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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 22

Fulfillment of Prophecy.

Having seen, in the foregoing chapter, what prophecy is, we ought next to examine: "Can the prophecies of Moses, or at least a part of them, be verified by the predicted result of not?"

We have already seen proven (chap. xii.) that one at least of Moses's predictions has been literally fulfilled, namely, that the belief in his prophecy should exist amongst us for ever; since from his time to the present age every generation of Jews were believers in the truth of his mission. Although at certain periods of our history religion was sadly neglected: yet were there always some men who firmly adhered to the law, when even the ignorant multitude had neglected their duty. Another strong confirmation of our law can be found in the fact, that the more acquainted a man is with it, the stronger will ever be his confidence in its divine origin, and in the truth of him by whose instrumentality it was first made public. If we are asked for proof to sustain this assertion, we can exultingly point to the long succession of the wisest and most pious men, who, penetrated with real love of God and affection for mankind, labored all their life, under every disadvantage imaginable, to perpetrate what they justly conceived to be the word of God amongst their brethren. And what was their reward? — Honors conferred by princes? — Worldly riches? — No, no, — imprisonment, the rack, and even the scaffold; to be despised by heathens — hated by the Mahomedans — and persecuted, even to death, by the Nazarenes! And did they flinch? — Did they grow slothful in their sacred avocation? Far from it. The greater the danger was, the greater and more persevering became their devotion. The following anecdote is related concerning the great Rabbi Akiba, who at the age of one hundred and twenty years suffered the most cruel death for his attachment to the law: — "The government had prohibited every Jew, under pain of death, from studying or teaching the law; but regardless of this mandate did the Rabbi continue to teach publicly, as formerly he was wont to do. A certain Papus, son of Yehudah, remonstrated with him on the folly of thus exposing himself to certain destruction; but Rabbi Akiba answered him with the following parable: — A fox was once walking by the margin of a river, and he saw the fish moving to and fro in the water, as if they were in fear of something. He asked them the reason of their continual motion, when they told him, it was on account of the fishermen who incessantly molested them with nets and fishing rods. — 'Why do you not leave the water,' said the fox, 'and come to live with me on shore, as your and my ancestors used to do?' 'Really,' answered the fish, 'thou fox, who art generally considered the wisest of beasts, art in fact the most silly; here in the water, where alone we can live, we are afraid; how much greater reason have we to fear the dry land, where we are sure to die?' Not long after this conversation, Rabbi Akiba was apprehended and committed to prison, at the same time that Papus was sent there, who being asked by the former what was the cause of his being there, exclaimed: 'Happy art thou, Akiba, that thou sufferest for the sake of the law, and woe to thee, Papus, that thy sufferings proceed from unworthy actions!' Akiba's integrity did not save him from death, and they tore the flesh from his bones with iron combs; but he suffered with patience, and continued to say, 'Hear, O Israel, the Eternal our God is the only Eternal Being!' till his soul left its mortal habitation, to ascend to heaven, to receive there everlasting light and permanent unalloyed enjoyment, as the reward for its constancy!"

Need I mention the many precious sons and daughters of Zion who laid in heaps, blackening under a summer's sun, perforated by the dagger of the adversary? Who does not remember the stakes burning in Spain, Portugal, France, and England, the best of Jacob's children, because of their belief in ONE GOD? And they acknowledged the God whom their forefathers had been taught to worship, and they died in defiance of the faith which had been transmitted to the Israelites through Moses!

In Leviticus, chap. xxvi. v.32-33, God says: "And I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies, who dwell therein, shall be astonished at it. And yourselves I will scatter among the nations, and will draw the sword after you, and your land shall be desolate, and your cities shall be waste." And has not this actually occurred? Are not the once fertile fields of Judah a desert? The splendid cities of Palestine heaps of ruins? And the beautiful Jerusalem — the joy of all the earth — is scarcely the shadow of its former self; and really our enemies who now inhabit our land, and the stranger who comes from a far off country, are astonished, and wonder: "For what reason had the Lord acted so towards this land, why was this great anger kindled?" But to our shame we must answer: "Because we have forsaken the covenant of the Eternal, the God of our forefathers, which he made with us when He brought us out of Egypt; and we went, and worshipped other gods, and bowed down to them; gods which we did not know, and which our God had not assigned to us. The anger of the Lord was therefore kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses which are written in the book of the law. And the Lord has driven us out of our land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and thrown us into another land, as we see this day."

In Numbers, chap. xxiv. v.24, is the following: "And ships of war shall come from the coast of Chittim, and afflict Ashur and afflict Eber, but it (the land of Chittim) shall also be ruined at last." (This translation is according to Mendelsohn's translation of the Pentateuch.) At the time that Balaam spoke this prophecy, the Roman state was not in existence, and the other nations, by whom Italy was then inhabited, were not in a condition to send out ships of war to afflict Ashur and Eber. Therefore, at the time the prophecy was uttered, it could not have been understood, since the nation to which the prophecy referred was not even in being. But has not this prediction been literally fulfilled? Did not the Romans overrun Assyria and Judea? And where are these Romans at the present day? Where is their splendor? Where is their mighty empire? — Lost, lost, lost! — The ancient Forum is now a cow-market; this place, where once the greatest Roman orators contended for the victory, is buried under rubbish, and the ruins of buildings which once surrounded it! The Coliseum, built by the commands of a conquering emperor by conquered captives, remains now a monument of the awful vengeance which our God has taken against Rome, through hordes of barbarians sent to subvert the mightiest empire of antiquity, — And Italy? is at present divided into many small governments, scarcely one of which can be called independent. — And the Italians? The nobility of their character has passed away; and where can you find the representative of Tully — of Caesar — of Tiberius Gracchus — of Fabius the Cunctator? The energy of the Italians is broken; and those, who once kept a world in subjection by the terror of their arms, are now an easy prey to every invader!

Near the close of Numbers, chap. 33, we read that the Israelites were commanded to drive out the Canaanites, and they were foretold that those Canaanites, not driven out as soon as it could be done, should be like thorns in their sides, meaning, that they should but ill requite the debt of gratitude they owed the Israelites for their forbearance, but would, on the contrary, be their most inveterate enemies. Our ancestors, knew better, as they thought, how to deal with the aborigines than God had commanded, and they left many of these wicked people amongst them, only exacting a tribute for the protection afforded to them. But mark the consequences! The Israelites were immediately notified that is should never be in their power to expel the remaining Canaanites, and that they should be their constant enemies; and this was literally accomplished, witness the subjection of the Israelites (previous to Deborah) to the king of Harosheth, and David's taking Jerusalem, by storm, from the Jebusites.

In Deut. chap. xxviii. we have a description of the conquest of Palestine by Vespasian and Titus; and if Moses had been present at the siege of Jerusalem, he could never have better and more forcibly described the sufferings of the besieged. — Of the Romans themselves he says: "The Lord shall bring over thee a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, like the eagle flies; a nation whose language thou shalt not understand." This nation, fierce and steeled against pity, was to besiege the Israelites in all their cities, till the strongest and highest walls had been broken down; and all this was to be in consequence of their non-compliance with the will of God, as contained in the Mosaic law. — And did this not take place? Were not the Romans a nation from the verge of the earth, whose conquests were as rapid as the flight of the eagle? Were they not fierce and steeled against pity? What nation did the Romans ever spare? Did they not rather break the power of every people that attempted to resist their gradual but unceasing encroachments? Just so did they also treat us; they drove us from post to post, and from town to town, till all our cities at last became subject to their sway! And thus was this prediction accomplished.

Deut. chap. xxviii. v.37: "And thou shalt become an (object of) astonishment, a proverb, and a bye-word amongst all the nations, whither the Eternal thy God shall carry thee." — So we are! Every one is astonished how a nation so favored by God, could be reduced so low; when any preacher admonishes the people who flock to hear him, he points either the finger of scorn or pity at us, and exclaims: "See what the Jews have come to!" Whatever wrong is done by one of us, though this one be the most insignificant and worthless, the whole nation is, in a measure, burdened with the stigma; if a woman of our society acts contrary to law, it seems to be of weight enough to throw blame upon every one, who was born in the same faith with her; yea, our very name has been used to express every thing dishonorable and mean — the noble name of Israelite has been applied to designate a usurer, when usury is universally known to be contrary to the law which the Israelite acknowledged. It is thus, that the curse pronounced against us for disobedience, has been, alas! too literally fulfilled, and we have become an object of astonishment, a proverb, and a bye-word, and the very meanest of human beings thinks himself superior to the best of our nation.

We have here before us some of the most prominent prophecies concerning the punishment, which was predicted and did actually overtake our ancestors and even ourselves to this very day. It may be, that we are yet to suffer many centuries, for as yet our course has not been in the spirit of true repentance, we have not even now thrown aside the sins for which Jerusalem was twice taken, and the temple twice burnt. Not yet have all the Israelites one heart and one mind in the worship of the Eternal their Redeemer; but whenever they "pursue the true path to know the Eternal," they may rest assured, that their captives will be gathered and restored to their former habitations. — Let us consider the following from the Talmud: Rabbi Gamaliel, R. Elazar ben Azariah, R. Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiba were one day standing together, when they saw a fox running out from the place, where the holy of holies once stood; the three first began to weep, whilst Rabbi Akiba laughed; in astonishment, they asked of him the cause of his untimely mirth, but he in his turn enquired: "Why do you weep?" "And should we not weep, when we see the curse so clearly verified? For the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walked upon it." (Lament. v.18) "For this reason do I laugh," answered the wise Rabbi, "whilst the evil prophecies remained unaccomplished, there might have been fears entertained for the verification of the good tidings promised through our prophets; but now, since we see the evil coming to pass, can we possibly doubt the eventual fulfillment of the consolation of Zion — and does not God rather reward than punish?" His friends were satisfied, and answered: "Akiba, thou hast comforted us!"

And not hope alone, but also a partial fulfillment attests the truth of the good prophesied to us. We read in Levit. chap. xxvi. v.44: "And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor will I abhor them to destroy them utterly and to break my covenant with them, for I am yet the Eternal their God. But I will remember them (for their benefit) the covenant of their ancestors, whom I have brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathens, that I might be their God; I am the Eternal." — This prophecy clearly points out the protecting arm ever held out over the Israelites, and never yet did God leave us altogether at the mercy of our adversaries. — Whenever a plot has been formed for our destruction, we yet escaped, and often our enemies fell in the snares they had laid for our feet; and though hundreds and thousands of us have been killed in battle — in the amphitheater — by the sword — the gibbet — and the stake, we are still as numerous among the nations as the "dew-drops from heaven," and all the massacres have not caused a sensible diminution of our numbers.

Another prophecy pronounced by Moses in Deut. chap. xxxii., is even now in a train of accomplishment. The last song of the lawgiver concludes thus: "Praise as happy, O ye nations, his people, for He will avenge the blood of his servants, and render vengeance unto his adversaries, and wash away the sins of his land and of his people." (v.43.) And indeed all who have oppressed us in times gone by, now at this very hour, feel the weight of the vengeance threatened against the adversaries of Israel. See what has become of Spain and Portugal! Countries once flourishing and prosperous, now impoverished — sunk in ignorance, and degraded! The innocent blood of God's servants does not cry in vain to be avenged; the perpetrators of the horrid deeds are slaves — and the places where these barbarous scenes were witnessed are hourly becoming more like a wilderness, and it is evident to the most careless observer, that all this is owing to the expulsion of our brethren from these countries; for since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain has been gradually declining. The same was the case with England before the time of Cromwell; civil ways and internal commotions were then very common, and only since the days of the protector, when the Jews began to re-enter England, has it risen to that eminence it now holds among European nations. Verily the prophecy of Jeremiah is every day proving its truth: (Jer. chap. ii. v.1-3.) "And the word of the Lord came to me as follows: 'Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem,' (proclaim that every one may hear) 'and say: Thus saith the Lord, I remember unto thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou didst walk after me in the wilderness, in a land which is not sown. Israel is holy to the Lord' (consecrated to his service) 'and the first of his fruit, all who devour' (injure or molest) 'him shall offend, evil shall befall them,' saith the Lord." Let therefore all nations be cautious how they meddle with us, lest they offend, and incur punishment. — From the whole of the foregoing it will be clearly seen, that some of the good prophecies have come to pass, and can we then entertain any doubt about the ultimate restoration of the Israelites and the gathering of the captives? Let us then, my brethren, await with resignation the time when Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and the Israelites shall again inhabit the land of their ancestors!

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