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Vol. X. No. 7
Tishry 5613 October 1852

Many Happy Returns

Many happy returns of the festivals to thee, kind reader,—many happy returns of the Lord’s holy season to thee and thine; much worldly prosperity as thy heart may crave; but in greater measure that internal peace which results from obedience to the decrees of thy God, and which far outweighs the possession of gold and silver and precious stones. For, see, thy friends must be taken away from thy side, one by one, till at length thou wilt stand alone on the path to the grave, as stands the solitary tree on the prairie, stripped of its last leaf by the fierce blast of chilly winter; and thy wealth and thy lands will not follow thee to the silent tomb; and even before thy final hour, when age enfeebles thy limbs and blunts thy vigour, thou wilt not be able to enjoy any more the pleasures of earth, not taste any more the food thou mechanically consumest; because thy declining years have robbed thee of the power which in early youth thou didst consider thy own, as inseparable from thy very nature. Yet hour by hour thou art changing: what thou lovest to-day thou mayest loathe tomorrow; and thy friendships in this year may turn to hatred in the next. And yet thou clingest to earth as though it were thy abiding-place!—thou cravest the wealth and pleasures of life as though they were all!—thou wishest to con­sume all the dainties of the field, of the pasture, of the forest, of the ocean, as though for thee alone all was created!—thou seekest for popularity, for praise among men, as though their praise, <<322>> their favour, would endure unceasingly! And when thou hast amassed, when thou hast power, when thou hut dainties, when thou hast friends, when thou hearest thy name chaunted: what avails it all? How long will thy powers of endurance be able to seize on what thou cravest? how long will thy instruments be true to their allegiance? how long will friends remain attached? how long will thy reason triumph? The heart turns away in sorrow, the soul sinks within us, at a view of the transitoriness of all that is lovely and pleasant on earth; for pain and ease, grief and joy, chase each other in one constant circle through our life, and nothing is without its alloy, nothing without its dash of bitterness.

But, if thou hast the peace of God within thee, thou possessest a talisman far more potent than the Eastern sage ever ventured to hope of devising as a guard against the ills of life; thou art then indeed not protected against the assaults of what men term misfortunes, but thou wilt be able to bear up against what prostrates others, and recover thy exhausted strength for a renewed and perhaps successful struggle. And it is, in the way of Providence, often the fate of the most deserving, of those the most highly endowed, of those who are the most useful to their fellow-men, to be severely tried, to struggle with straitened circumstances, with ill health, with treachery in others, with hopelessness, almost, in themselves; and it is, no doubt, because they have this power to rise implanted in them, that they have, against their will, to exert the faculties which but for the trials would lie dormant. And it is when these reverses come—as come, sooner or later, they will and must—that the calmness of the soul, produced by her leaning on God for support, will display itself, and prove the superiority of “those who serve the Lord above those who are strangers to his worship.”

Believe the teachings of the Scriptures, believe thy own experience (for thou must have made the discovery, if thou hast but opened thy eyes and seen what is passing around thee), that the Word of God alone is the true solace, the real talisman against the inevitable doom which is pronounced over the children of Adam, and that without it we are all, all, lost indeed. Since, were it not <<323>> for the confidence that “all that is is right,” would not despair seize on us when the darkness of distress obscures our way? Do not, in fact, many of little faith rush upon suicide as a means of escape from the pressure of adversity? Do not others embrace the intoxicating bowl, to drown their sorrows in the foaming wine? Do not others sink from their high position into a state of degradation, debauchery, and crime, the moment the smiles of the world no longer encourage them in honourable pursuits? Thou doubtest, perhaps. Then go and analyze the records of crime,—nay, seek into the fate of the companions of thy youth, of thy boy and girl playmates,—and then tell if thou art not affrighted at the spectacle which will, despite of thy unwillingness, force itself on thy conviction, that want of truth within, want of religious impression—but much of vanity, love of the world—without, were the cause why minds perhaps more brilliant than thine, fortunes greater than thou ever cravedst, family connexions the highest in the land, could not save their possessors from an early, ignominious grave, or a life of infamy.

If thou art a parent, therefore, endeavour, as thou valuest thy life, to implant in thy children the seed of righteousness; and nurse the tender plant of godliness with unceasing care, that no untoward strange influence may ever succeed in rooting it out of the soil in which it has been planted. Labour, if thou wilt, to leave a large store of worldly goods for thy offspring; teach them, if thou hast the desire, all the learning and accomplishments for which they have capacity; seek to ally them with the highest and best; in all these advantages of worldly ambition there is absolutely no mortal sin. But, beware how thou makest all these merely adventitious circumstances the chief source of thy own prosperity and their happiness; beware how thou seizest on the husk and throwest away the kernel. Come hither:—hast thou courage to look?—nay; struggle not; thou must hear; thou must see;—regard yon staggering drunkard; his diseased frame marks him too surely as a speedy prey for death; his tattered garment does not betoken that he was ever of a better condition than the hundreds of inebriates who disfigure the face of the earth; and yet he was once the beloved, and the admired; a <<324>> senate was enrapt at his eloquence; his mellifluous words excited pleasure in the bosom of his hearers;—and yet, he has fallen so low that thou wishest to avoid being recognised by him, thou scornest him as a contamination, and wouldst gladly disown him totally, wouldst banish him from thy memory. Yet, time was when thou wast eager to be recognised by him in a crowd, or in the midst of a few sociable friends; thou couldst boast of his acquaintance, vaunt that he deigned to exchange a few words with thee. Only he could not resist the gradual approach of seduction;—it is needless to paint his life; thou knowest it;—and he is a stranger to his friends,—an alien to his own house.

And yet thou preparest for thy children no better fate; thou givest them no surer protection against temptation, no better safeguard in misfortune than the once brilliant, but now fallen fellow-creature before thee received from his parents.

Well says Solomon, “All is vanity;” whatever the sun shines upon is vanity and vexation of spirit; no one is ever satisfied with possessing, nor the eye with admiring, as little as the palate with tasting, though it have tasted ever so much; and when all has been gotten, seen, and tasted, before one-half of thy desires are thine, sombre death knocks at thy door, and bears thee hence to a place of judgment, where the gloss will be stripped from thy actions, where the veil shall be rent from thy soul, and where the turpitude of the one, and the hideousness of the other will be revealed, to thy own confusion, and the anguish of thy spirit.

Oh, then will come too late thy complaining, unavailing will be thy regret; and whether thy own deeds have borne the stamp of wickedness, or whether, in thy children only, our religion has, through thy neglect, lost faithful followers in as many of them as they are in number, know that the frown of offended Justice will assign thee that lot which we pray may never be thine.

Perhaps thou hast hitherto neglected thy duty; thou hast been indifferent in religion thyself, and hast not heeded the walks of thy offspring; but the day still beameth over thee, the mercy of thy God is not yet withdrawn: come then! turn round from the way in which thou hast wandered, humble thyself before the Searcher of hearts, who will take no insincere offering, accept of <<325>> no divided spirit, and enter into his peace and truth; laconic in earnest, what thou hast been perhaps merely to outward appearance, a worshipper in God’s temple, an humble follower of his divine law, and teach thy children that beauty is vain, that intellect is naught, that wealth is fleeting; and that only in true goodness, and this embraces everything, is the chief excellence of man. The evil men do, often lives after them; one crime may be perpetrated by a mass of imitators; but virtue also has its example, its silent influence, and finds not rarely its imitators. Especially is this the case in the household, where thy conduct is daily and hourly carefully watched by the children and domestics around thee; and if thou wilt but feel the full responsibility which thus rests upon thee, in the double capacity of an individual responsible for himself, and a guide of others, answerable in a great degree for the faults or the absence of virtue in others: thou canst not avoid striving with all thy might to be good thyself, and to draw all around thee by precept and example to follow in thy path. And if so thou actest, if thou hast the peace of God in thy bosom and in thy house, thou canst indeed rejoice in the return of the festivals of the Lord; for they are then of the highest significance to thee and thine; thou wilt feel them a blessing bestowed from the Father of Israel as seasons of reunion with Him, as periods at which we all should renew our attachment to Him, and be reminded that He alone is the Creator and the Ruler of the universe, that He alone is the One who pardons the transgressions of his people, and forgives the guilt of Israel, that we know none but Him on earth, none beside Him in heaven.

We sons of Israel have been chosen witnesses of God’s power; for this we received the law; for this were we twice put in possession of Palestine; for this were we driven thence when we had defiled our heritage by our multifarious sins, and we have been preserved to this day, few indeed out of many, to still proclaim the glory of God, willingly, if we so wish, to obey the behest of our Father with a joyful heart; but unwillingly too, shall we have to testify of his power and truth, if we swerve from following the commandments and statutes which we have received <<326>> through Moses. The festivals will therefore return to cheer Israel whether they be few or many; and Israel means only the faithful, who have watched the lamp of truth, when others rushed after error; who have lived humbly hoping for the Lord’s salvation whilst others mourned not over the downfall of Jacob’s glory. There will always be some, though they be but a remnant, who will seek for no greater distinction than being children of the covenant. To these indeed the holy seasons are periods of rejoicing; the permanence of God’s law, the perennial freshness of the commandments prove to them sources of real comfort; for by this they feel that they have not hoped in vain, that their striving has been for something substantial, for a system as undying as is its Bestower.

We therefore wish thee, kind reader, many happy returns of the season, in a spiritual, no less than material sense. We wish thee to be in feeling and knowledge a son of Israel, a man of faith and a man of wisdom, to feel the truth, and to know what it demands of thee. We wish that thou mayest become imbued with the spirit of the ancient martyrs, who knew no blessing but the favour of their God, who looked upon this earth and its joys as a mere preparation for another life and holier pleasures; who lived humbly only to remain faithful, and who did not shrink at the hour of peril, when their death had to seal the sincerity of their life. Wilt thou swear in the secret recess of thy heart to be such a child of Israel? that no pleasures shall allure thee—that no business shall entice thee—that no worldly advantages shall ever withdraw thee from thy God? Wilt thou vow, and keep thy word, spoken only within the chamber of thy bosom, with no one to witness it save thy God, that thou wilt educate those whom the Almighty has given thee, that they may be ready to perpetuate the line of Israel, after thy race is run? Wilt thou? canst thou—do all this? Then rejoice that God’s season has come again, look forward with anticipation of pleasure for its future coming; and then whether thy days be few or many, prosperous or otherwise, thou wilt be in union with a long line of the saints that have gone to their reward, in union with the innumerable holy ones who are yet to bless the earth, in rendering homage to the Lord of all, in seeking Him at the, time “when <<327>> He may be found,” when the prayers ascend from millions of hearts, as a sweet savour before his throne.

Once more, we wish thee earthly prosperity, for God has promised the like to his servants; and we hope that when thou art prosperous, when thy house is full of all good things, when thy children spring up like shoots of the olive-tree around thy board, thou wilt not forget the God that has created thee, and say in thy heart, My own strength, and the might of my hand, have acquired me all this. But, be humble when thou art happy in worldly things, that thou mayest be wise in what is spiritual; seek those whom the world treats cruelly, that they may be cheered by thy mercy; help the needy, comfort the mourner, and bless others whilst thou art blessed.

But, whether thou art prosperous or not, son or daughter of Israel, we wish thee that mental elevation which results from obedience to the divine will; for this is the highest attainable happiness here below, and secures felicity in a better life; it sweetens sorrow, and prevents the approach of pride when all around wears the smile of prosperity; and we trust that thou wilt never forget that, in joy or reverses, the eye of the Lord is watchful over us, and that He inflicts no more evil on us than we can bear, and which only conduces to our happiness. Never despair, therefore; but be always cheerful, and wait the issue of things; for all is for the glory of God, and they will be the highest in His kingdom who have best persevered to the last.

So may this season be for thy happiness, and mayest thou enjoy many, many happy returns of it in the midst of those who love thee, and are true followers of their Creator.

Eve of Rosh Hashanah, 5613.