|Vol. IV, No. 7
Tishry 5607, October 1846
The New Year.
When this number reaches our readers, scattered as they are over many and distant lands, the new year after the creation of the world will have commenced, and they, we trust, one and all, will have offered up their prayers in the house of God, and, we equally fervently hope, will have been accepted on high, with a decree of a long and peaceful life and a forgiveness of iniquity. Our God is our Judge; we adore Him as the Creator and Saviour; we call only on Him as our fathers did call; and, at every recurring new year, we look to Him for that mercy which He extends to sinful creatures, who, knowing each the plague of his own heart, knock at His gates with good deeds, with fasting and humiliation, with a detestation of their past transgressions, and with a firm resolve to offend no more. How many are there, however, who let the season of repentance come like any other in the year, attend to their own avocations, which are all of this world, from which springs not one shoot which can bring forth fruit for eternity; or they who, if even they keep the prescribed laws and customs, do so with an unreflecting heart, as though this could wipe out sin, though they renew their iniquities with the termination of the festivals. To either of these classes the season of the festivals is one which has no influence upon their spiritual progress. But there are others—the true Israelites—who find in the commencement of the year a source of deep contemplation, and in the Day of Atonement, a powerful incentive to righteousness. These see in the blessings they have enjoyed in the past year, manifold causes for gratitude; they survey the increased store which they have acquired, and they recognise that their Father was with them in their toil; that He caused the structure to stand firm which they were about to raise; that His dews moistened the ridges of the field after the seed was cast; that His rain watered the herbage, and clothed the earth with verdure, and decked the trees with fruit; that His sun caused the landscape to smile in beauty, and perfected the works of the hands of man; that it was His favouring gale which wafted the bark over the briny deep, and brought her to a safe anchorage, with all the anxious souls that had entrusted themselves to the treacherous waves of the ocean, in their endeavour to bring away the products of distant lands; that it was His wisdom which guided them in their search for knowledge, and made clear unto them the difficult path of science and discovery; that it was His goodness which established peace in the land, and enabled each one to lie down in the still hours of night without the fear of armed hosts in the streets, or the assaults of secret enemies lying in ambush without to surprise the defenceless city. They feel all this and more: and then they survey themselves and their companions, and they speedily discover that it was not their merit nor their wisdom which has accomplished all this, but the unbought mercy of their Creator, who has chosen to bless them. Can their breast then swell in pride? Can their soul truly say: “My strength and the might of my hand have acquired for me all this wealth?” By no means. Of themselves, they know they are powerless; others equally with them have been industrious and frugal, and painstaking and studious, but they could not ascend the acclivity of success, and they lag behind in their race for advancement. The new year, therefore, comes, and the successful, if they are wise, behold themselves more deeply indebted than ever to their merciful Benefactor, and they cannot do otherwise than ascribe to Him glory and praise; and they humble themselves in his presence, and crave, if so it be his will, that He may continue to deal bountifully with them yet another season, and they vow a portion of their substance, or dedicate the fruit of their scientific experience, to the improvement of their fellow-men; and when the day of forgiveness of sin appears, they are humble amidst the repentant sinners; they scan their past misdeeds, entreat the mercy which the Scriptures promise for sincere contrition, and meekly trust on the aid of their Father in heaven, that He will graciously deign to perfect what they have commenced, and aid them in their struggle against sin, and the presumption which so often attends upon success in the acquisition of wealth and learning; so that they may become daily more devoted, more yielding to the same law which was given no less as the guide of the rich and enlightened than of the poor and humble.
They too who have been afflicted; if they have the Lord in their hearts, will also enter upon the festivals with a proper feeling of devotedness. To them the storm which wrecked the fragile vessel in which their hope was embarked, speaks of a watchful Judge who visits the iniquity of mortals; it teaches, not that they are forsaken, or that an undeserved injury has been inflicted on them, but that they suffer because it was found fitting in the mind of inscrutable Wisdom, that it would be best for their permanent welfare; that prosperity, perchance, might obscure their vision in its search for truth, but that adversity would arouse them from their slumber, awaken their faculties, enkindle anew their affections for the Best of parents, and bid them hope, humbly and sincerely, till He would come and heal the wounds which his own hands have struck. In good truth, to the pious, nothing comes by chance; all is design, all is the effect of love. For the moment of disappointment, the heart may, nay, does, become rebellious; it feels the sting of loneliness, of unrequited affection, of darling schemes prostrated, of enterprises rendered nugatory by ingratitude and the baseness of those it confidently relied on for aid and sympathy. But anon it flings aside the dark shadows which threaten to stifle its activity, its repose in divine beneficence; it feels that there are evils within itself, which it ought to root out before it can freely look for exemption from the common lot of humanity, and, with a return of consciousness of its own weakness, comes back a renewed affection for its fellow-men, a firmer reliance on the support of the supreme, in the full confidence that all its aspirations will succeed, provided they are for an ultimate good result. And what knows man of the event? How far can he see into the recesses of the future, which stretch out in an unlimited extent before his aching vision? Just like a wayfarer enters the gloomy jaws of some deep cavern, lighted on his way with a little glimmering taper; he barely sees the spot on which he stands, he is stupefied by the impenetrable darkness which his little lamp renders the more evident, and he shudders at the thought that he must advance; and yet he has the means in his hand to persevere successfully; by degrees his eye becomes familiarized with the gloom, he perceives gradually chamber after chamber opening to the right and left of him as he advances; he beholds the beauties of the subterranean world opened to his view, and a thousand bright crystals reflecting again and again his own light which his hands bear upward; and when he dwells with raptures upon the beauties before him, he is almost disappointed at perceiving by the sunlight, which illuminates a distant corner, that he must soon emerge into the open field, and that his gloomy journey is already ended.
And when a beloved object is taken from the midst of the living—if the hearth be rendered desolate by the absence of a child that promised to be his parents’ joy—if a mother is bereft of the companion of her life, to struggle alone for the support of her offspring—or if a revered father is borne to the tomb, and his son stands weeping at the open grave, which is soon to shroud for ever from his view what to him was protector, teacher, guide, and friend; even then can the righteous look upward with trust and hope; for does not the beloved child now dwell with a Parent more watchful than father and mother? Has not the widow a Protector, who is the husband of her the world calls lone? Is there not for the orphan a Guide and Friend, who leads upon pleasant paths those who sincerely seek Him?
Yes, these can all come forward on the first day of the year, and, surveying the events of the past, draw thence lessons. of wisdom and hope for the future. They who are happy will arm themselves with the heavenly panoply of piety, to be prepared for the evil hour, which comes to all alike; and the afflicted will buckle on the shield of unwavering trust; protected by which they can move onward undismayed, and meet unfaltering the arrows of adversity, of straitened means, or the scorn of the proud, in the full confidence that there will be an end to all the trials as soon as the object of their chastisement has been accomplished.
There is much peace to all who love God’s law, and there is nought but truth in the religion which we have received; and the seasons and festivals which the to this day observe, are a witness and a surety that the Lord is with us as He was with our fathers. There has been an alteration introduced into our service by the cessation of the sacrifices; and in that the pilgrims now no longer seek, three times every year, the sanctuary which God had chosen for his dwelling. But in all else, the Jews are the same as they were before the temple was overthrown; the duties of our religion are unchanged, and the peculiar ceremonies which we observe mark us yet as distinguished from all other nations. We are yet “the people who know the joyful sound” of the cornet, when it proclaims, in the midst of our assemblies, the Almighty Creator as our Lord and King; we are yet the people who afflict ourselves with fasting and penance on the day instituted through our generations for an atonement of all our sins before the Lord; and the same institutions, therefore, which were life-bringing to the men of ancient days, must necessarily be so to us, who are on this day to declare that we will be faithful to the standard of righteousness which the Bible has set up. The festivals and the ceremonies attending them were written down for us to observe; they were instituted as means leading to righteousness, and thus conducive to salvation ; and as Israelites, therefore, we must endeavour not alone to pay strict observance to the letter of the law, to observe it carefully in outward action; but it should go farther, and induce us to dwell upon the origin or motive which prompted it, which is, that it should render us obedient in all things, and induce us to place our undivided confidence in whatever the Lord has taught for us to do, and to feel strengthened in the faith of his superintending providence, in whatever He may decree over us, be this what the world calls happiness or misfortune. If the first, let us be impressed that it was given for our and others’ improvement; if the latter, that we may be tried whether we are entire with our God, even under trials and tribulations, which are not rarely the touchstone of the purity of the human heart.
Whatever there may be unmeaning in the institution of the sacred season to the stranger to Israel, and him who wishes to become like the nations of the earth, is therefore of high import to the believer; he beholds in the very peculiarities of our customs an evidence of design, as much as the physiologist does in the formation of the human body and other animal and vegetable life:—they are the means of our perpetuation; and we trust that our readers will so feel it, and endeavour to be strict conformists to the even unimportant points of observance, whilst they at the same time let them throw a mantle of holiness over their acts, which will render their lives useful to themselves and lovely in the eyes of others. This is the vocation of Israel, to teach practically how consolatory, how purifying is the faith which we have received, and nothing can effect this better than if the enlightened among us, the men of the world, and lovers of fashionable life, prove by their acts that the highest refinement is compatible and readily united with the strictest adherence to the precepts which are peculiarly Jewish.
We hope, therefore, that the commencement of the new year will be the beginning of an improved state of religion among our readers; that those who are pious in word and act will continue so in a manifold degree; that those who are righteous in deed will add thereto a purified heart; a devotion to the will of the Creator, an active philanthropy, a meekness of demeanour which should distinguish the servants of God, and under all circumstances, a resignation and a meekness which should prove that no other hopes than those taught by our religion are required; to fortify the heart and render life tranquil and joyous; and that those who are pious in theory will bestir themselves to add the grace of good works and practical devotion to the sincerity of their conviction, conscious that professions are but hollow and unmeaning sounds when outward acts do not affirm to the sincerity which dwells within.
To those who are in prosperity, we wish a continuance of the good fortune which has attended them; to the uninstructed, we wish the dawning of a bright light, which is to fill their souls with knowledge; and to the afflicted, that the Lord may look upon their sorrow and say in his mercy, “It is enough.” For ourself, we hope that we may be long permitted to speak to our friends of the way of salvation, to exhort them to be steadfast and true, and and that our connexion with our brothers may tend to our mutual improvement; and that the Lord would bless our labour, so that we may feel convinced that our exertions have not been in vain, which fearful thought, that all our toil is useless, is often one of the bitterest drops with which our cup of life is deeply drugged. For our oppressed brothers, we hope that enlargement may be granted to them through the Mercy which has so often shielded us, and that when freed from their sorrows, they may remember the Power which has saved them, so that our successors, if not we who now live on earth, may have cause to rejoice over the blessings which may have been dispensed to them.
And now, in conclusion, we entreat our friends to bear with infirmities and any defect which they may discover in us or our work; and let us hope, that even when our connexions should be severed, we may look mutually back upon the time we have travelled together, with some regret that we are no longer connected as we once were, and that all to whom we have so frequently and so openly spoken through our pages, often in censure, but never in malice, may give some kind reflection and friendly remembrance to their friend and fellow-Israelite, the
EDITOR OF THE OCCIDENT.