|Vol. IV, No. 1
Nissan 5606, April 1846
Remarks on Miss Miss Aguilar’s “Women of Israel.”
by S. Solis.
In our observation of every-day life; how few do we find imbued with that love of ancestry, which, causing them to cast their minds back to the time when Israel was yet a nation, when her people were the chosen servants and friends of the Most High, glory that they can claim kindred with that ancient race, which, whilst mightier and greater nations (greater at least in a worldly sense) lie buried in the gloom of the past, setting time and decay at defiance, exists as a living miracle of the great deeds of the Omnipotent, live in every land, in every country, a part of every people, yet not of them; speaking every tongue, yet clinging to their own peculiar language; rising and falling in the social scale of every nation, yet preserving intact their own separate views and separate hopes; preserved unmixed with stranger blood, until that time when the God of their fathers shall gather Israel, scattered and dispersed as they now are, once more into the sheaf of nationality, and plant them once more within the borders of Palestine, within the lovely valleys of Judea, where Israel shall forget their grief and travail, in the exceeding great peace which shall then surround them, as with a wall of adamant.
Possessed of an ardent imagination, and a deep and innate love of her religion and people, Miss Aguilar has thrown the enthusiasm of her nature around those “women of Israel,” whose characters she has attempted to portray. A very woman herself, in feeling, she has endowed them with the feelings and passions of a woman’s nature. Not content, however, in showing our women as they were, she has pointed out what they are, and ought to be. Her aim has been “to bring yet closer to the youthful and aspiring heart, the poetry, the beauty, the eloquence, the appealing tenderness” of the word of God, as expressed in the sacred pages of the Bible; and to rebut from that source, the foul slander perpetrated against Israel’s God, “that to Christianity alone, women owe their present station in the world, their influence, their equality with man, their spiritual provisions in this life, and their hopes of immortality in the next.” If this was the case, truly, why is it, that “we see no proofs of the humanizing and elevating influence of Christianity, either on man or woman, till the Reformation opened the Bible,—the whole Bible,—to the nations at large?” No! Mankind are generally too prone to take effects for causes; and knowing that the moral civilization of other nations, than the Hebrew, followed in the wake of Christianity, they have considered Christianity as the cause of this moral advancement. We might well ask, why a code so vastly superior in effect to the Laws of Moses, was not revealed when the Most High thundered from Sinai, in the presence of witnessing millions? But no! we ourselves need no arguments to convince us, that the moral civilization of our nation needed no other revelation for its full development than that, which, taking its rise from the summit of Sinai, and flowing through a course of years, at last burst through the mountain barriers of Judea, and, at the destruction of the Jewish kingdom, civilized the world.
Though fully agreeing, in the main, with what Miss Aguilar has advanced in the illustration of her subject, the necessity does not appear apparent to us, of insisting so often, and so strongly, upon the perfect equality of woman with man, as a moral and accountable being. From the first page of the Bible to the last, we can see no other doctrine inculcated; and if such a belief, indeed, exists, “that woman is a soulless being, truly,” as Miss Aguilar says, “such is not a Jewish belief, but must have been engrafted upon the Jewish mind from the theories existing in the views of some of those countries that have afforded a home, for a time, to the weary wanderers of our nation.” If, however, there are some so inconsistent amongst the educated of our people, who still do themselves this injustice, as to consider that those who gave them birth have no claim to that immortality which they consider their own by right of birth, let them but turn once more to Holy Writ, and if they do possess aught of the spiritual, sure are we that they will, on the earnest perusal of its pages, be eager to acknowledge that the spirit of woman is as immortal as the source from which it sprung; and that it was indeed necessary to give man such a help-meet, as from her own innate power should be capable of infusing into his breast her own spirituality, and thus serve, as it were, to be the connecting link between earth and heaven.
It is said, that infants are in communion with angels, in their pure and holy slumbers; and in the pure gushing feelings of the early springtide of womanhood, see we naught of these heavenly influences? Truly, if they possess the power to give a calm and refreshing peace to the mind, after the day has been passed in the fierce pursuit of ambition or wealth; it cannot be that this is the effect of mere outward beauty, but of the loveliness of mind. And what is mind? is it corporeal, or incorporeal? If corporeal, how know we than we have a soul? If incorporeal, then we must first prove that women have no mind, before we dare advance that they have no souls; for can we pretend to separate mind from soul? If so, what prevents the beast of the field from having as large, as noble, a soul as ourselves. It is no use, however, to pursue this argument farther; for the proposition itself is its contradiction.
Then, in, the language of Miss Aguilar:
“Free to assert their right as the immortal children of the living God, let not the women of Israel be backward in proving they, too, have a rock of strength, a refuge of love; that they, too, have a station to uphold, and a ‘mission’ to perform, not alone as daughters, wives, and. mothers, but as witnesses of that faith which first raised, cherished, and defended them;” and, “to prove that they have no need of Christianity, or the examples of females in the gospel, to raise them up to an equality with man.”
Commencing then with Eve, and closing with the Jewish females of our own times, Miss Aguilar describes our primal mother, as we may imagine her, “fresh from the creating hand of love,” and full of “love towards God, Nature, and Man, which none of the infirmities of our present state could cloud or interrupt.” But, “when the bulwark of her faith was shivered,” when the crime of disobedience was consummated, how beautifully has Miss Aguilar justified the ways of the Most High.
“If He permitted, ordained, why did He punish? Oh, had the voice of his creature called upon him in that terrible hour; had but the faintest cry ascended for help, for strength, for mercy; had but the struggling murmur arisen, ‘Father, thy words are truth, let me but believe!’ strength, help, faith, would have poured their reviving rays into her sinking soul, and she had been saved—saved for immortality.” But, whilst Miss Aguilar points out the holiness of love, she warns us not to divert it from its true course; which, though perverted, in being made the influence through which Adam sinned, still had the power of enabling our first parents to endure the banishment from Eden. But though Miss Aguilar denies, and holds in abhorrence, “the awful creed that condemns every man’s soul for the sin of Adam,” “believing that they had not existence from Adam, but are a direct emanation from God,” still she thinks, “that the disobedience of our first parents so far altered our nature as to give the body more powerful dominion than the soul;” rendering it, therefore, necessary “to devote our whole hearts, to give the spiritual dominion over our corporeal nature.” “Our own acts must be our witness, or our condemnation,” and, therefore, an intercessor would plead in vain.
Another argument brought by those of an adverse creed, as to the necessity of a new revelation subsequent to, and superior to, the one made from Sinai, is, that the Bible treats nowhere the doctrine of the soul’s immortality. Miss Aguilar’s views are so germain to the subject, that we give them at length. In considering the death of the righteous, as a proof of this doctrine, she says: “That the caviller, the sceptic, the thoughtless, will deny this, because we can bring no written proof, we are perfectly aware; but we write for the believer, for the Israelite, who not only reads the words of his Bible, but explains them by the only unerring test,—the attributes of God. The question is simply this: Do we believe in a God? that He is as He proclaimed himself, ‘merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and sin, yet clearing not the guilty,’ without repentance and amendment? Do we believe in Him, as in every page of his holy word He is revealed, or do we not? if we do not—if we deny the existence of a just and merciful, though in many instances an inscrutable, God—then, indeed, we may deny our immortality; but if we acknowledge there is a God, ay, and one whose justice and whose love are infinite and perfect as himself, we must not only believe in our own immortality, but trace its doctrine running through the holy Scriptures, alike from the death of Abel to the last verses of Malachi, pervading, vivifying, spiritualizing its every portion, given as our mortal frame is pervaded, vivified, and spiritualized, by the invisible, yet ever-breathing, soul. We do not doubt and question that we have a soul, because we have nothing palpable and evident by which to prove it; and even as the soul is the essence, the spirit of our being, so is immortality the essence and the spirit of the Bible.” Considering pride the stumbling-block of our faith, she would teach us to cultivate “the sweet flower of humility;”—“the sweet flower on whose breath our souls are enabled more continually to ascend to God, and whose petals, seemingly so frail and tender, have yet more power to guard us from temptation than an unsheathed sword.”
In depicting the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Miss Aguilar seems to have entered into the spirit of the Holy Writ; and, tracing the course of Abraham from his first and “earnest desire after divine life,” follows him in his various sojournings and trials. Strong in faith, in purity, we find him ever ready to exhibit a ready confidence in God; brave and magnanimous, we find him ever ready to extend a helping hand to man. Sarah, possessing a character of the highest order, shows still that the brightest virtues may be linked to human weaknesses. Woman, indeed, may be at times more spiritual than man; with a greater power in the concentration of thought on a particular object, she needs some excitement to keep that object in view; but man, being more capable of generalizing in his views, the creature of reason, rather than feeling, runs not the same danger of having his purpose diverted by surrounding influences. Thus we find no laugh in the soul of Abraham, because of the promise of the Most High, in relation to the birth of Isaac; though apparently out of the due course of nature. Yet, though doubting in her own heart at first the fulfilment of the anticipated promise, but quickly recalled to a sense of the power of the Omnipotent, we may imagine “that Sarah must have felt self-reproached in the midst of her joy, that she had not waited, had not trusted, had not believed, unto the end.” And yet one doubt cannot cast a shadow over a character as true, as beautiful, as Sarah’s. Mother of the promised race, and worthy of this honour in the sight of God, “Is it nothing,” its the words of the authoress, “to be the lineal descendants of one so favoured; nothing, to peruse the wonderful manifestations of the Lord’s love for her; to feel that from Him direct, was Sarah’s patent of nobility, and yet possess the privilege of being her descendant? will the women of Israel feel this as nothing? will they disdain their princely birth—their heavenly heritage? will they scorn to look back on Sarah as their ancestress, and yet long for earthly distinction—earthly rank? No! oh no! let us think of these things—of those from whom we are descended, and our minds will become ennobled—our hearts enlarged. We shall scorn the false shame which would descend to petty meannesses to hide our faith, and so exalt ourselves in the sight of a gentile world. Humbled, cast off, for a little moment, as we are, we are still Israelites—still the chosen, the beloved, the aristocracy, of the Lord.”
Such a character, as Abraham’s, must have had a pervading influence upon the members of his household, and even exhibited itself in his intercourse with surrounding nations. In such a school of piety, as Abraham’s household presented, Isaac must have early imbibed a love for the good and the beautiful; and in his cherished companion, the wife of his bosom, Rebecca, he found a help-meet to walk with him through the smooth or thorny paths of life as the Most High might deem most fitting.
“It was eventide, that still solemn hour of holy musing, sought only by those who have no thought from which to shrink, who can can call up sweet dreamy visions of the past, and yet how inexpressibly soothing,” when Isaac first beheld his bride, whose sweet beautiful spirit had power to dry up the tears of sorrow; caused by the loss of a loved mother, and whose calm and holy love filled his cup of happiness, until the eve of his life drew nigh, and he was gathered to the bosom of “his Father and his God.”
In painting the grief that Isaac felt at his mother’s loss, how truthfully has the authoress expressed what we all must feel the force of.
“Though it be in very truth the invisible soul that we love, yet we become so knit with the mortal habitation of that soul, that we cannot feel it has perished from our sight for ever, without an agony of heart, that time and prayer, and constant communings with the invisible spirit alone, can in any way assuage.”
But the grief of Isaac was assuaged in the love of Rebecca; and her lamp of faith receiving oil from the pure fount pointed out by the pious Abraham, he found that its light flickered not. Oh, who would not acknowledge, “that the very breath of our being, the light of our path, the support of strength, is prayer—that prayer, that brings us daily, nay, hourly, in the commune with a loving Father, whose tender sympathy is as endless as his love.”
But whilst Miss Aguilar acknowledges the certainty of the fulfilment of the Lord’s promises, she repudiates the doctrine, that their accomplishment needs the aid of finite measures, and, in allusion to the means resorted to by Rebecca, to carry out the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to her, that the younger should inherit the promised blessing, shows, that although the purposed means may be successful, yet the Most High will surely punish the wrong done, that the right may follow.
And thus was the mother parted from the son, for whose beloved sake she had been tempted to turn aside from the straight line of probity and truth, which, in such guilelessness and beauty, she had trodden so changelessly before. And is it not ever thus? When we once turn from the one straight path, can we say, Thus far shall we go and no farther? Can we set a boundary to the rushing flood of pain and sorrow, which, when we have removed the barrier of truth, obtains dominion, dashing our fairest dreams to earth, and bringing in misery in the very garments of success? But, oh! “not in the condemnation of our meek and gentle ancestress, shall we reap the benefit of her example, and turn aside from her faults. If, even in her, the weakness of human nature once triumphed over the immortal spirit, what may save us from the same fault? will the purity of youth, the piety of early womanhood, the truth and virtue of long years, will these obtain such sway as always to be our safeguard and our strength? alas, not these: it must be the grace of God alone, sought by constant prayer and utter dependence upon Him—the constant watch over ourselves—the knowledge of our own weakness.” Nor can “the idea, that human means are necessary to forward any intention of the Most High, be entertained a single moment without verging on impiety, when we have the whole word of God to prove by precept that he is as omnipotent To Do as To WILL.”
In portraying the love borne by Jacob for the beautiful Rachel, which was neither chilled by the frost of night, nor the drought of day, during fourteen long years of labour, how beautifully has Miss Aguilar delineated the pure feelings of the heart.
“God gave not love to bind to earth, but to raise to heaven: not to make us earthly idols, but, on the very love we bear each other, to lift up the soul to Him—to lighten toil and soften grief, to heighten joy and bless our earthly sojourn with a bright ray from that exhaustless fount of love, which waits for us above.” “Stronger than pain and toil, an even death, it is the very essence of our being,—the spiritual essence,—which marks more powerfully than aught else our immortal destiny; and, from a reflection of that destiny, lends a glow to earth.” That it is “to last for ever, not unto death, but beyond it, and, therefore, not to be given to one whose future was of earth, and who sought in its possession but the gratification of a few fleeting years; that it is to endure through sorrow and sickness, and trial and wo; not to be the mere harbinger of gaiety and joy, to shine in a ball-room, and glitter in a bridal robe, but to bear with occasional irritability, or even with unkindness and apparent neglect;” “and to bear all this,” “will aught but that love, which is spiritual, sustain us?”
Not despising beauty, but considering it as a gift of God, who will call the possessor to account if she fail to keep bright the invisible gem shrined in so fair a temple, Miss Aguilar portrays in the beautiful character of Leah, those beauties of the spirit, quite sufficient to compensate for the want of outward charms. And did the youthful daughters of our race set about with their whole soul to increase the loveliness of their minds, they, too, might find, that the charms of loveliness of disposition, of graces of mind, of purity of thought, were much more potent in securing in indissoluble chains the love of the worthy of the other sex, who, if first struck with a beautiful face, if they find it connected with a deformed mind, will throw it carelessly aside, as they would some flower deficient of perfume.
Alone, and with nothing but his staff, did Jacob leave the house of his father, the consciousness of wrong done his brother, weighing down his spirit; but God looked upon him and pardoned, and consoled him in his lonely journey, with the promise that through him, too, mankind should be blessed; nor do we see one promise of the Lord fail in the whole of his sojourn, who, after a sufficient trial of faith, appeared to him again at Bethel, and changed his name from Jacob to Israel, denoting, “that, as a prince, our father Jacob had power with God and with man, and had prevailed. Is there, can there” (in the authoress’s words) “be, one amongst the descendants of this prince of God’s creating, ashamed of the name he bears? should it not be our glory, our pride, of which no persecution, no injury, no wrong, can rob us? does not its very sound teem with the wondrous mercies of the past—with the truth, the unanswerable truth of revelation,” and the sure warranty of the fulfilment of prophecies?
Closing the first period with the delineation of the characters of Leah and Rachel, the authoress depicts the cruel sufferings of the Jewish mothers in Egypt, claiming, that for them, however despised and downtrodden in ages succeeding the delivery of the law,—
“For the women of Israel were those laws issued, which were to guard the innocence, purity, honour, and well-doing of women in general throughout the world; for, however other revelations may profess to be the first and purest,—however the smile of scorn and unbelief may attend the mention of the Jewish dispensation in conjunction with woman,—the truth remains the same; that, as from that law every other sprung, so from that law does woman, in every age, clime, rank, and race, receive her guardianship on earth, and hope of heaven.”