|Vol. I, No. 7
Tishry 5604 October 1843
The Past And The Future.
by Isaac Leeser
Before this number of our work can reach our distant readers, the year of the world five thousand six hundred and three will have mingled with the resistless tide of time, and be of the things that are no more, and live only in the memory for the good and the evil which it has brought in its train.—How many joys have been scattered in its course! Many who at its beginning were sorrowful and depressed, on whom the hand of misfortune lay heavy and chill, have met with enlargement, and their mourning has ceased, and hope has been rekindled in their souls.—Loving hearts have been united to glide down with mutual assistance the waters of life, to battle together the ills to which humanity is exposed, to share the joys which are flung here and there on the path of our existence.—The anxious student, too, has completed his studies, and now ventures boldly on the untried career of professional labour, confident in his strength, relying on the mental stores which he has, laid up in his years of preparation.—The merchant rejoices over the influx of wealth which has crowned his well-planned enterprise, and looks forward to an uninterrupted prosperity to the end of his days.—Fathers, also, and mothers, have seen their sons and daughters enter the career for which they have destined them, and are glad that their instruction has borne such happy fruits.—But have all these blessed God in their hearts in the midst of their joy? Has the fortunate felt that his help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth?—Has the bridegroom impressed it on his heart that the bride of his choice is the gift of a gracious Providence? Is she conscious that her married life can be prosperous only when she is humbly meek and walketh in piety before her God?—And the student, does he know that his future brilliancy will not compensate for a neglect of his Maker, for a recklessness in obedience to divine things?—Is the merchant aware that all his toil would have been vain had not the merciful One crowned his labour with success, and opened to him the stores of his universal bounty?—Have parents the consoling assurance, that they have trained their children in the way they should go, and that their heavenly wealth is secured by a religious hope, a firm reliance on the Must High, whatever failure or success may attend them in their earthly toiling?
Sorrow, also, has not been wanting in the past year, and hopes have been blighted and joys extinguished in hearts that once beat high with the consciousness of strength and intellect.—The wealth that was supposed inexhaustible, has vanished at the touch of reverses.—Fortunes that seemed immovable have faded from. the sight of those who fondly clung to them as their dearest treasures.—Wives have seen the beloved of their souls struck down, by the hand of disease, and carried off to become tenants of the lonely tomb.—Mothers weep over their offspring "because they arc not," and refuse to be comforted; and fathers gaze with mute despair upon the seats of the hopes of their house, made vacant by the unsparing hand of death.—Sons picture in their minds the venerable bleached heads of their progenitors, their eyes beaming full of benevolence and faith, now laid low, a prey to worms, food for corruption and decay.—And O, how many tears have been shed by the lowly and forsaken, who have no sympathizing friends into whose bosom they can pour out their sorrow, with none near them to breathe comfort into their grieved spirit, with none to watch their couch of pain?—How many hearths have remained without the cheerful blaze to warm the benumbed limbs in the cold of winter? how many dwellings have been without the pleasant light to enliven the dark hours when the snow and the ice held dominion over the frozen earth?—Who can tell what the poor and the degraded have suffered when the happy and the guiltless had superfluities for which they had not laboured, and dainties which they did not taste?—Yes, sorrowing has been the lot of many who were once gay, and affliction has again oppressed those who are familiar with woe.
Yet say, have the afflicted bowed with submission in the hour of trial? Have they felt that in all their sorrows there is One who is the Physician that can bind up the wounds which his justice has struck, and heal the diseases which are sent by his providence? Probably many have murmured as though their cause were forgotten by the Creator; they have complained, as though an injustice had been done unto the merit of their deeds. But, alas! there is but little that man does which deserves reward, and much which demands condign chastisement. How vain, therefore, how senseless that self-love which teaches us to look with satisfaction upon ourselves; and arraign by this means the justice of God! Who is there that has not sinned? who is there whose conscience does not accuse him of many a misspent hour, of many a deed of iniquity? Perhaps by our own reason we may not be condemned; but let us turn to the law of God, which is properly termed the testimony 'עדות ה and see how our course of life accords with its wards and precepts. Have the Sabbaths been duly honoured? have forbidden things been consumed? have the festivals been our joy? has the sick gone from our door without our lending a helping hand? has the hungry been fed? the naked been clothed? the mourner been comforted? Have we served the Lord in our hearts? have we proclaimed his law? have we caused others to turn to righteousness? have we hated our brother in our heart? have we caused strife? have we made peace when it was in our power?—If to all these and similar questions we can answer only to condemn ourselves, then can we not in reason complain that the evil which we called down has come upon us. But if even we cannot accuse ourselves of any flagrant dereliction from the path of duty, there may have been lurking within us the leaven of evil, which timely chastisement alone prevented from ripening into open iniquity. Or perhaps it may be known to the all-seeing Eye, that uninterrupted success would but blunt our moral perception; and sorrows are then the best monitors to tell us that we are mortal, and always within the power and reach of the Most High.—Man, moreover, is not made for this life; his abiding-place is not here; but in yonder life, where the day is never-ending, where the voice of weeping is never heard, and affliction no longer oppresses the soul. Prosperity is but too apt to draw him to the earth, to chain him by the allurements of wealth, by the ties of kindred, by the delights of the converse with those he loves. But when one by one the bonds of earth are dissolved, when wealth is no longer his, or its farther enjoyment has become impossible; when pain has destroyed the relish for outward things, and rendered the thought of dissolution less dreadful; when those who have gone before him seem to beckon him with their attenuated finger away from this earth to the pleasant grave where they now so peacefully rest: O, it is then that he cheerfully resigns his spirit, and even longs to fly away to feel no longer the throb of care, the desire for happiness not attainable in this existence.
If now, in the year that has just commenced, joy or sorrow should become thy lot, beloved friend, cast thy eye upward to the Giver of thy spirit, and behold in him thy God and Benefactor, and despise not his correction though his countenance seem to be hid from thee by the cloud of his displeasure. Of one thing be sure, that whether thou art rich or poor, wise or foolish, thy days, nay, this year, will be chequered by the varying image which our life presents: every thing will not be sunshine, nor will every thing be total darkness. Never wilt thou be so happy as not to sigh for more satisfaction; hence thou wilt ever have need to call on the Lord for his aid to complete in thee what thou feelest to be yet lacking of perfect happiness; and be thy lot ever so severe a one, thou wilt still discover, upon close refection, that thy fate might be one of greater hardship, and that thou wilt ever have ample cause to be thankful to thy Maker for many past favours, and for many enjoyments of the present hour. If thou art truly wise, thou wilt turn thy soul unto the page of God's holy word, to refresh her thence with waters of delight, to enrich her with new sources of meekness or resignation; and, ever relying upon this hope, that thy God will aid thee if thou deservest his mercy, thou wilt be cheerful in affliction, and be resigned under bodily suffering; and knowing that thy prosperity is from the Lord, thou wilt bear thy elevation with meekness, and regard with the eye of benevolence the humblest of thy brethren, for he too is a creature made in the image of Him who gave thee life and being.
Gentle reader, whoever thou art, we wish thee a happy new year, prosperity in thy undertaking, and abundance in thy household. But more than this, we wish thee the favour of the Most High, which lessens the burden of sorrow, and adds zest to the enjoyment of all the blessings which are sent down to us. We also trust that, if thou art blessed; the poor and suffering will be partakers of the good which thou hast received, and that the mourners may be comforted by thy cheerful and hopeful converse.—For the present farewell; and let us hope that the intercourse which we have commenced with thee may continue for many years; and let us beg of thee not to condemn us harshly if we happen not to agree with thy preconceived sentiments; we are, like thee, a mortal, whose faculties may be at times clouded by the imperfections inseparable from humanity; why then wilt thou look for perfection in us which is not found within thyself? We, in our humble labours, will endeavour to speak the truth, and to teach thee what little may be vouchsafed to us of knowledge in the law of God; we shall speak, as in duty bound, fearlessly, but without malice, whenever in our humble opinion we conceive danger approaching unto the welfare of Israel; and if we do injustice to thee or to any one else, be he friend or foe, native or foreigner, Israelite or gentile, the living or the dead, we will be always ready to make due amends for our error.
Only believe us not actuated by envy or by the low desire of bringing contempt on an opponent. Not thus can the cause of truth be served, not thus do we wish to tarnish the fair fame of the religion which we profess. But thou, kind friend, aid us in our honest endeavour; give us thy countenance if thou deemest us just, and reprove us with mildness and candour, if thou seest cause to condemn. Yet more than this, uphold the cause of peace and good-will in Israel; show by thy own conduct that the welfare of thy faith is an object dear to thy heart; that the name which thou bearest marks thee truly a servant of the Most High, and a friend and brother to all sons of man, for they are all thy brothers, and thou best servest thy Maker by cherishing his creatures.—Once more—farewell!