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The Mission of Israel.

by Isaac Leeser

In every association the members should feel a certain pride, (the nearest word we can find to express our meaning), in maintaining its principles and to advance its interests. For a society is in effect equally for the benefit of all its composing parts; consequently each part ought of right to be equally anxious for the welfare of the whole. Regarding the benefit of the entire body, it would be often better without the aid of inefficient or indifferent members; for though diminished in numbers it would in the same rate increase in strength by the removal of the elements of weakness which it hitherto embraced. But the society owes something to its unworthy and troublesome members even; it cannot out of mercy to them overlook their claims to indulgence and aid, and it must thus put forth its energies to endeavour to retain all its original associates, though to speak honestly they add but little to the general welfare by their presence or exertions.

The Israelites are such an association as has just been sketched, and we ask of every one having an affinity with us to feel proud of his birthright which classes him with the followers of the blessed UNITY which our fathers were taught to adore. Nations have ever walked in darkness in their search for the great truths which disclose the mysteries of our existence; systems have been cunningly devised to bear rule over the minds of men; but all have fallen far short of the perfection which has been graciously given us as a donation, undeserved by us, and unrequited by our deeds, from the Father of all creatures. The discovery of the truth of the unity of God would have immortalized any son of man, had he proclaimed it to the world as his own invention; the institution of the Decalogue would have conferred imperishable renown upon any assembly of men who had brought forth this admirable code by study and reflection; and is it not something to the Israelite to felicitate himself thereat that his ancestors were in truth endowed with the bestowal of those great blessings which have had so important a bearing upon civilization—the arts—the governments of the earth? It is true no Israelite invented our admirable doctrines and laws, they cannot be claimed as the production of our study and reflection; still they are ours by the right of gift, to an extent equal at least with any blessing which man obtains from his Maker.

Now it is this knowledge and the institutions founded thereon, which form the basis of our association; for whoever is of the house of Israel, whether he be high or humble, is by his descent or his adoption an integral member of those whose God is the Lord, and whose code is the law which Moses commanded us. All are alike bound by duty, all are alike privileged by the spiritual light. We ask therefore that all should feel an interest for the household of Israel and for the legacy which has descended unto them from their teachers in divine things. Outward beauty becomes to its possessor a mark of distinction, of a feeling of superiority over the less favoured; the wisdom of the learned places him on an elevation from which he can look with composure upon the mass of ignorance which cowers, so to say, at his feet; the wealth of the merchant gives him consideration in the gates of his townsmen, in the councils of his country; for he has that which can reward labour and relieve the distress of those who need; a respectable parentage places the adventurer in the path of life far in advance of those whose parents were of the humble and degraded; and should not all that the Lord has done for us stimulate the Israelite to feel happy that the Lord is his God? that he has been spared the agony of searching for the simple truth, which is so evidently revealed in the written word? saved from the terror of the doubts as to what the God of his life demands from him? O that we were wise! how gladly would we then avow our origin, proclaim our adherence, testify our allegiance, and prize our descent, our law, our God above all that we have on earth. But alas! our faith is weak, we seek our own interest separate and distinct from our religion, independent from the good of all Israel, as though by this state of isolation we could in the least benefit ourselves in a permanent manner. Still there is a fatal error in all this. It may be, we will grant, for argument's sake, that for a long time a man may exist and flourish, without the aid of others; he may have comeliness, wealth, wisdom and honour, all centered in his own self, and command, as it were, smiles and countenance from all around, so that he needs not the unbought aid of society or of friends. But, we are almost ashamed to repeat the trite saying, a change will come over all earthly greatness, the dreary days of old age must at length supervene, there must be the approach of the hour of dissolution, should even every blessing be continued to the latest breath; still when he arrives at this point, man cannot stand alone, he needs aid, he requires support, he demands consolation. The wide world does not grant it, he cannot demand it from strangers who feel no sympathy for his weakness, no compassion for his sufferings. He must even rely upon the friends who think with him, hope with him, pray with him; he feels consoled only when he is surrounded by those who can share his thoughts, and sympathize with the breathings of his heart; and now he values the spontaneous kindness of kindred souls, though he never valued it before. In such moments every Israelite feels his faith, he abhors the associates of his pleasures who know not how deeply every son of Jacob confides in the Supreme Ruler, who either believe in no system of religion or in one opposed to the Jewish creed; and he loves to hear the sounds which speak of God who hears prayer and forgives iniquity, which bid the trembling soul to look unto the undeserved mercy of the Most High for pardon, and which assure him that atonement will be vouchsafed to the repentant, though the return to righteousness has been long delayed.—Sooner or later we will all come to this trying period of our existence, and all will experience the same cares and anxieties about what is to become of us in our altered state of being. It is therefore marvelous that so many display such profound indifference to the society of their fellow-believers, in the days of their youth, in the moments of their prosperity. Granted that all should be as full of enjoyment as it appears on the surface, that one should be fully satisfied with the approbation he receives from those who are strangers to his faith; still does there exist a man of our race whose heart throbs not at the announcement of a good thing which the Lord may do for his people? whose soul does not feel agonized when he hears that oppression weighs down the persecuted children of Israel? How then can any one, the apostate even, divest himself from the fellowship of Jews in whose communion he was born? Let him try the experiment, let him endeavour to hate and persecute his former brethren, and he will fail to slay the Jew in his heart; he has received once the impress of the thought of the Oneness of God, of the truth of the law, and nothing he can do or think can wipe out the sacred covenant which is inherent in his nature.

And it is not an idle thing which unites us. Were it merely a sectarian feeling which we uphold, of no farther valor than to make us a distinct body amidst the many that disfigure the face of the globe, it would be of no moment whether we preserved it or let it fall into decay. But we are not contending for shadows; it is the vital principle of truth for which we wage a peaceful warfare with the world. It is perhaps singular, yet it is proved by experience, that whatever is true, and in its tendency ennobling the human mind, has ever met with stout and persevering opposition from those interested in error or indifferent to all impressions. How perseveringly have the discoveries in science been combated! how have the improvements in labour-saving machines been opposed! with how much ingenuity have the ameliorations of the penal code been attacked and ridiculed by many good men even, whom no one cares to accuse of insincerity! But precisely this has been the legitimate fate of our principles. These, like other truths, whether physical or moral, will ultimately, nay have in a measure, become victorious, and we are but carrying onward their triumph which should of reason bind us in the covenant of those who are their tacit yet eloquent defenders. Let us revert to the time when the small vine was taken from Egypt; how small was the shadow which its few branches and sparse foliage cast upon the earth; scarcely one bird could find therein shelter against the rays of the sun; but now look at it—how it has spread, how its branches are multiplied, how thick is its foliage, how precious the fruit it bears, how many birds come for shelter under its shadow, how grateful the wine which thence descends to the earth; and who can say, that nothing has been achieved? Some one might say that more ought to have been done, that so many witnesses, if not teachers, as have existed in favour of the truth which is in Israel, ought to have reformed long ere this the whole human family if it were in reality the truth, emphatically and pointedly, and alone true amidst so many contradicting systems. Let such a questioner examine himself, to decide impartially how difficult it is to convince himself of the error of any preconceived opinion, or of the wrong of an act which he has habitually committed. We speak now of the intelligent, the highly endowed, and let these say, in sober honesty, how difficult the work of conviction is. And is the thing so difficult in an individual who has all the means for reasoning so abundantly furnished, how much more so must this be in families, in communities, in nations! There is not one mind to be convinced, not one prejudice to be overcome; but a host of antagonists, both of individuals and ideas, must be vanquished before the truth can receive the homage due unto it. Contemplate the systems of heathenism, in their various forms of hero-worship, adoration of animals, sabaism, or worship of the stars, of the worship of the passions, under peculiar appellations, or whatever other fooleries have enchained and do still enchain mankind, and see how many kinds of hoodwinking were employed to keep the masses in ignorance, to confirm their prejudices, and to pamper to the basest passions of human nature: and is it strange that the multitude remained blind to the law of Israel, if even the leaders knew it and borrowed some of its light? Nay more, assuming that to this day we alone are right, who can wonder that the world will not admit it, seeing that so many ingenious means are employed to confirm the masses in theories and doctrines which they have received from their fathers? And still every now and then some remarkable rupture takes place in the veil which is stretched out over the nations, and the rays of the sacred light burst through the meshes of ignorance, and brush away at one sweep the clouds which have so long obscured the face of the earth. We will not quote instances, but let history speak, let her tell, who attacked the Roman power first upon the imperial throne and afterwards upon the pontiff's chair. True, the men who did these great deeds were not Jews, at least not in external conduct; but what armed them? what weapons did they yield? Neither philosophy nor human eloquence, neither the learning of Socrates. nor the declamation of Cicero effected these triumphs, but the force of the Bible by the rays which it shed upon the darkness which it but partially illuminated. And it has been so potent with Israel in dispersion; with strangers to preach the word! How intensely powerful must it become in the Lord's own time, when the messengers of glad tidings are to proceed from ourselves, and scatter the light in the full blaze of meridian clearness upon the "nations Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, those who draw the bow, Jubal and Javan, the distant isles, who have not heard the fame nor seen the glory of the Lord?" Surely the effect must be all that the philanthropist and the worshipper of the Everlasting One can hope for; and the truth must then become the universal standard for all souls, to a far greater degree than error formerly obscured the human intellect.

It is for such an end that we believe the association of our entire people was instituted by Providence; and believing this we deem it the duty of each one descended from or belonging to it, to remain faithful in the sphere where he has been placed to labour for the truth. Some may perhaps say, that there are faithful servants enough without them, that they therefore may quit the ranks and live as seems good to their inclinations and interests. But to a surety such men are not deserving the name of rational beings, since they confessedly acknowledge the obligation, even whilst they endeavour to divest themselves from it. If in reason we are bound to adhere to a certain line of conduct, it would be unreasonable to act differently. If therefore any one feels that there is something holy in the mission of Israel, he ought to be willing and ready to contribute his part in the success of the work which the Deity has imposed upon him by giving him an Israelitish parentage. And to a man of reflection it is no small thing that he is one who is to become a light to the nations, and no slight reward to be received in favour by the God whose messenger he is.

(To be continued.)