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 6 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 6 of 26)
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spirit, it is the government of our desires which it purposes ; in
short, it does teach us to yield ourselves entirely to God's guid-
ance; and it is a saving faith and a confiding trust that are neces-
sary in order to constitute ourselves servants of the Most High.
What then is a saving faith ? is it a belief in doctrines not under-
stood ? in imperfectly conveyed dogmas 1 No, it is a conviction
that whatever God asks of us is correct and true, that his laws
are necessary to our salvation and happiness, both here and
hereafter. It was therefore to test our faith, to plant the love of
God stronger in our hearts, that He gave us statutes and laws
which human reason would not have arrived at by the most pro-
found study, that we might be tested whether we " loved the
Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul." It
is accordingly not to be denied, that many of the statutes of
the Mosaic code are not founded upon human reason; nor
will we for a moment maintain that it is expedient even to
attempt measuring the infinite Wisdom by the feeble light
vouchsafed to mortals such as we are ; but we maintain that
in this consists the chief excellence of the Mosaic rule over
any other which is the invention of men and based solely upon
human reason and human will.

Let us examine ; the statutes and laws are those ordinances
which God instituted as the distinguishing mark of his people
above all other nations of the earth. He ordained that we should
erect a sanctuary, holy unto his servic?, where He would come
and dwell among us. The regulations belonging thereto, the
order of the service, the institutions of the sacrifices, the conse-
cration of the priests and Levites were all such as He chose to
appoint them. When therefore He says, that such service
would be a delight, that such sacrifices would be a sweet sa-
vour, where is the human reason that can gainsay it ? Say we,
that we would not so have organized the holy service ; admit,
that more pictorial, more statuary effect, more elegant, ravish-
ing music salute the eye and ear in other worships ; that in
other. temples sweeter incense pleases the senses: yet all this and
even greater refinements superadded would convince the believer
yet more that a holy purpose was the foundation of the simple
unostentatious service of the Lord. He preferred to dwell in a
tabernacle, elegantly indeed constructed beautifully wrought


by those in whose hearts God had placed wisdom ; neverthe-
less it was a moveable, so to say itinerant sanctuary, and during
a space of four hundred and eighty years our people had no
other resting place for the glory of the Sovereign of the uni-
verse, whose visible fire dwelt in the midst of them. Would
human wisdom have ordained this ? can any one be hardy
enough to assert, that a cunning deceiver would not have
dreaded to trust his system to so contemptible a depository in
a country replete with refinement and elegance ? By no means ;
especially when Egypt teemed with temples of yet enduring
splendour, when there at every step the modern traveller is
arrested by magnificence and wonderful art which no one can
even dare to attempt to imitate, much less to rival. We there-
fore maintain that in obeying the laws of which we have been
speaking, we submit ourselves to the wisdom and guidance of
God, who chose to maintain his creed and faith among our
nation in a state of simplicity almost inconceivable, whilst hea-
thenism fell, though supported by unequalled splendour.

Again with regard to statutes. " Remember the Sabbath to
keep it holy" is the command of the law ; here we behold God
as the Author of our life, as the Rewarder of our toil demand-
ing a cessation of labour on the day which He claims as de-
voted to his service. He tells us, blessing, yes, temporary
blessing, the increase of riches and worldly goods, also, shall
be the consequence of our labouring less than gentiles do ;
would human reason have invented this ? or did it ever do so
in any other system 1 True, the Romans had the feast of the
Saturnalia, when the slaves were free from labour, and when
a universal merry-making prevailed throughout the land ; but
it was not the quiet Sabbath of the Jews, not the silent hilarity,
the finding pleasure in the Lord prevailing among Israel. With
us labour ceased before the sun sunk to rest on the sixth day
of every week ; see on the western horizon the light of day is
fast winging its course to the depth of ocean's wastes ; from
the pastures the lowing herds wend their way to the welcome
enclosure ; the sheep bleating and joyous seek the fold ; and the
ploughman arrests the busy plough ; the harvester's sickle is
swung no more, and stops the hand of the active vinedresser.
All is at rest, whilst yet the feathered songsters have not ceased


their song, whilst yet they have not sought their downy nest.
Say, what cause.s this repose ? is the labourer's hand palsied '(
falters the husbandman in his toil 1 is it sloth that pervades the
land-? no! hear the psalm arising, from towns, from villages,
from hamlets, from the desert plain ; all join in melodious
hymns, all hearts are overflowing, every tongue utters praise,
shouting forth " A psalm and song for the Sabbath day." The
household too is newly arranged, the table decked with the
bright linen, the work of the industrious housewife, who awaits
the return of the father, husband, and son ; and over the festive
board the Lord's name is blessed who has given rest to his
people Israel. At length all is gloorn ; the sun has set, the
night has spread its dusky mantle over wearied creation ; but
no sound of revelry, no clanging of instruments, no noisy shouts
disturb the peaceful ear ; for the bondman, though now free,
rejoices too with the household in quiet retirement the return
of the weekly rest. The day has now dawned ; and over hill
and valley slowly the light is stealing ; but it. meets not the ox
at the plough, nor the ass toiling under his burden ; no armour
clashes ; the forge sends not forth the curling smoke ; and not
is heard as wont the hammer of the artisan ; but unto the
places where the law is proclaimed all the people go, and listen
to the instruction which has been vouchsafed them, and they
learn each to value himself, not in being richer, wiser or more
powerful than his neighbour, but in obtaining a greater share
of the fear and knowledge of the Lord, the Father and King of
his people. So it is in all the land ; quiet, and order, and
peace, and tranquillity reign all around ; but even in the temple
the service is simpler than in other days of the week ; not to-
day do you behold crowds of people bringing their burnt-offer-
ings, their peace, their sin and their trespass-offering to the house
of God ; for only the daily sacrifices and the additional offering
of two lambs for the Sabbath are led to the altar, and over the
sanctuary as over all the land hangs the shield of the holy rest
a rest in which no heathens rejoice, a Sabbath in which the
uncircumcised have no share nor portion. Is this an institution of
human invention? or did human cunning devise the day of rest?
no ! it is the wisdom of God that ordained it, it is the all-wise
One who wishes so to refresh by bodily rest and mental culture
VOL. in. 5


his servants, to lit them to pursue their allotted toil, resigned
to his will, content with their portion. For see, in our Sabbath
the prince and slave, the philosopher and labourer, the man and
the beast of burden all alike participate ; and when we resort to
the house of God to serve Him, the pomp, the pride, the retinue
of vehicles and of anxious servants must be left behind, for not
the horse is to carry the owner, nor is the servant to do servile
work for his master on that day. The king therefore, should
he come hither, must walk amid the crowd of worshippers
who appear before the great King, and in nothing can he claim
any distinction above them except he be a truer Servant of, and
more intelligent in knowing his Master, the Lord of all.

If now we must admit that human reason would not have
set apart one entire day for rest and a total abstinence from
labour : it will nevertheless be apparent, that this institution is
eminently calculated to promote a strong reliance upon the
Lord ; inasmuch as it will present itself as a day of leisure to
the whole community; and their welfare as a mass will be
greatly increased if they, with one accord, pretermitting their
daily toil, resort to the houses of worship to acknowledge that
they are all servants, receivers of benefits, children in their great
Father's world, scholars in their Teacher's school; if they de-
vote this day to rest, because the Lord of their labour bids them
rest ; if they listen to instruction because their Master teaches,
and rely for blessing during their cessation of labour, because
the Father who never deceives, promises them eternal delight,
if they restrain their foot on the Sabbath day, and execute not
their desires on the holy day of the Lord. It need riot be told
you that the Sabbath was ordained to commemorate the crea-
tion and the going out of Egypt ; because your reading of the
Bible has informed you thereof full often, nay, the Ten Com-
mandments, familiar to you from early childhood, lay it down
as a reason, " And remember that thou hast been a servant in
Egypt." Besides this, the subject has before this been presented
to your consideration. I intend to-day merely to call your
attention to the fact, that the laws not founded upon human
.reason were given as trials of faith, as a binding of fhe people
to God. So then, when we are told that any act is the will of
God to be done, another one to be left undone, we should not


hesitate in obedience, nor falter in our duty; but we should
surrender our own judgment, necessarily circumscribed by
worldly views and limits, to the all-searching wisdom of God,
whose eye ranges over all nature, in the elevated heights, and
in the unsearchable depths. He is the sole Arbiter of what is
reasonable, of what is useful, and what is hurt-bringing. He
knows the connection of things, and asks nothing which is
really injurious to the peace and welfare of the world. But,
besides all this, the creature as such owes something to the
Creator, otherwise there would be no divine rule on earth.
Great acts of charity, of towering benevolence, of wide-spread-
ing philanthropy are not within the range of every man, nor
always within the daily scope of even the wise and highly en-
dowed. But acts of devotion, abstaining from things prohibited,
the devoting of the heart to divine instruction, the acquiescence
in divine mandates are daily and hourly within the power of
every, even the humblest individual ; and the little prayer
breathed before we enjoy the Creator's gift ; the revenge we sup-
press because of the Creator's will ; the food we leave untasted
because the Creator calls it unclean ; the scroll we affix to
the post, because it contains the Creator's word ; the priestly
blessing we receive, because it is the Creator's benediction ;
all acts, in short, of devotion, all restraining of the desires even
in minute things all purify the heart, all elevate the spirit; and
with the faithful therefore the whole life is one series of acts of
devotion,- one continual scene of piety displayed ; and even the
ordinary acts of life then become, as also the pursuit of our
daily avocations, a part and an integral portion of the service
of the Most High, and the domestic fireside, the wide ocean,
the shady forest, the couch of sickness, the nuptial feast, the
mourner's dwelling, as well as the churches and schools of re-
ligion, are then converted into temples of the Holy One, who
dwelleth in the heart of those that are faithful and true. " It
is the heart the merciful One requires," say our wise men, that
is to say, in order to be religious we should feel the devotion
which we outwardly profess ; our lives should be consistent,
and by no act, word or thought should we ever dare to profane
the name of God. But on the contrary we should receive all
the commandments, being, as they actually are, the emanations


of the same Wisdom, as equally obligatory, nor should we ever
dare to offend against either of them, or question their \visdom
or usefulness. For if \ve do the latter, are we not in fact set-
ting up our judgment above the wisdom of God ? do we not, if
we rebel, exalt ourselves above our Maker? say we not by our
conduct : " Depart thou from us !" if we neglect the duties
which He thinks proper to prescribe for us 1 And yet persons
call themselves religious, lovers of God, who select and choose
the duties they wish to perform, rejecting some as unwise,
others as useless ; they honour God, but cannot put faith in
Him ; they read his law, but know not the sabbathic rest ; they
are certified, " And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an
everlasting covenant," yet they neglect circumcision ; they are
told, " You shall be to me a holy people," yet they defile them-
selves by the flesh of the swine and the creeping things of the
earth ; they are taught, " And thou shalt teach the word care-
fully to thy children," yet they suffer their offspring to grow up
in ignorance of the law of the Lord ; they are warned against,
" And thou shalt not intermarry with them," and still with pro-
fessions of religion on their lips, they seek the embrace of those
not in covenant with the Lord. It is the deplorable effect of
over-refinement, of the wisdom in our own eyes, that induces
us to debase ourselves thus before Him who searches the heart ;
He asks obedience, but we will be obedient if we think it rea-
sonable. Wo ! wo ! that such should be our folly ! To-day
we know not, in our self-conceit, what are the motives of the
law, we are ignorant, and therefore reject the life-bringing pre-
cepts, because of our ignorance alone, like the silly patient
dashes from his lips the healing draught of the friendly phy-
sician that might perhaps, with Heaven's blessing, restore him
to health and friends. But lo ! in a brief space our eyes are
opened, we see the wonders of the divine law, and then as
transgressors we lament too late our wilful blindness that refused
to be led by divine guidance. " God has told us what is good,"
and Him alone we are to consult by an inspection of his word ;
nor should we falter because of the unpleasantness, the danger
and loss which compliance might occasion. We are God's
children, and as children we should listen to advice, not like
equals dispute the point of right. God wishes obedience, not


repentance ; He wills us to hear, not to atone for disobedience
by magnificent gifts. For in the willingness to serve alone lies
the merit, or as we have expressed it, in the yielding of our own
desires and wisdom to the supreme power and wisdom of God.
This also we are tauht in the Bible :

yvrh DIZD rraro J;OB> run 'rr Sis

no oop nxzon D

"And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offering and
sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord ! Behold to obey is better than
sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is the sin of witch-
craft, and stubbornness iniquity and idolatry.'' 1 Samuel, xv. 22, 23.

This memorable passage occurs in the history of Saul. When
Israel went forth from Egypt, Amalek lay in wait for them on
the road and attacked them, when they were faint and fatigued.
When now Saul had obtained dominion over Israel he was sent
to slay man and woman and every thing belonging to Amalek.
The decree was a severe one ; but it was the will of God, and
as such should have been obeyed. But Saul hesitated; he spared
the king and the best of the flock and cattle in order to sacrifice
them to the Lord. When Samuel arrived at the camp he was
aware of the delinquency of the king ; but in order to bring the
sin home to him, he engaged him in conversation, till Saul
avowed his purpose, that the people seemed unwilling to execute
the command, and that deferring to them he had spared the flock
to make sacrifices ; it was then the prophet exhibited to him the
right way of pleasing God, that implicit obedience alone could
satisfy Him who stands in no need of our services, and to whom
all the princes of the earth are as nothing and their doings as
vanity. Willingness is the sacrifice He demands ; obeying is
his incense ; but the presumption of judging for ourselves is a
want of faith, a rebellion against the Most High. Here we will
rest at present; and let us well ponder on the awful responsibility
we are hourly incurring by the rebelliousness of our spirit and



the stubbornness of our heart ; and O, let us never never de-
serve the denunciation, that we are rejected, because \ve de-
spised the word of the Lord; but on the contrary let us give up
our heart and soul to an absorbing obedience, to a filial devo-
tion, to an entire saving faith, in order that by obeying we may
receive the approbation of the Lord, which is the greatest good,
the highest blessing, which frail humanity can hope to earn.

Father ! teach us obedience, assist us to subdue our evil desires
to thy will, and lead us through this life of trial shielded by thy
wisdom, that we may awaken, when we have passed the por-
tals of death, surrounded by the light and that happiness which
Thou wilt give unto those that fear Thee ! Amen,




SHEPHERD of Israel hear ! God of Jacob listen to our prayer !
hearken to our voice from the lands of our banishment, from
amidst the nations where we dwell cast out from our inheritance
for the sake of the transgressions which we have transgressed
in thy presence. How long, O Lord, shall we sigh amidst the
gentiles ? how long shall the handful of Israel be given up to the
rule, the oppression, of their enemies, who would fain devour
them, because they cling to thy holy name, amidst all their
wanderings and their sorrows ? Arise, O God ! and display thy
holy arm before the eyes of all nations, and " sprinkle us with the
waters of cleanliness," as Thou hast spoken, " that we may be
clean, and be cleansed from all our filthiness, and from all our


idols; and put thy spirit within us, in order that we may walk in
thy statutes, and that Thou alone shall be our God." Amen.

We read in Leviticus, x. 3.

'n -OT -it?** Nin pn*t a* wo
: prw DTI nroN oyn SD os Sjn Bnp >:nn

"Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord hath spoken, say-
ing, In them that come nigh unto me will I be sanctified, and before all the
people will 1 be glorified. And Aaron held his peace," i. e. he remained silent.

It is sweet, when we see a man, raised high above the level
of his fellows, guided by the same principles which govern the
less favoured ; it is refreshing, when we see the sage drinking
from the same fountain of knowledge which invigorates the
minds of the humble; but it is more sweet and refreshing than
both these instances combined, when we see the holy influence
of religion exerting its power over the bereaved heart, when it
has consigned back some spirit held dear for the ties of kindred
and friendship into the hand of its Giver, and when without re-
pining, it yields itself a resigned sufferer unto the Judge who
measures all our steps. It is truly then, that the servant of God
rises above the level of the common mass; for it is he alone who,
feeling deeply the infliction of God, can yield himself submis-
sively to the decree that has gone forth without murmur or com-
plaint ; because he bears that within which teaches him that it
is not fitting for the creature to dive doubtingly and complain-
ingly into the ways of his Maker, altho' the chastisement have
fallen on himself. A notable instance of this kind we have fur-
nished unto us in that part of the history of Aaron which we
have just quoted. Seven days had elapsed since this noble Le-
vite had together with his four sons received daily the consecra-
tion to the service of the Most High from the hands of his pro-
phet brother; and on the eighth day, which had then arrived,
he had been first installed to officiate with the aid of his sons in
the Lord's sanctuary. The people were all assembled ; from


the altar arose the smoke of the sacrifices which had been insti-
tuted as the perpetual offering of a grateful people to their be-
nevolent Father; and the chosen ministers were the chief, who
had gone hand in hand with the renowned prophet before the
tyrant of Egypt, and spoken the message which had been sent
to demand the liberation of Israel, and the offspring of his loins
whom the Lord had given him. Aaron had thus indeed re-
ceived a great reward, and he \vho had been the herald of the
redemption of his fellow Israelites was fit to become the instru-
ment for the expiation of their sins at the altar. Besides this,
the glory of the Lord was displayed before the people; for when
Aaron with his sons had come down from the altar after offer-
ing the sin, the burnt and peace-offering, and he and Moses had
blessed the people, the visible presence of the Most High was
made manifest before the eyes of the adoring multitude, and all
then felt that now indeed they were reconciled to their Father
in heaven, who deigned to dwell in the humble tabernacle which
their own hands had erected. Can you imagine a moment of
greater triumph than Aaron must have then enjoyed? The
everlasting priesthood, to endure unto the end of time, was his ;
the representatives that were to possess it after his temporal death
were before him, around him; the people for whom he had risked
his life, for whom he had toiled, for whom he had almost incurred
the doing of a great sin, had been purified of their transgression;
that law which at one time had well-nigh been cast off for the
idol of Egypt was again triumphant, and the tables of its holy
covenanf were deposited in the ark under the shadow of the
wings of the Cherubim, under the custody of himself and de-
scendants. All around him was joy, exultation and gladness ;
the people shouted when the fire came down upon the altar and
consumed the sacrifices and the fat, and all fell upon their faces
and worshipped. Here then was the consummation of all his
hopes, of all his desires; and onward seemed the march of the
nation to the holy land, there to erect unto everlasting the sanc-
tuary and the worship of the God of truth. Did he dream of
sorrow? was his heart awake to the terrible bereavement that
was impending? O no, he was secure in his confidence, he felt
free from all care and apprehension ; still at that very moment
two of his sons, the first-born and his brother, presumed to enter


the tabernacle with strange fire, which God had not commanded ;
they added to the commandment, which was not to be aug-
mented or diminished under pain of death; they wished to offer
more incense than the mere handful which the decree of the Lord
demanded; perhaps, in imitation of the heathens, they desired to
fill the house of the Creator with the sweet incense, the cloud of
aromatic herbs, the products perhaps of the happy Araby and
the distant India. But this strange sacrifice was not pleasing,
because it had not been ordained, and a fire went out and
destroyed their life, even whilst they were in the sanctuary.
Here then lay the hopes of Aaron blighted ; the sons, in whom he
had confided and who were to assist and to succeed him, had in
the moment of wanton forgetfulness of the law, the chosen minis-
ters of which they had been appointed, forfeited their lives, they
had died the death of transgressors against the majesty of the
Lord. He had sunk from the height of exultation, from the pinna-
cle of happiness, into the depth of sorrow and anguish ; the shout
of the people's joy was changed into the sound of wailing and
regret, because of the burning which the Lord had burned.

It was at this moment that Moses approached his mourning
brother, and said to him: "This is it that the Lord hath spoken,
saying, In them that come nigh unto me will I be sanctified, and
before all the people will I be glorified;" meaning, that from those
who have received the greater light the greater responsibility
will be required ; the nearer man approaches to his Maker 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 6 of 26)