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בס"ד

Warning The People.
A Sermon For Sabbath Tazreeang and Metzorang.

 

“Thine, O Lord! is the mercy, for Thou wilt reward every man according to his deeds;” this hast Thou taught us concerning thyself, in that Thou art mindful of whatever acts a man commits, and that never can anything escape thy cognizance, nor be forgotten in thy memory; since darkness hides nothing from Thee, nor does lapse of time diminish the strength of the impression which past events have made in thy presence. Thou hast also promised the son of Abraham that Thou wouldst bless him for the sake of the piety of his father.* Behold us, then, coming before Thee, to crave thy mercy for the deeds which the righteous of old have done, for those works which are constantly ascending up before thy throne, as an agreeable savour brought upon thy altar. Thy servants have gone to their rest, but we their descendants are left to battle with the dangers which they triumphantly overcame. Do, therefore, aid us for the treasured up piety which Thou wilt ever remember,† and save us from the power of sin and temptation, that we too may fulfill our task, and be pleasing in thy eyes as those whose works have been accepted. So shall we, too, be found righteous in thy judgment, and receive the light of thy presence, the peace for which our soul does pant, the reward which is the perfection of joy, the highest aim for which the living spirit is destined. Amen.

* Gen 26:5, and ibid. 24. † Levit. 26:45; compare also with 2 Chron. 6:42.

Brethren,—

Judaism is true, not because other religions are false, but because it is true in itself. It has borrowed nothing from other <<110>>systems, nor is it dependent upon their truth or falsity as its foundation. It must, nevertheless, be admitted that many of its principles are opposed to the views and doctrines promulgated by other religions; and in defending, therefore, what we have received as a heavenly legacy from our fathers, we may occasionally be compelled to examine controversially the opinions of other persuasions. But controversy is a legitimate weapon in the defence of truth; and whilst it is carried on in candour and fairness, the very persons whose opinions we examine, cannot attach any blame to us for so doing; for our religion is regarded by all as the foundation for every system based on the truth of revelation, by all who admit that at some period of the history of man, the Lord of Glory made his will manifest to mankind; and whilst, therefore, others claim that they have now a superior light, and whilst they invite us to forsake our faith to embrace theirs, it is evidently our business as reasoning beings to prepare ourselves by study and reflection to understand what we are to yield and what to accept.

None, but one brutally ignorant, would cease to be a Jew because he is invited to change his belief, without questioning what he accepts; and if he claims to be instructed and enlightened, some personal interest and not conviction, must cause the conversion. It is, therefore, evidently our duty to endeavour to scatter all the information accessible among our people, in order that they may he able to investigate understandingly the religion of their fathers. This religion, as you well know, is one of peace towards all men; it is the basis of civilization and true enlightenment; and we are, therefore, bound to value it, if for no other reason, because it is the first of all systems which aims at the happiness of mankind. Nevertheless, harmless as it is in its relation to all those not belonging to Israel, energetic as it is in its injunction to us to love all mankind, Judaism has had many opponents; in all aged it has been exposed to the malign attacks of those desirous to destroy it; and yet it appears as firmly rooted in the hearts of our people as ever, although it is not to be denied that an adherence to its practices is in many not as strict as it formerly was. Still, we must not lose sight of one fact, that a general dereliction is nothing new with us; for during the period of the first temple, there were many occasions when, to judge from the prophetic <<111>>admonitions and the terrible denunciations which these holy messengers pronounced in the name of God, the observance of religion had almost ceased in the land of Israel, with the exception of a few devoted hearts who would not forsake the standard of the ancient faith. It is, therefore, presumable, that what has occurred before will occur again, there will be an awakening to serious reflection among us, in the same measure as means are taken to destroy our adherence to religion; for you will find in the perusal of history, that no sooner did outward enemies come over the Israelites to take from them, by the power of the sword, what they believed the truth, than they became inflamed with ardent zeal to defend by argument, by endurance, and at times by force of arms, the religion of their fathers. It is, therefore, to be hoped, nay, to be expected, that in the present age of general delinquency a similar result will be witnessed, and that the lethargy which now appears to benumb our faculties, and renders us spell-bound in the midst of apathy and indifference will yield to a renewed zeal and energy, the moment we become aware that there is danger to our religion threatened from the insidious attacks, both open and secret, from enemies to Israel—from those worldings and adherents of falsehood, who have ever deemed the existence of the religion of Israel as a severe libel on their own belief.

What is it to them, that many nations and powerful individuals bend the knee to them and their idols? It is as nothing, “whilst,” to borrow the words of Scripture, “Mordecai the Jew sitteth at the gate of the king.” They see him early, they behold him late; he bears a charmed life; he is gifted with ubiquity; let them traverse the ocean, they have him on board the ship; let them ascend mighty rivers, they see his Asiatic features mingling with the crowd in the floating palace, and sitting side by side in the bark canoe with the tawny Indian; let them climb the highest mountain, and they will discover that he has before them carried thither his wandering staff; let there travel through sandy desserts, the surface of which is more unstable than the wavy sea, and they will find him established among the sooty sons of Africa, with his Jewish descent strongly marked on his sunburnt visage, but also with the ancient book of the law in his possession.

Yes, he is the universal contradiction to assumed fact; he has wandered, he has suffered, he <<112>>has borne every thing, and he remains the Jew at heart, changed as he may be by climate, by country, by association; and whether he be the rover of the desert, the shepherd in the mountains of Kurdistan, the agriculturist of Russia, the banker in the capitals, or the humble mechanic or tradesman in Europe, he is essentially the same, he contradicts by his presence, if not even it words, the popular systems of belief, and whilst he exists, the triumph of these is not complete; for the ancient bearer of civilization is not a convert to their tenets.

That the efforts made in accordance with this spirit of hostility are of a gigantic order, is what might be expected. Political influence of the most stringent order, the power of money in its amplest form, association of intellect of a high degree, the influence of the press in a multitude of publications, from the entire Bible, printed so as to suit sinister purposes, down to a paltry card or double-faced tract—all these and many other instruments are employed to decoy or force us away from our religion; and it is not to be wondered at if occasionally we hear that some stray sheep has been carried off from the flock by the prowling wolves who are hunting for their destruction. But let us ask on the other hand, “What have the Jews done of late to counteract so much malevolence?” And we shall be grieved to receive in answer, that we are too disunited to do anything, nay, too much occupied with the mere affairs of life to attempt doing aught in defence of our faith. Do I speak the truth? Or do I state a falsehood? Let each one answer who now hears me, or to whom a report of my words may be brought; our enemies are watchful whilst we sleep; they endeavour to scatter the seed of darkness, whilst we refuse to harvest the rich truth which stands ripe in many a golden field ready to our hand; and yet our hands are not bound with fetters, nor are the chains of captivity fastened to our feet; the fear of the tyrant daily grows less and less, and he that formerly was ready to devour becomes hourly more the object of derision to his former bondmen. And still where is our industry? Where our energy? Where our wonted wisdom? Do we feel nothing, see nothing but worldly interests? Or are we so supine, so neglectful of our patrimony that we care not how soon we dissipate it? That we <<113>>heed not whether with us the legacy of so many centuries is to be scattered to the four winds of heaven?

It is a libel on freedom, that men are free only to become rich and to live at ease; the brute that is well fed in his master’s stable, and is dressed up in a fine harness to drag his pleasure carriage in a bright and sunlit day, is equally free, if this were all for which we ought to live; yes, a man might as well loose his high appreciation of truth, and his capacity for understanding the sublime and the beautiful, if these noble faculties are to lie dormant, and rust away uselessly in the all-absorbing pursuit of gain and pleasure. Our pious ancestors thought and acted differently. They could have enjoyed life also in their day; they might, if so they had wished it, have become the associates of their fellow-countrymen in the pursuits then thought to be most fitting for the high born and the noble; but they preferred the Jewish gaberdine, the crowded ghetto, to be scorned and cuffed as Israelites, sooner than purchase a single indulgence by an appearance even of defection from their oppressed people. However refined we of the present day may be, however ignorant we may conceive those of former ages to have been, no one can deny that in all that is appealing to the spirit for admiration, on account of a dauntless perseverance in a line of duty, in a conscientious discharge of what they conceived to be true and right, they are far in advance of us, so immeasurably far, that the best of us must, in regard to them, be compared to a deformed cripple, running a race with one swift of foot and sound in limbs. I do not say this because I would desire the return of days such as are gone, nor because they had not their evils; for let us pray that it may be the will of God that such a cup of bitterness as we had then to drain may never again be presented to our lips, if his providence does not deem this necessary to our being preserved intact as the nation of Israel. No, I do not praise the days that are gone in comparison with the freedom which we now enjoy. I prize too highly the privilege which is mine at the present moment in being able to stand up among you, brethren, and to speak fearlessly and boldly about the concerns of eternal life; to canvass freely, without dread from the civil arm, the wrongs which are done to us, and the sins which are committed by ourselves.

But I only speak of the little concern which we display with respect to our reli<<114>>gious interests in comparison with our fathers. They wrote about their faith, they treasured up for us imperishable truths, midst perils which would appall the stout-hearted warrior, who flinched not in the heat of battle; they breathed under the dread of the torture; they ate their scanty morsel apprehending to be led to execution, or to be overpowered by a furious mob, led on by fanatical priests or designing demagogues; and still they continued to study their faith in all its bearings, and to teach it by all the light of the sciences accessible to them in their days. But we, answer me, do we pursue religion as a vital concern, as the glorious martyrs who left us their lives as a legacy, did in all their troubles? Do we, as a class, glorify our religion by our conduct? do we teach it with all our energy to those who are to live after us? or, on the contrary, are not many thirsting for the water of life without any one being there to give it to them?

We are increasing in this land—daily new accessions are made to our numbers; but religion remains the concern of a few, the many are indifferent; they have done enough in building a Synagogue, and repairing thither once or twice a year! But the schools whence are to go forth the law and the light—where are they? where are the teachers who are to inculcate the words which God has taught? We are free, we are prosperous, but we calculate too closely the chances of success; we are too parsimonious to venture on an extensive plan of usefulness, for fear of the outlay, for fear of failure. But whilst prudence is requisite, whilst blind zeal is like a torch in the hand of a madman, which can only destroy, it is not acting in faith, not acting as friends of religion, to wait, and wait; to let the precious years, I will not say moments, pass by without attempting something to rescue our blessed religion from the dangers which threaten her. See her standing on an elevated hill, with the rising sun surrounding with a golden light her holy head; see her stretching out her angelic hands to rescue from destruction her beloved children, who hasten through dangerous coverts unmindful of the hidden perils; hear her calling on you all to aid her in her efforts to preserve them from the jaws of devouring beasts; behold her tears flow at being compelled, for want of strength, to see many destroyed without the means of helping them, and then feel that it is your fault, your neglect, your deafness to her earnest appeal <<115>>that she weeps for her ensnared offspring; that it is owing to your indolence that her labours have been in vain, that her warning voice did not reach all who, though in peril, might have been saved by a timely admonition that danger lurked by the way, that enemies were watching in the by-paths, and then flatter your conscience by a false excuse that the rescue was beyond your power, the admonishing a business which religion had no right to ask at your hands.

We complain of the decline of religion among us, some even express a fear of its extinction in the course of time. Now, the latter result need not be feared, for the same Providence who has watched over us so long, will, by his watchfulness, guard us against annihilation. But we have no right to look forward to a special act of grace to be wrought in our behalf, when we have the means ourselves of doing what is required. The Bible says:

והזרתם את בני ישראל מטמאתם ולא ימותו בטמאתם בתמאם את משכני אשר בתוכם׃ ויקרא ט״ו ל״א׃

“And you shall warn the children of Israel against their uncleanness, that they may not sin in their uncleanness when they make unclean my dwelling, which is in the midst of them.—Lev. 15:31.

This verse, taken from our section of to-day, teaches us that a defilement, through bodily uncleanness specified in the law, of the sanctuary of the Lord, would cause the death, through the infliction of Heaven, the punishment not being surrendered to human tribunals, of the transgressors; whilst at the same time those who have received knowledge are charged to warn the people, and to teach them to distinguish between what is clean and that which is unclean. The people should obey the priests, who were to point out to them when a man had the leprosy, and when he was cured from it; but the priests too, must not be satisfied with a mere knowledge of the details of the law for their own pleasure, (for the possession of superior knowledge confers a delight on the soul,) but they should lay it open to the masses, that they might know how to guide themselves on all occurrences, and to distinguish at once between what may be done, and what is prohibited. Though at present the institution of the ancient Aharonic priesthood has lost a great deal of its importance and signification, as we have neither temple nor sacrifices, no tithe nor heave-offerings, still the spirit of the precept is with us, and <<116>>this says:—“And you shall warn the children of Israel.” And to the question,  “Who is included in the term you?” I would answer, every one of us who has received knowledge, every one who has the means of aiding in the diffusion of instruction, every one who can encourage the teachers of religion to go abroad to scatter the seeds of life. All are admonished to take due care that religion should not decline, or rather that its followers should not be diminished; that, if possible, not a single disciple of Moses should be lost, if by instruction, persuasion, admonition, kindness, or rebuke, he may possibly be retained true to his God, or if he has left, it be at all possible to reclaim him to the path of rectitude and truth. It is, however, wonderful how easy many satisfy their conscience in regard to the amount of their exertion. “We have done enough, all that can be expected,” is often heard when we are asked concerning our spiritual labours; but how would it stand with us were the question varied to, “have you done all that could be accomplished?” This is the proper test, and it is to be feared, that tried by this standard the most of us, if not all, would be found wanting in their duty; be found to have left undone nearly everything which was intelligible and accessible to them.

It is very easy to frame a measure of our own which is to satisfy our own love of ease. But all such half-way exertions are certainly not doing our whole duty, and still we are perfectly content in practice with half-measures; we never think about the unprepared state in which, in modern times, youths and maidens are sent out into the busy scenes of life, to encounter the perils which the craft of our opponents, and which their own passions prepare against their progress in religion. And then we wonder often that such a one has intermarried with the gentiles, or that another openly joined some one of the many subdivisions, which singularly enough form the universal church of the Nazarenes. I speak of these because we live among them, though possibly a similar result may be witnessed in Mahomedan countries. Yes, we wonder at such defections, as though they were not the most natural things in the world. You are lax in your religious observances at home, you read no religious books, your houses are not open to the familiar intercourse with pious and intelligent Israelites; on the contrary; you do what the law prohibits; you permit pernicious reading to become a familiar exercise of your <<117>>children; you speak disparagingly of your own people, whilst you welcome with open arms as constant visitors, exclusively those who are strangers to Israel; you go, and permit your charges to repair to public meetings, and to drink in unprepared the sophistry which is so powerfully often declaimed from gentile pulpits by fashionable preachers; or you take them to hear infidel lecturers declaiming against all religion: and do you-wonder that your children are not good Jews? that they do not love their religion? that one or the other of them shows a fondness for the strangers and their doctrines, and turns his back on the paternal home, and seeks for alliance, and sympathy, and consolation, in the tents of the stranger?

I wonder that this so seldom occurs; I wonder at the strength and simplicity of our faith, which is propagated and maintained in the minds of its adherents, under so many discouraging circumstances, under disadvantages which would overwhelm any system less perfect than ours. But now look at the result with calm and dispassionate eyes, and what does it say to you? Simply this: If Judaism has preserved itself without our doing the least for it, how much more gloriously would it have flourished, how few defections would there have been from its ranks, had we done our duty in teaching it early and late, making it the subject of domestic conversation, seeking for light from those well informed, and encouraging pious men and women to be constant visitors at our house; had we religiously attended on public worship, and taken our children always with us; in short, had we done that for the faith of Israel which other religions do for what they profess to believe in.

Singly can thus a great deal be done to remedy the evils which now oppress us, by each one’s exerting his best influence over those whom the ties of nature, or other circumstances, have placed under his control. But why should we act without a plan? why not unite our energies for the promotion of a general good? Why do we not establish schools, where the daily practice, the daily lesson, and the constant intercourse, look only to the perfection of the mind in that which is most valuable in life; where science and religion are to go hand in hand, enkindling in the soul an ardour for what is true and beautiful, for what is to bless the child of earth here and hereafter? It is well, indeed, in the absence of a better system to make the education in religion a <<118>>weekly exercise; but it is not enough, it does not thus become a part and parcel of our being, whereas we ought to be so united to our faith that we may be able to act in its spirit, and according to its letter, in every emergency of life; to be ready to defend it with argument whenever it is assailed, and to sacrifice for it our passions, our inclinations, our interests, should these come in conflict with its behests. We require for this end a combination of individual powers, so that many may be able to accomplish what is too much for the strength of the individual.

It is thus our duty to warn our brothers against all sin, and this against any departure from the duties of religion, as pointed out to us in the law; and if we fail in this through any neglect of ours, (Ezek. 3:18,) we are the guilty parties, should any one forsake our household through want of knowledge of the principles and practice of Judaism. Let us not forget that “there is a lion in the way, a leopard in the streets,” and let it be our study to teach all of Israel how they may escape from the danger which is always threatening them. A child, indeed, can understand what Judaism is in in its main cardinal doctrine; the first dawning intellect can be taught that God is one, blessed be his name for ever; but it requires time, it demands labour, so to impress this simple truth that it may not be obscured by doubts and specious false teachings in after life. We may defy open attacks, but we must guard against secret machinations, exerted against the young and ignorant, by which they are to be lured away. Therefore are you told, “and you shall warn the children of Israel;” a warning is a lesson often repeated, and strongly enforced; and only by carrying out this precept to its fullest extent do you discharge your duty to one another, and only thus can you say that you have educated your children to be staunch adherents to Judaism, and heirs of everlasting life, after the manner, and in the spirit of your glorious ancestors. Amen.

Iyar 5th, April 27, 5609.