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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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psalm, and strive feebly to confess its inability to chant his
praise ! Let therefore the child see that you are indeed alive to
the wonders of the Creator's deeds, and you will awaken in his
youthful heart an ardency to love this great and bountiful Bene-
factor, and he will almost involuntarily ask, how he should act
to deserve the love of the great Adored. When the child has
reached this point, that he asks either to be taught, or appears
ready to receive higher instruction, you should inform him that
the Creator is loo elevated, too supremely blessed to require the
services of his creatures for his own benefit ; but that whatever
they do will be for their own benefit solely, if their conduct meets
with His approbation. Be explicit in this, let the child be at
once impressed that his piety will be pleasing but not servicea-
ble to God ; that the performance of duties was therefore given,
that every human being might at once know those actions
which must be beneficial in their consequences, be this sooner
or later, to him and others, and learn to avoid those that are
hurtful if even their first appearance be harmless or at times
agreeable. Thus also says the prophet (Ezekiel xx./ 11, 12):
" And I gave them my statutes, and my judgments I made known
to them, which a man is to do and live through them ; and also
my Sabbaths I gave unto them, that they might be a sign be-



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE 37

tween me and between them ; that they might know that I am
the Lord who sanctifieth them." Let him understand well what
is meant by "which a man is to do, and live through them;"
that it is nothing else but that a strict obedience to divine be-
hests will give us inward comfort, outward peace, permanent
satisfaction. And if we have to conquer our inclination in order
to render obedience to the judgments of God ; if we have to un-
dergo hardships ; if we have to be subject to loss ; if we should
be exposed to the contempt and hatred of the ungodly in order
to follow the way pointed out by the statutes of the Lord : we
should not falter in our duty, but remain firm and unshaken ;
resist the inclination, for to follow it would be sinful and death-
bringing ; we should think lightly of hardships, for they may be
readily overcome by perseverance; loss of worldly things should
not be estimated in comparison with the bliss we obtain by obedi-
ence ; the contempt of mortals should be valued when compared
with the favour of our great Father ; and the hatred of the un-
godly maybe \vell held in light esteem, when we reflect that we
are protected by One who is powerful above those who lord it
over their fellows. Farther, that this course of steady obedience
will bring us life, and that the opposite will cause death and suf-
ferings.

Tell the child also of the beautiful institution of the Sabbath ;
how the Lord himself made all that exists in specific time, and
that, when all was finished as He had willed it, He sanctified
that period and called it the day of rest ; that He could have
made all in a moment of time, but He preferred creating, as the
Bible teaches, each part of the organization on a different day,
but that He absolutely finished, and consequently added no
more, when He had organized nature as we now see it around
us. He had implanted in every thing a power of continuing
itself, if not disturbed by greater causes ; to the earth he gave
power to change its masses by heat and various other inherent
agents ; to the water to rise up in vapour into the atmosphere
and thence to descend and make fruitful the soil ; to plants He
gave growth, and to animals the power of motion, and to man
alone the faculty of speech. All this organization finished, He
viewed it and found it good, and He then abstained from add-
ing any more agents and impulses ; and from that time until

VOL. in. 4



38 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE.

now every thing has been proceeding and progressing as He
had commanded; and that period too, when all had been finish-
ed, called the seventh day of creation, lie blessed and declared
holy, and gave it to his noblest work, man, as a day of abstinence
from labour, and a day of recreation from toil, and devoted to
the worship of the Founder of the universe ; for thereon the
sun rose upon the new-made earth, when quietly the fishes
played in the sparkling brook, unterrified by the angler's rod ;
whilst securely the birds carolled forth their Sabbath-hymn in
undisturbed joy ; whilst peacefully grazed the cattle upon the
fresh grass of the wide-extended pasture, and whilst man, inno-
cent as he had sprung from God's creative hand, chanted forth
his ecstatic praise to the Author of his life. Angels might stand
by and be thankful at so great a display of goodness ; for there
was rest, and harmony, and good-will upon the whole sphere
which had just been thrown out as one of the many stars that
glow in the firmament of the infinite space, the handy work of
the exalted One. Therefore was the Sabbath given as an in-
stitution to prove that God the Greater sanctifieth his children
by making known unto them a portion of his greatness, and
imparting to them a knowledge of those things which will make
them worthy to be called his servants, and men hallowed by
his worship.

If you yourselves, parents and guardians ! worship the Lord
in your hearts ; if you practise in your own persons the duties
you recommend ; if you honour the Sabbath from violating it ; if,
in short, your children see in your conduct the reflection of the
divine law, whose precepts you impress on them : is it not then
highly probable that they will listen with cheerful attention to
your instruction, and give ready obedience to the laws you
impart ? Most assuredly, and children thus educated, thus led
by precept and example, will be full of the spirit of religion,
ready to execute from a pure love to Heaven his all-wise de-
crees. For in youthful piety there is not mixed up a desire for
display, no love of renown, no fondness for worldly gains,
which may in a greater or less degree sway the actions of ma-
turer years : but the infantile prayer spoken by intelligent lips
that know no guile is indeed a worthy sacrifice to the One who
is purest of the pure. And well have our wise men included



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE. 39

in our prayers the petition : " Grant our request for the sake of
children under tuition," for with them is found sincere piety
coupled with understanding, and from them alone can grow up
undeviating defenders of the holy law ; since they early prac-
tise the religion which has been early taught them, and convic-
tion of its truth implanted in the pure soil of uncontamiriated
reason will remain unshaken in after years, when the turmoil
of life, and passion, and sorrow, and disappointment sour per-
haps the disposition, and almost lead us to despair of better
days. What, I ask you, will then uphold the stranger in the
stranger's land 1 who alone battles against adverse interests ?
mistrusted by his opponents and feebly supported by his friends ?
whence can he derive his consolation ? Can it be from evanes-
cent triumphs, from foes vanquished, from difficulties overcome,
from a character left untarnished though assailed by the un-
godly 1 Surely to the humble in mind such things can afford
but small satisfaction ; he values little the malice of men, and
lightly he esteems the temporary triumph obtained ; and were
indeed such his only support, how soon would he sink into
melancholy and listlessness. And suppose his enemies were to
triumph, (for often we find that virtue for a time succumbs to
malice and cunning,) what then is to cheer him but the holy
hope which early has been implanted in him, by an honoured
mother, by a beloved father, by a revered teacher 1 And often
the shadow of an early-lost mother will rise up to console the
son in the hour of sorrow and bid him to direct his eye to his
God who never sleeps : the admonition of the father, who was
perchance early taken, will recur to the aching memory and
counsel him to steadfastness in the righteous path ; and the
instruction of the teacher who has sunk in the grave ripe of
years and full of honours will be ever present to incite him to
persevere in the service of the Most High, uninfluenced by fear
of the world, unswayed by the hope of their favour. Those of
you, brethren, who have been blessed with such guides as I
have just mentioned, will be able to estimate the valuable gifts
that have descended unto you through them ; and you will
surely not hesitate to endeavour that your own children may
receive a similar blessing through your means. In this manner
yc u accomplish the high obligation which the Lord demands



40 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE.

of you with regard to the precious souls which His wisdom
has entrusted to your care, for in this light you should regard
your children, as a trust which you should strive to deliver
back pure and unsullied into the hands of Him who bestowed
them on you. It is accordingly farther demanded of you to
watch the growth of the weeds among the useful products, and
to eradicate the former that the latter may grow more freely
and luxuriantly. In other words, you should keep a watchful
eye to discover with every day of advance in life the faults and
foibles which your children may display ; do not compare your
well-informed and well-behaved ones with those of others who
are rude and bad, and thereby extenuate the little evils which
you may daily witness in your own families. Do not act in
this suicidal manner ; but check every evil propensity as soon
as it presents itself; punish gently every departure from right
and propriety, and admonish with earnestness, and repeat your
holy lessons constantly in mild and persuasive language, till
you reach that happy moment when the conduct and thoughts
of your offspring and charges flow in the same devotional
channel with your own.

If all this has been religiously, scrupulously and honestly done
till they have reached manhood ; if virtue has always been en-
couraged and vice ever checked ; if the fear of God has been
made a household duty, and His adoration the daily conduct
of the seniors ; in short, if the parental fireside has been the
school of religion : then alone have you fulfilled your trust, and
then alone can you with truth assert that you have discharged
your duty to your children, and then alone can you aver that
you are not answerable for their misconduct. If then they
disgrace themselves by deeds unworthy of the example and
instruction they have received, you will not be punished, nor
will the displeasure of God fall upon you ; as says the prophet
(Ezekiel xviii. 20) : " The soul that sinneth alone shall die ; the
son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor shall the
father suffer for the iniquity of the son ; the righteousness of the
righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked
shall be upon him." It will appear from this that when the son
acts contrary to the virtue of the father, that the latter shall
not be responsible ; but this exemption from blame can only



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE. 41

then be claimed when the commandment of " And thou shall
teach them diligently unto thy children" has been carefully ob-
served. But wo to that parent who values his children more
than the glory of God, who reproves them not when they sin ;
for then he is accountable for all their transgression, since he
could have guided them, and yet neglected his trust. For thus
we read in 1 Samuel iii. 11-14: "And the Lord said to
Samuel, Behold I will do a thing in Israel, so that both the ears
of every one that heareth it shall tingle. On that day I will
fulfil unto Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house ;
when I begin, and also make an end. I now tell him, that I
will judge his house for ever, because of the iniquity of his
knowing that his sons behaved vilely and he chid them not."
We are told in the same book how lamentable \vas the end of
Eli's sons and of himself, and how just was the retribution in-
flicted upon the priests who dishonoured by their misconduct
the temple and sacrifices of the Lord, and of the father who
from love to them winked at their misdeeds.

We have thus exhibited both the duty and manner of mental
culture ; and minds trained in this manner can alone be said
to be in a proper state for influencing good and useful conduct.
For a person who has been early taught to look towards the
law of God for advice and countenance ; who has been firmly
impressed that all its commandments are useful and of bene-
ficial tendency ; who firmly believes that the Maker does all
for our ultimate good, even those things which we mourn over
at times as afflictions and sorrows : such a one, I say, can
seldom be induced to do aught hurtful to himself or his neigh-
bours, that is to say, he will practise virtue, and thus do nothing
which can in reality be termed injurious. For if he deprives
himself of superfluities in order to assist those who need his ser-
vices, what does he lose thereby ? If he voluntarily submits to
suspend his labour on the days sacred to the Lord, will he at
the period of his death miss the unnecessary gain which he
lost by his abstinence, even admitting that his wealth should
have been diminished in consequence of his piety ? Say, what
can he suffer if he watches by the friend who languishes on the
bed of sickness, compared to the blissful satisfaction he thereby
earns of having assisted one who so much needed it, even

4*



42 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE.

omitting altogether its bearing as a religious duty 1 In short,
we cannot mention a single deprivation which the strict obe-
dience to the law requires which can in any degree of fairness
be termed hurtful, and the more we reflect the more sincerely
we must join with the words of the prophet adduced already :
" And my judgments I made known to them, which a man is
to do and live through them ;" for all the losses and sufferings
such obedience brings are only temporary, and the mind,
though at first unwilling, will soon rejoice over the sacrifice
made, over inclinations conquered, and over evil intentions
checked in consonance with the will of God, and feel a happi-
ness which no worldly gain can bestow, that it has been blessed
to avoid a long course of regret, and to earn the satisfaction of a
conscience unsullied by crime, and to be confident that the Crea-
tor will look with favour upon the deeds of the work of his hands.
But wo ! when the decrees of Heaven are esteemed of no
weight in the regulation of our conduct ! if we trust to the de-
ceptions which the outward world imposes upon the senses ; if
we prefer riches to happiness ; inclinations before the law of
God, the creature before the Creator. For then the road
which leads onward to destruction is opened to us ; every
act will then draw us to a greater distance from the favour of
the Lord ; every step will bring us nearer to the brink of ruin ;
since the accumulation of wealth by means not permitted by
the law, the acquisition of fame by trampling upon the rights
of others, cannot shield the heart from the consciousness of
being unworthy of such possessions, nor can we rest free from
the apprehension of divine vengeance, if even human power can
be laughed to scorn. Or say that empires too should bend be-
neath a sceptre unjustly swayed, that kings should bow before
a usurper's throne, that nations glorying once in their freedom
should willingly bear the chains of fortune's favourite will this
bring ease to the soul torn with remorse for friendship betrayed,
for the innocent slaughtered, for the widowed mother rendered
childless, and for altars of God overthrown ? Yes ! dignify
crime as you will, let .its career bo ever so splendid ; still you
may confidently assert, that had the criminal but known the
end of his doings, had he been permitted to look into the dark-
ness of futurity, surely his misdeeds would never have been



RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE. 43

done. " There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked,"
speaks Isaiah, Ivii. 21 ; and from the prisoner who in his lonely
cell is shut out from all intercourse with man, up to the tyrant
who tosses about, uneasy on a bed of down, surrounded by fawn-
ing courtiers, all have experienced and all will experience to the
end of time, that virtue outraged will be avenged, and that the
broken covenant of the Lord will cry out for visitation against
the doers of evil.

Still, even the sinner, though he has wilfully rejected the light
so graciously given, will not be for ever rejected, if he but turn
and seek the Lord. By this is meant, that the sinner who in his
misconduct may be said to have distanced himself from his God
may alter, and by following the way of the ordinances regain
the favour which is now denied him. He should rekindle in him-
self the knowledge of better things which was impressed on him
in his happier years of infancy and youth ; he should strictly in-
vestigate whether his own deeds can bear a comparison with that
standard ; and if he find that they cannot, as find he must, when
he feels that he must stand abashed if at that moment he were
called on to account before the omniscient Judge : let him pour
out his heart in prayer before Him who searches the heart, and
humiliate himself in abhorrence of the wickedness he has done.
Then indeed may he look for forgiveness, if he sincerely resolves
and firmly perseveres to lay aside the faults, and vices, and sins
which rob him of his peace, which but too much evidence that
he is not entire with God. Only let him not despair of mercy;
let him not think that the religion of Israel revealed in the law
of Moses has no consolation for the transgressor ; for reasoning
like this may sink the straying one yet farther into the whirlpool
of sin, and extinguish perhaps the last spark of religion, and in-
duce him to become an apostate to his faith and the belief of his
fathers, and seek for repose in systems which promise salvation
through mediators, or in other words an atonement through acts
that are not his own. On the contrary we thus read in Deut.
iv. 29 :



44 RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND REPENTANCE.

" And you will seek from thence the Lord thy God, and thou shall find him,
when thou wilt seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

In this verse it is plainly taught that a seeking of the Lord
will obtain his forgiveness provided the penitence be with all the
heart and with all the soul, that is to say, with entire sincerity.
It is true that Moses in addressing Israel evidently speaks of the
entire people, but we are fairly permitted to apply the same
promises of pardon to individuals likewise. Many passages of
the prophets teach us emphatically the use and efficacy of re-
pentance ; but we must at present pass them over, and merely
select a few striking passages from the Psalms of David which
clearly teach the doctrine we have advanced. Psalm, xxxvi.. 5,
he says : " Therefore did I confess my sins to Thee, and would
not hide my iniquity; I said I will confess my transgression unto
the Lord, and Thou dost forgive the iniquity of my sin." Psalm,
li. 6 : " To Thee, only Thee, have I sinned, and have done the
evil in Thy sight." And v. 19, he continues in positive assurance
of pardon : " The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit ; a heart
broken and contrite, O God, Thou wilt not despise." This is
the doctrine which is preached throughout the Bible, and in
every instance we are told that sincerity will not find the gates
of mercy closed to its earnest prayer. Indeed it is the whole
scope of religion to awaken such a state of mind in our people ;
all the ceremonies were ordained to arrest the attention and to
lead back the unthinking, and even the unlearned who have not
been blessed with an education as we have attempted to de-
scribe, unto the service of the Most High. Hence, the institu-
tion of the festivals, and especially of the Day of Atonement,
and the days of penitence. Every year the cornet is blown in
Israel's dwellings, to proclaim that the everlasting King yet
reigneth, and to call back to his fold those who have gone astray
on devious paths. Loudly arises the prayer, sincerely ascends the
hymn, and in every congregation is heard with one accord,
" The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God !" Willing and un-
willing, pious and sinner all join in the loud acclaim, and all
attest that the love of God is not yet extinct in Jacob's descend-
ants in the lands of their captivity. But brethren, let the wor-
ship not be merely for the day, for the moment of enthusiasm ;



OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW. 45

let its workings operate for every hour of your future life ; be
animated by a renewed desire to be good and faithful servants,
and resolve to show your sincerity by a vigilant and honest ex-
ercise of all the precepts which were ordained for your happi-
ness; then indeed will you be accepted, your sins will be forgiven,
and you will not die, O house of Israel !

Forgiver of sins ! gracious Father ! send us the comforter,
even thy spirit, and pour out over us the spirit of truth and
righteousness, and open for us the gates of pardon and forgive-
ness ; and ordain our portion, and the portion of all Israel with the
righteous who have done thy will. Amen.

E!ul29th
Sept. 19th



DISCOURSE V.

OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW.

FATHER of Israel ! unto Thee alone we offer adoration; Thou
who hast been from the beginning, and who wilt endure to ever-
lasting. Thine are power and wisdom; thine are might and un-
derstanding ; and from Thee alone are the powerful strong, and
the wise endowed with wisdom. Give us therefore the protec-
tion of thy power that we may be safe and sheltered from the
attacks and snares of the ungodly; and grant us the light of thy
wisdom so that we may be wise in knowing Thee, and bow with
meek submission to thy just decrees, and the upright judgments
which Thou sendest in thy world. Amen.

BRETHREN !

In examining the law of God we find different words used to
denote the commandments which it contains. So one class is



46 OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW.

called commandments, another judgments, another laws, and
another again has the name of statutes. These various terms
are not unadvisedly used, nor without proper limitations. So
we would understand under commandments those enactments
which are apparent to our reason, including the greater part of
those technically called the moral laws ; necessity and conveni-
ence both demand our acting accordingly, and human reason,
when once certified of their being the will of God, will, if not too
much misguided by passion, gladly acquiesce in gaining the
favour of the Lord by following their behests strictly, seeing that
in obeying God in these things we at the same time promote our
own interest. The same, with but slight variation, may be said
of the judgments so called, or the judicial law of Israel, as prac-
tised when the nation of united Israel was governed by the equi-
table code of the divine rule. To our own reason a close inspec-
tion will make manifest that they are based upon the golden
rule, " Do to others as you would have them act towards you ;"
and but few indeed among these enactments can be found, the
reasonableness of which is not apparent, if the circumstances of
the times and of our people are drawn into consideration, and
which are not even to this day the best adapted for the happy
government of a free and enlightened people. For the more the
enactments of the Mosaic code are studied and carried out in
practice, the more it will be discovered, that no legislation, pro-
perly so called, of equal soundness and practical usefulness, was
ever devised by any one man, or any set of men, be they the
wisest that ever lived.

In the execution therefore of the commandments and judg-
ments no particular exercise of faith can be displayed, by which
I mean that in performing either the moral or judicial laws we do
not manifest a submission of our own will to the wisdom of God.
But still whilst practising what our reason demands we are
nevertheless doing our duty, we obey the dictates of our Su-
preme Legislator who is anxious to promote by his benign law
the welfare of his creatures. He is desirous to establish peace
and good-will on earth ; and whatever therefore we do with a
holy purpose, will be acceptable to Him as a manifestation of
piety. But religion has a higher scope than a mere utilitarian
principle; it is the schooling of the heart, it is the training 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 5 of 26)