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Our Motto

by Isaac Leeser

ללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשות
"To learn and to teach, to observe and to do."

The learned reader, unacquainted with our ritual, will seek in vain for our motto in the tomes where philosophy has heaped up her stores, where astronomy has recorded her discoveries, and where the brilliant achievements of modern times in the arts and sciences are chronicled. In none of these will it be found, nor in the writings of poets and romancers; but in a part of the daily morning service which each Israelite should rehearse every day as a portion of his service of the great, adorable, and fearful Name, by whose power our people were called to the knowledge of true religion. And in choosing these words as the standard of our periodical, we at once meant to convey our object in taking up the character of a public teacher, by becoming the editor of a religious periodical.

No one need tell us that we have much to learn in the very things where many might expect us to be better informed than we are. It would have been to no purpose that we have mingled with the world, with all classes almost of society, not to find constantly that our knowledge was extremely deficient; and not rarely have we felt abashed at being compelled to receive instruction from one whom we expected to address as an equal; and even now we are learning whilst endeavouring to instruct; the very method which we have adopted to appear in before the public, compels us to search in order that we may find, and to be able to give to others the fruits of our experience. And a noble field is the study of Israel's faith; it embraces not only all the facts of revelation, all the doctrines which the Bible teaches, but it takes a wider range; for to understand properly the religion we have received, one must enter the field of inquiry by a study of all accessible sciences, and derive from their light means of illustrating his belief. Thus the history of the world becomes an auxiliary to the biblical student; mathematics, natural history, the philosophy of the human mind, researches into antiquity, the structure of languages, all will serve to help him in expounding the word of God. No one therefore need aver that he has not to learn much, were his life to be prolonged to a high old age, in order to do justice to the religion he professes. Some have imagined that the pursuit of science is inimical to religion. This is certainly true when a man rises from his secular studies with a soul of pride and a heart of presumption; for he slays the voice of conscience, and sets himself up as an arbitrator of God's holy revelation, of truths too profound for human intellect ever to fathom their depth and force. But if humility guides the inquirer, if he is willing to be taught by the heavenly light which mankind have received from God: the pursuit of science will be the best promoter of piety, and will induce him to mistrust his own judgment, seeing how vast an amount of facts, how many ideas which one and the other have acquired before him, must remain unknown to him; how then should he dare to venture rashly into the word of God and the received manner of interpreting the same, and endeavour, wise in his own conceit, to ridicule the latter, and try to reason away the former, by assigning motives for their institution which the divine Mind never entertained?

As a learned then do we wish to be viewed, as a person amply acquainted with his deficiencies, which he neither wishes to conceal nor feels ashamed of avowing. Errors may creep in, nay, we are sure will creep in; but we beg to assure all our readers, that we will not intentionally give currency to any thing which could induce any one to depart from the rigour of the law; and if we should err, we beg all who are friendly disposed towards us and our undertaking to point out in a mild manner the mistake we have been guilty of, and we will correct it if possible, so as to prevent any evil to result therefrom.

Whilst learning, however, we trust to be able to impart our experience to our religious associates; and though we may not be able to teach them any new facts, or to bring before them any ideas they have not had before: still we hope to induce them to think on religion, and be Israelites in spirit and in deed, equally removed from a mere ceremonial life where the soul remains dead to aught except outward acts, and from that lately too prevalent state of fearful unbelief where a disregard of the truths of religion is looked upon as a mark of wisdom. Woeful delusion! which has carried away so many of our brethren into the arms of open infidelity, and has caused others, for the sake of paltry gain or worldly distinction, to forswear the faith of their fathers.

It is in truth the duty of Israel to watch carefully the sacred fire, to heap daily fuel on the altar of burnt-offerings. We, the sons of Jacob, have been appointed the guardians of the sacred fire, and we would be derelict in our duty were we to let its brilliancy be dimmed through carelessness or neglect. Would to God, that many Israelites might be induced to devote themselves to this holy watching; it is not indeed a calling which brings gain, or renown, or peace with the world; nevertheless, it is well worthy of an elevated spirit that can soar above the annoyances of an every-day existence and keep communion with the mighty ones of old who valued nothing that had not God for its object, who lived only to deserve his blessing, to spread his fear among the children of men. Such were Abraham, Moses, and Hezekiah, such were many others of Israel; and let us hope that many such may yet arise to preserve that which these fathers of our race have laboured to establish and maintain in undying youthfulness.

To observe and to do all the precepts of the law, which come within our range, is easy enough, when we are correctly instructed, when we correctly think. To believe alone is not the province of the Jewish religion, to act also is its demand. Let us then not deny ourselves the aspiration, that with increase of light an increase of righteousness may likewise prevail, and that the name of the Lord may be glorified in the hearts and through the mouths of millions, who are now strangers to his service.

Could our humble efforts at all contribute to this blessed result, we shall be amply remunerated for our labour. We do not mean to make any professions which the men of the world, who do not feel as we do, might suppose to be merely so many oratorical phrases written down for effect. But this much they will doubtlessly believe us, that we deeply feel for our fellow-Israelites; their glory is our glory, and their shame is our shame; we therefore labour in our own behalf whenever we do any thing for the people collectively, although not the remotest individual benefit may accrue thence to us. We would therefore be truly happy could we induce our brethren, especially those in America, among whom our more immediate sphere of action is placed, to throw off their long sleep, their unaccountable apathy, and prove to themselves and the world that they love and esteem their sacred birthright, that they feel the full weight of the obligation which the observance of their religion places upon them, and that they are fully aware of the exalted destiny of being the chosen servants of God.

Other nations are anxious to spread a knowledge of their tenets, and to induce all, especially their own members, to practise what they are taught as religious duty. And why should Israel be the last to make the effort for the advancement of religion? Surely it sill reward the labour to make the attempt; and no doubt there are many who agree with us that proper means should be employed to enlighten the people concerning their doctrines and duties; and we trust that they who think so will second our feeble essay, and give us their literary aid as well as their countenance to further our object. All that is necessary to insure success in awakening the American Jews to their eternal interests, is a well concerted union of acts and an accordance of opinion. Let these be offered as the most acceptable offering to the Deity, let discord and petty jealousies be banished from us: and the result will be that every Israelite will be able "to learn his duties, teach them to others and observe and do them," and cause others to follow his virtuous example.