the consolation in our
last moments, a consolation outweighing far all the pearls of
Persia, and the diamonds from the sands of India, more sweet
by far than the senseless shout of admiring thousands, of having
accomplished our task on earth, and of being able to restore
our soul in its purity into the hands of Him who gave it.

Let us hope that he, for whom we now mourn, has been
received into the abode of the righteous, among those who have
fulfilled well their mission on earth, and that his sins have been
forgiven, (for there is no man so righteous that he sin not ;) and
that his bodily sufferings and the pangs of death have purified
his spirit from the dross of iniquity. But for those who survive
him, for his bereaved widow, his fatherless children, let us
invoke the mercy of Heaven : may He bestow on them his con-
solation, even his blessed spirit, which abideth with the lowly
and contrite, and may He shield them by his beneficent protec-


tion from all evil, and guide them unto happiness both on earth
and when their spirit is freed from the trammels of the body.
May He be the Protector of the widow, and the Father of the
fatherless, and teach them to regard Him, the holy and righteous
One, as their sole Refuge, as He is the Refuge and Solace of
all the children of man, and especially of his people Israel
whom He chose to be his servants, and the promulgators of his
law on earth. Amen.

August 12th

NOTE. The Reverend Isaac Benjamin Seixas, minister of the congrega-
tion Sheerith Israel of New York, died on Sabbath evening, the 1st of Elul,
5599. I was sent for by his congregation to perform the funeral service
over my deceased friend; the time eft me for throwing together a few ap-
propriate remarks for this mournful occasion was necessarily limited to less
than two hours before retiring to rest on Sunday night ; as I had to com-
mence my journey to New York early in the morning. The reader will
therefore excuse both the brevity and the great imperfections with which
the above tribute may justly be charged ; it ou^ht p< rhaps not to have ap-
peared at all in this collection, were it not that I thought myself not at
liberty to pass over the decease of Mr. Seixas, without acknowledging that
a part of my usefulness as a minister of our congregation was owing to his
instruction. I. L.






O\ THURSDAY EVENING, THE 28th OF AB, 5600 27lh OF AUGUST, 1840.

A MEETING to express sympathy and to devise means of relief for the Is-
raelites persecuted in the East on account of false accusations, was held in
the Synagogue as mentioned above : when Mr. A. Hart gave a succinct his-
tory of the cruelties practised against our brethren, and concluded with an
appeal to the feelings and sympathy of the audience. I then spoke as
follows :


The gentleman who has preceded me has stated to you the
reason of our assembling at this unusual time* at the house of
God. We, the inhabitants of a land where a benevolent Provi-
dence causes to prevail an equality of rights and an entire free-
dom in religious pursuits, have met for the purpose of publicly
expressing our sympathy for those of our brothers who, living
where the " bond of slavery twineth," have lately been sub-
jected to persecutions at which the blood runs cold, and this for
the sake of false accusations brought against them, not as men,
but as members of the Jewish community. Were it that they
only suffered unjustly, even if the charge did not touch our an-
cient system of faith, still, as sons of Israel, we ourselves would
feel the wrong that they have unjustly to bear. But now we
have an additional incentive to rouse our every feeling of com-
miseration and regret ; since the religion, which we profess in

* Alluding to the lateness of the hour, which was past the usual period of
the evening service.


common with them, has been stigmatized as authorizing the
shedding of human blood at the recurrence of the annual Pass-
over. You may perhaps smile that such an absurd accusation
should at all be made ! you may feel contempt at the ignorance

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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 24 of 26)