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 7 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 7 of 26)
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more energetically will his faults be punished. God is no Re-
specter of persons; He knows no distinction between 'his crea-
tures ; He observes the ways of all ; He cares for all ; He pro-
vides for all. But as order is Heaven's first law, it is necessary
that there should be degrees among mankind, that there be some
exalted above their fellows by the greater gift of riches, of
power, and of wisdom, in order that they all may be made in-
strumental in the proper government of the world. It was
therefore so ordained, that in proportion to the endowment,
should be the accountability, that it may be proved to the com-
prehension of every son of man that the Supreme Judge is good
alike, and just alike to all, and that the gifts He bestows are not
to be regarded as the exclusive property of the actual possessor,
but as the means to distribute the benefits which may be derived


from them, as the almoner of his Creator, among those of his fel-
low-creatures who come within the sphere of his action. It is true
that God could have created all men alike, both physically and
mentally ; but then, there would have been no order or subordina-
tion, because all being alike (something different from equal) no
one would have been willing to obey, and every one would have
been anxious to command. As things now are, we find enough
of contention ; how much more had the gifts of the Supreme
been alike bestowed, unless man should cease to be man, a mix-
ture of good and evil ! If therefore the man in authority trans-
gresses, he transgresses not only for himself, that is, he does not
only sin as an individual, but he transgresses also for the people,
his sin becomes an example, a stone of hinderness to the subordi-
nate and the less learned. Altho' therefore, it may be said, that
all mankind are alike bound by the same religion, there is
still an additional obligation of more particular care imposed
upon those prominent either by station or intellect; they are to
guide unto good, and give no cause for offence to the general
multitude. They, therefore, who like Nadab and Abihu, the
sons of Aaron, are selected from among the people to stand in
behalf of them before the Lord, should expect to receive instant
and condign punishment for every great fault they are guilty of,
for the reason that the Lord may be sanctified by the visitation
which they, as those nearer to the Creator, receive, and that
all the people may glorify the even-handed justice which is
meted out to the lowly both and the exalted.

It was this point which Moses meant to impress upon his bro-
ther; he offered him no common-place consolation, he did not
tell him not to grieve for the loss of his sons; but he called his
attention to the fact, that it was a just visitation of their God
whose law the slain ones had transgressed, and that it was for
the glorification of his justice that they were taken at the mo-
ment of their sinning; because their having been called to come
nigh unto the Lord should have taught them that it was their
duty to be very careful, how they fulfilled their ministry, not by
regarding it as having been given for their own gratification,
not by exhibiting themselves as raised above the law, but by
displaying a cheerful obedience, a ready acquiescence in all that
had been commanded, in order that their service might cause


the Lord to be sanctified, and his glory to be felt by all the peo-
ple. Their life had failed to effect this; they transgressed, they
made a law of their own, they offered a strange fire ; their death
was therefore required to effect the object of their priesthood
and they died before the Lord.

Aaron felt the force of the prophet's rebuke, and he held his
peace ; he looked upon the corpses of his sons, and he felt they
had sinned ; he uttered no cry of anguish, he expressed no re-
pining after God's justice, he spoke not of -his loss, of his be-
reavement ; but his soul rose triumphant in its confidence in the
Lord, and he held his peace, he remained silent, acknowledging
that it is better for him to be bereft of his children, than that
the equal justice of his Creator should be impugned ; he ac-
knowledged, that the blow which had been struck at his peace
was for the good of his people, who also had a right and por-
tion in their ministers who had been selected from among them.
And when he was bidden not to exhibit outward signs of mourn-
ing, neither he nor his remaining sons, but that all the congre-
gation might mourn for the loss of those who perished for their
instruction and improvement : he again submitted to the man-
date, not forgetting that it became him to prove to the people
that he could conform to the behests of the Lord, although his
heart was torn with grief. But think you that Aaron did not
feel keenly his bereavement ? believe you it was indifference 1
want of refinement ? Then read the sequel of the chapter from
which our text was chosen ; Moses searched for the sin-offer-
ing, and finding it burnt, he expressed his indignation to his
brother's sons for not eating the sacrifice as ordained ; but
hear Aaron's answer : " Behold this day have they offered their
sin and their burnt-offering before the Lord ; and such things
have befallen me ; and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day
should it have been acceptable in the eyes of the Lord ?" This
unpretending reply proves more strongly than any pathetic pic-
ture could have done, that, though the anointed priest yielded
obedience, yet the father felt his loss; he could not partake of
the sacrifice, his soul was with his departed sons, and rather
than desecrate the offering of his Master by partaking of it
without a proper regard to its sanctity and the object of its
institution, he preferred having it burnt, which was the remedy


if aught of the sacrifice should have been left till the following
morning. Moses acknowledged the force of Aaron's reply and
he felt content ; in other words, the holy spirit which spoke
through the prophet assented to the piety of the father, it per-
mitted him to feel, whilst it demanded resignation and an
unrepining submission to the decree of the dread Judge of all.

A resignation like this of Aaron is one of the highest efforts
which man can make in the service of his Maker, it is the no-
blest sacrifice of self which \ve can offer up on the altar of
heaven-born religion. It is when we are afflicted, when the
tide of our prosperity is turned, that we should have within us
that exalted confidence in the Lord's goodness, which should
move us to hold our peace, ay, whilst the eyes are suffused
with the warm gush of nature's overflow, the scalding tear,
whilst the heart heaves with convulsive throes, whilst the mouth
fails in uttering forth the cry which is wrung from the keen-
ness of the wound which the soul inwardly feels. Yes, it, is
then that religion exhibits her empire, when she binds the
stricken more closely to his God, unites more firmly to the great
Father the confiding child. But, brethren ! it is not only at the
moment when sorrow has invaded your dwelling, that you
should reach forth your hand to snatch the balm which religion
imparts ; you are not to wait to invigorate yourselves with the
dictates of our holy law until the time you are afflicted ; for
this would be merely using Heaven's best gift as a species of
medicine which the patient is willing enough to take only whilst
writhing under pain, but which he refuses to touch when health
is returning. Besides this, it is very questionable, if religion
can act as a temporary sedative, any more than the remedies
of the earthly physician, if by excesses we have destroyed our
constitution, or counteract the effects of a skilful cure by im-
prudence after our recovery. Think you that Aaron's acquies-
cence was the effect of the admonition of Moses, produced only
at the moment, and not before existing, latent, in his soul ? If
you think so, you greatly en', for Aaron had long been
schooled in the ways of God, he had felt his goodness, had
seen his mighty power, and witnessed his justice. He had con-
fided long since in the Justice with which the world is governed,
and when the shaft struck him too, he could submit patiently,


meekly, devoutly; he bowed to the chastening Hand, he adored,
though he suffered. Let it be the same with us all. No one lives
who can save his soul from death. The dark portal at the entrance
of eternity all have to pass ; the grave has been appointed the
common receptacle to all the living on our sphere; the silent
earth, or the stormy deep, or the scathing fire, or the fowls of
heaven will at a time not far remote receive our mortal remains ;
all the elements have been appointed our destroyers, all nature
seems leagued against our remaining long on earth. What right
then have we to look upon ourselves and our nearest friends as
more exempt than others from the common fate of humanity ?
where is the warrant which assures us that our fortune, our hopes,
our joys, are to stand more firmly than the fortune, the hopes,
the joys of others ? Vain delusion, if we deceive ourselves ! fatal
error, if we cleave so closely to earth ! A breath of wind may
overturn our fortune ; a stroke of lightning may mar our fondest
hopes ; an unforeseen accident may banish our joys ; things we
fondly cling to are snatched from our grasp whilst our eyes
are gloating on them ; the food not yet devoured is perhaps the
destroyer of our life ; the hand that smooths the pillow of our
couch of sickness may in a moment be palsied by death. And
shall we then not be prepared by a holy life, a faithful reliance
upon Providence, for the coming of the storm which must ship-
wreck our hopes 1 are we to go on from day to day, from
hour to hour, to rivet yet faster the chains which bind us to the
mundane globe, and loosen the bonds that unite us to our hea-
venly Father ? Shall wives, shall children, shall fathers and
mothers, shall brothers and sisters, shall friends and kindred,
shall wealth and renown, shall wisdom and honour be for ever
holding our spirit in thraldom, and keep us chained to the cha-
riot of worldly ambition, forgetful of the end that is sure im-
pending? Ay, could we ourselves do aught to secure our
possessions from loss, and our friends from death, then indeed
might our excessive love for them be pardonable ; but since
they are merely lent to us for a period, to be taken away again
whenever the Giver finds it for good to withdraw them : how
can we regard them as absolutely our own, and their with-
drawal as a personal injury done to ourselves I Why should
we not, since all on earth is fleeting, transitory, perishable, de-



caying, seek to accumulate treasures which are undying '( why
should we not in moments of prosperity and joy endeavour to
calm our exultation, and to look towards the period when a
change will come '? why not fortify ourselves, whilst we are at
peace, with faith, and confidence, and reliance, and fortitude,
and learn to lean for support upon the Rock of ages, that we
may be able to stand erect when at length the storm of adver-
sity assails us ? And yet there are those who go on sinning,
glorying in their wickedness, prosperous in their misdeeds, as
though for them there is no evil ; they live, forgetful that there
is an accountability for them for all the wrong they have done.
But the wheel of mourning that rolls round in the world at
length reaches them too ; the neglected Sabbaths, the profaned
holidays, the forsaken covenant, the unprayed orisons, the hope
in God not felt by them, have not been able to ward oft* the
evil ; it has come and lodged in their house : where now is
their security 1 where now is their hope ? where now is their
stay? They mourn because of the wound which death has
struck, as though they had suffered a wrong from the Creator ;
they complain and repine, as though they had no longer any
hope or joy in aught that is theirs ; they murmur, as though it
was not an all-wise Providence that has thought fit lo afflict
them, to recall as it were their thoughts from the vanities of this
life, and to fix them the more firmly on yon bright future in the
realms of bliss, which is to be gained only through obedience
and a filial reliance upon the promises of benignant religion.
Yet if they would but consider that their former striving had
been after vanities ; their former security but a flattering self-
delusion ; their want of faith a rebellion against God, the neglect
of the Sabbath and the other precepts an actual treason against
the great King : how readily would they acquiesce in the jus-
tice of the decree that has been meted out to them ; and if the}'
could not like Aaron hold their peace out of full confidence in
the goodness of the Lord, if their sinful life permitted them not
to see mercy in the storm as well as in the sunshine : they
would at least be willing to submit to their punishment with
meekness becoming unto repentant sinners, and learn hence-
forward to seek mercy and forgiveness from the Fountain of


For we may maintain as a well established principle that
every visitation is intended for our improvement; nothing is for-
tuitous or the effect of chance, all, all is the effect of design, the
working of Providence : not an insect perishes in the flame of a
lamp around which it has been buzzing, not a bird is snared
by the fowler, not a plant springs from the ground, not a
blossom perishes, unless it be by the decree of the Omnipotent
who is good alike to all ; the apparent evil, death itself, is but a
stepping stone to happiness, and the road to felicity leads through
trials and tribulation. Is it then right to regard lightly the chas-
tisement we may encounter ? or perhaps are they to harden yet
more our hearts that we may still more obstinately reject the
counsels of wisdom which the Bible so bountifully offers to our
acceptance? Should any one say in the indifference of his cal-
lous heart, in the scornfulness of his unbelief: " My son died
in the course of nature, he was cut off in his bloom, as other
children die;" or again: "I have not deserved such punishment;
Providence deals unjustly and cruelly with me ?" To the one
we would reply, that although death is in the course of nature,
still every time it occurs it is in consequence of a special edict
from the Guardian and Ruler of the world ; and that so far from
the bereavement being merely accidental, it could not have been
otherwise than designedly sent as a warning to arouse the atten-
tion ; for there is no chance ; we cannot suppose that such un-
certainty could at all enter into the system of nature as designed
by an all-wise Architect. To the second we would say : No
man is punished without a just cause, and granting that you are
not conscious of wrong, still rest assured that you have been
weighed and found wanting, and that you have committed sins
in the very acts which your interests, inclinations or passions
have taught you to regard as innocent. Thus if you profane
habitually the Sabbath, if you refuse to enter your children in
the Lord's covenant, if you obstinately persist in not teaching
them the words of the law, if in short you are regardless of the
Mosaic code transgressing the precepts and are an indolent
follower of forbidden pleasures are you not a sinner in the eyes
of the Lord, altho' in your own estimation you are innocent and
pure ?

If therefore, any evil befall us, we should at once set about in-


vestigating our conduct, and reform the sinfulness of our ways;
perhaps the Lord may see our altered course, and remove from
us farther his anger. And, are not the punishments the tem-
pests which purity the moral life, just as the winds and light-
nings those which clear the physical atmosphere ? Do we blame
the Almighty for causing the wind to blow which lashes into
foam the before placid ocean ? Do we arraign the justice of
Providence for the vivid lightning which plays around our dwel-
ling and terrifies our appalled vision ? Does not every one re-
cognize them as harbingers of good, as the agents sent to refresh
the earth, to restore vegetation, to destroy noxious vapours which
else might settle down upon the surface of our globe, and cor-
rupt the air, the water, and the soil whence we derive our sus-
tenance 1 But precisely similar are the visitations which ever
and anon come over us ; the placidity of our uniform current
may be lashed into billows, but the Lord is in the storm ; He
calls our attention to the noxious, to the putrefied state of our
conduct, He bids us to remove the evil which we discover, in
order that when the storm has spent its rage we may stand be-
fore Him renovated in the strength of life and live unto eternity.
Let the lightning rend our peace, let its desolation be visible in
our dwelling, let us be shaken by the roll of the thunder: be as-
sured God is in the fire, it is His voice we hear. He calls us
to Him, He rouses us from our slumber, He appeals to our better
feeling, He wills we should awaken from the torpor of deadly
sin, and live in His presence, scathed yet purified, smitten
yet cleansed, wounded yet healed again. If thus we look upon
sufferings, who can say that they are not fit instruments for a
beneficial Providence's purposes to instruct and improve man-
kind ? Prosperity but blunts the feelings ; constant success but
binds man closer to life ; uninterrupted well-being but induces
him to toil more energetically to gain a larger share of the
world's goods; and very often it is affliction only which teaches
him better things. Happy indeed would it be, if the empire of
religion were so far extended, that in the hours of joy man
would take it to heart to become a truer servant of the Most
High ; that when success augments his stores he would conse-
crate his life to God, and repose on the days when labour is for-
bidden ; to walk humbly amidst the shouts of admiration ; to


ieel himself mortal even in the very hour of conquest and tri-
umph. But, alas ! many then have an ear only for flattery ; a heart
only for pride; a leisure only for enjoyment; a mind only for
worldly things ; no time for religion, no mind for prayer, no hour
for worship, no day for rest. All, all is one whirl of excitement,
one rush after gain and renown; religion lies neglected, God is
forgotten. It is therefore that admonitions come opportunely to
the aid of our better nature, to move us to cast off the fatal
moral indolence, to induce us to review our way, and to apply
the remedy where we discover defects. For it is at the time
when our pride has been rebuked by adversity, when our medi-
cal skill has shown itself incompetent to save the life of a beloved
offspring, when the accumulated wealth of ages has been unable
to purchase one hour of a life of sufferings, when man utterly
feels his helplessness without Divine assistance, when we feel
disgusted at worldly greatness, and worldly wealth, and worldly
wisdom which failed to afford us relief: that we are drawn
towards the Creator and his mercy, to the God who can give
life and health, and whose are the wisdom and understanding.
If we now profit by this devotional feeling called up at the mo-
ment of sorrow, if we let our afflictions make a lasting impres-
sion on our future life and conduct : then may it be truly said,
that God has been sanctified by our bereavement, and been glo-
rified by our humiliation, and the death of a friend by which he
was released from bodily ailment may have opened to us the
gates of heaven. It is not only by the death of the sons of
Aaron by whom the glory of the Lord was to be extended, but
likewise by the departure hence of every son of Adam to the
latest generation. There is a lesson to be drawn from every
death-bed scene, from the sinner's as well as of the righteous ;
and the one dying in his impenitence teaches with no less force
than the calm resignation of the other. Every thing, in short,
that occurs to us is full of import, and will guide us on to a
happier lot, if we will but heed the instruction hourly afforded
unto us.

Do we now take the Divine dispensations to heart as faithful
servants, do we thank our Creator amidst our afflictions as well
as our joys: how sweet will the incense be we then offer to
Him; our subdued pride, our renewed hope, our regenerated


life, our love of the law rekindled to burn unto our dying day
\vill appeal for us to our everlasting Father, and He will send
his grace unto our afflicted soul and refreshen it with his com-
forting spirit. Sorrow will be changed into joy, anguish into
exultation ; and instead of repining and complaint, there will be
resignation and submission. J\o rebellious feeling will be called
up, no murmur because of the dispensation will be heard; but in
entire faith, in the full hope of a better hereafter we will ex-
claim : " He is the Lord, let Him do what seemcth Him good !"
When one endowed with such holy resignation should stand
weeping over the grave of his beloved wife, or his only offspring
cut off in the early vigour of manhood and renown, it needs but
to remind him that it is God who has afflicted him ; it were vain
to offer any other consolation, he will at once recognize the
force of the appeal, he will recall his wavering confidence and
rest of the soul, and bear with meekness the loss he has sus-
tained, and endeavour in renewed activity, in benevolence and
devotion to regain his lost composure.

Religion bids us not, not to mourn ; it tells us not, that we
should not regret the death of our friends ; on the contrary, it
prescribes observances which are eminently calculated to arouse
the feelings. We rend the garment, we eat the bread of mourn-
ing, we sit on the ground, we adorn not the person, we are to
abstain from pleasure, we are not to mix in general society; and
all this has been ordained that we might dwell with serious re-
flection upon the evil that has come upon us. But when the
thirty days for all but our father and mother, for whom we are
to seclude ourselves for the space of an entire year, have elapsed,
it is the duty of the mourner to resume his walk amidst his fel-
low-men; his regret need not to cease with this period, but the
outward exhibition of grief surely should; and I know not.
whether the custom of wearing particular garments by those
who have lost friends beyond the prescribed time may not be
safely regarded as opposed to the spirit of religion. There is
no question however that it is sinful to carry regret to too great
an extent, to let months elapse before composure is restored, to
have the house darkened, or to wear sombre-coloured garments,
or to refuse mingling again in society, for too long a period ; for
such behaviour tells but too plainly, that the sufferer refuses to


yield himself to the decrees of Heaven, that he perhaps thinks
that he has suffered an unmerited injury from his Lord. A fault
like this is but too apt to be committed by the more wealthy and
respectable portions of the community ; they are not actively
enough employed and have too much leisure for profitless reflec-
tion, especially if their faith and religious conviction should not
be sufficiently firm and confiding. It is well however to remind
them that with the past sorrows the hand of the Lord is not
straightened, and that His arm is yet outstretched to smite them
with renewed plagues. And who knows but that their stubborn-
ness may merit a new punishment, and that in addition to the
one already taken another may also be soon required, or that
some other calamity may be sent, a calamity which they now
but little dream of? For what sin can be greater than a rebel-
lious heart? what conduct more deserving of visitation than
murmuring against the dispensation of Providence? And yet we
constantly see such unbecoming grief exhibited, and men will
brave the vengeance of Heaven by their unyielding disconsolate
behaviour. Why should we be disconsolate? say you because
one dear to us has fallen ? Truly a friend has fallen, but he fell
as all must fall when their appointed hour has come, he was
summoned hence by the will of his Maker, the Lord of his body
and his soul, who deemed it best now to close the earthly career
of him we deplore, because his task was ended, or because his

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 7 of 26)