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בס"ד

Specimens of German Preachers.

Moses and Jethro.

A Sermon on Exodus 18. by Dr. Gottholt Salomon, Preacher at the Temple at Hamburg, Delivered in 1842.

"When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt; then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back. And her two sons, of which the name of the one was Gershom; (for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land;) and the name of the other was Eliezer; (for the God of my father, said he, was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh:) and Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: and he said unto Moses, I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him: and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent. And Moses told his father- in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them. And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God: And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me, and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: and thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons; the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves. And Moses let his father-in-­law depart: and he went his way into his own land."—Exodus xviii.

This narration, beloved brothers, is as simple as it is instructive, to such a degree does it appertain to human life from several points of view, and it teaches man, and it teaches the Israelite that which is good and which God demands of him. It directs the attention of our spirit to two great men,—to one who was a messenger of God in Israel,—and to a priest who served in a pagan worship—to

Moses and Jethro.

And we are taught four things, the observance of which Scripture in our to-day's Parashah is to impress upon our heart.* And let us pray that the divine word may become to us a light and guide. Amen!

* The weekly portion of the law read in the Synagogue is so called; that of the prophets is called Haphtorah.

I.

"Suffer yourselves to be led from the remarkable festive hours in your life unto God and things divine. To this we must direct our attention first."

Moses and Jethro celebrate in our text just such a festive hour. After a long separation, they see each other again and what a meeting! a most joyful, a most gratifying one! Moses has overcome innumerable dangers, and his name, in connexion with the wonderful deeds wrought by him, in the face of day, with the aid of God, has penetrated to all nations: his greatness and his fame have become immortal. Jethro brings back to him the beloved wife from whom he has been long separated, the children from whose society he has been long severed, and with them he recalls to him the dearest, the holiest recollections. (Exod. 18. 3, 4.)

How full is the heart of both! and how does the mouth overflow with that of which the heart is full! What have they not to tell, to communicate to each other ! (Ib. 8.) What do they not feel, what do they not think and speak of all in this hour!

And how do all these feelings, and thoughts, and words disclose themselves—in a looking up to God! They sink down before the Lord—to the Lord is ascribed the praise and the glory; to the Lord they consecrate burnt and peace-offerings; before the Lord they pour forth the prayer of their overflowing hearts. (Ib. 9-12.)

We also, dearly beloved, have no lack of festive hours in our lives. When you (we must not lose sight of our text in the least) when you return after a long separation, to your home, for which you have painfully longed, when after a fatiguing and perilous journey you come back to your kindred, and find again the wife, the husband, the father, the mother, the sister, the brother, the friend, and tears become the interpreters of your sensations and thoughts; or when your children return from amidst strangers among whom they have prepared themselves for their calling, well in body and soul, in the possession of a childlike heart and the ancestral faith, these most precious of treasures, which they have preserved inviolate; or, when you, hovering between fear and hope, watch at the sick bed of a beloved being, observing his features, attentive to his oppressed breathing—and when then suddenly the skilful physician pronounces the decisive words, "The danger is past, the loved sufferer is given to you anew, you may anew rejoice at possessing him!" or when you press to your loud beating heart a first child, or a first grandchild, and you possess in the little stranger one bond the more which binds you to life; or when you have finally overcome the last difficulty which stood in the way of an important undertaking, or a great and favourite scheme of your life, and your eye turns upon a friendly and less shrouded future:—then are these your remarkable festive hours, such as Moses and Jethro experienced them; they fill your eyes, too, with tears of joy, and your hearts with pleasing sensations. Be they many or few, frequently or sparingly scattered through our life, they ought to guide us, as Moses and Jethro were guided, unto God and things divine. They ought to attune our hearts to return thanks to God. God sends them into fatiguing, exhausting every-day life, that they may shine therein like luminous points, and that life may not become too uniform in scenery and colouring, and be thus rendered a burden to ourselves. Joy, however, shall by its appearing not merely belong to the dust, not alone to a fleeting enjoyment; but it shall be holy rejoicing, a rejoicing in God, through which the sensual man is spiritualized; and the table becomes an altar, the meal a sacrificial repast before God, לפני אלהים as our text expresses it.

Moreover we shall employ these hours, like Moses and Jethro, for open communication and the pouring forth of the heart. And whereas at such periods the heart feels deeper, and the mind sees clearer, and the powers of the soul and the sentiments are brightened and more elevated: we shall again, as Moses and Jethro, apply and use hours as they did for sage reflection and consultation on important affairs, for instance, how domestic life may be ennobled; how the education of the children be improved; how the affairs of the congregation may be placed on a better footing; for then have these remarkable festive hours guided us to a higher elevation, and made us better and wiser; they have led us to God, and we have been rendered more familiar with divine things.

II.

"Live true to thy calling, but so that thou mayest live long for its furtherance."

Each of us knows that by the word "calling" is meant a fixed state of action, in which we employ our powers for the benefit and use of human and civil society, no less for the welfare of others than of the individual himself. But how we are to labour in our calling, how we shall best employ our powers, this is indicated to us in Scripture, in the narrative of Moses and Jethro.

Look upon Moses! On yesterday he beholds again, after a separation of many years, after laborious exertions, his dear father, his wife, his children; to-day already, you find him in the midst of the business of his calling; "on the following day," say the Scriptures, "he sat to judge the people." However full his heart might be, from the joyful meeting, however loudly his heart might beat for the loved souls just restored to him, it is fuller yet, it beats louder yet for his calling.

And how does Moses labour in his calling? Uninterruptedly "from morning till evening." The calling does not alone fill the whole heart, but fills up also the whole time. He permits himself no empty intervals from labour. Each hour is filled up with another duty; perseveringly he pursues the labours of his calling; he devotes to them his entire soul. This is one thing we have to learn. Whatever calling, brethren, we may have chosen, as soon as we have made a selection, and declared ourselves for the same, it is obligatory on us to labour for it entirely, and to live for it alone; the sweetest pleasures, the highest enjoyments, must not seduce us to rob our calling of this or that hour, or to condense the labours and duties incident thereto, that is, to abridge, to lessen them; because we ought to find the sweetest pleasures, the highest enjoyment in our calling itself, which is a direct command of God to man, a daily worship, just in the light as Moses viewed it.

And if we reflect, beloved brethren, that a considerable portion of life must have passed away, when we have fairly entered on our calling; and if we reflect farther how much time of our already so limited existence is moreover consumed by the necessary requirements for the sustaining of life, which cannot remain unattended to; and if we finally reflect, how often sickness, natural weakness, the infirmities of old age, prevent us from accomplishing the duties of our calling: we shall surely, unless our conscience is too much blunted, not have the disposition to squander the time which is remaining to us after these considerable deductions; but we shall deem it no more than right and reasonable to devote ourselves entirely to our calling, in wherever God has placed us, and wherever he has assigned to us a sphere of action; be this in the troubled world or in the quietness of home; be it in a palace or in a hut; be it upon the chair of instruction or of judgment; as artizan or mechanic; as a man of erudition or of business; as husband or wife,—our calling should be to us the most important thing, and as such we ought to devote to it our whole life.

Nevertheless live in such a manner in the pursuit of your vocation that you may be able to live long for it; and this we learn from Jethro. "The thing thou doest is not good; thou wilt surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee; for this thing is too heavy for thee, thou art not able to perform it alone;" thus spoke Jethro to Moses, and you know the advice which he gave him, which he closes with these words: "If thou wilt do this thing, and God command it thee, then wilt thou be able to endure, and also all this people will go to their place in peace." For just as God has set a limit to our life and the duration of our days, so also has He limited our powers: and no one has ever yet transcended these limits with impunity. A short and eventful life is certainly preferable to a long and uneventful one, and the wise and pious effects more in ten years, nay, more in one year, and labours more blissfully, than the fool and godless in a long series of years. Nevertheless, a truly wise, a truly pious man, has never yet unduly strained his powers, and purposely endeavoured to consume himself.

If one knows how to economize with the energies of life which his time allows him, he can to a surety do much in a few years, nay, effect great things, and he will have no cause whatever to complain of the shortness of life. But we ought constantly to think of the word of Jethro, ויכלת עמד וגם כל הזה על מקמו יבא בשלום "Then wilt thou be able to endure, and also all this people will go to their place in peace." Thou, my hearer, must live in such a manner in the pursuit of thy calling, that thou mayest be able to endure, that thou mayest not, in contradiction to the will of God, consume and exhaust before the proper time the powers to thee vouchsafed, that thou mayest not be lost before the proper time to thy calling, and fade away unto the grave.

ויכלת עמד, "thou must* endure," thou must remain, thou must remain in thy position, thou must withstand the most untoward occurrences! "And the people also will be benefitted thereby," adds Jethro; according to the method and manner in which thou pursuest thy calling, the people, for whom thou art called to labour, must likewise be able to prosper, and feel themselves happy: thou must endure for them, remain a long time.

* The double sense of the future in Hebrew, meaning both the simple future and the imperative.—Ed. Oc.

O, brethren! דברי פי חכם חן, the above word of wisdom has Jethro addressed to all of us. For do we but live for ourselves alone? Should we live for ourselves only? וכשאני לעצמי מא אני ("When I am for myself, what am I?") For how many souls dost thou provide, thou honest teacher of youth, or teacher of the people, through thy industry and thy striving! For how many families provides the busy hand, the ever-active spirit of the careful merchant! Unto how many children and grandchildren art thou provider, prop, friend, and counsellor, thou worthy father or grandfather ; thou mother or grandmother! how greatly would the home, which thou guidest, fall into decay, how forsaken and bereaved would the little ones be, for whom to live is thy calling, if thou wert to consume thyself before thy time has come, and labour more assiduously than thy powers will permit thee! No, in the pursuit of your calling you are bound to think especially of those for whom you live; and guided by the hand of piety and wisdom live in such a manner, that you may be able to live a long time for the benefit of your calling.

III.

"Greatness and humility are always united in the truly wise."

Jethro imparts his counsel to his son-in-law, as to how he should live for himself and the people, and Moses follows the advice. Moses the man of God, the trusted by God, the mediator between God and Israel (Dent. v. 5); the prophet, the proclaimer of the one and only God, accepts the advice imparted to him by a non­Israelite, a heathenish priest.

But for this very reason do our illustrious ancients apply to Moses the name of the wise, and refer to him the proverb of Solomon, ושמע לעצה חכם "But the wise listen to advice."

What humility! and with what greatness is it united. Indeed, I know not which is the mother, which the daughter; whether humility brings forth greatness, or greatness humility; but this much I do know, that, in order to possess and to exercise true humility, one must be truly great—morally great—since little souls know absolutely nothing of the exalted virtue of humility.

Whoever possesses moral greatness, thinks, in the performance of important acts, nowise on his own self, does not in any manner feel disturbed whether perchance his own self might not be placed in the shade, if but one voice, but one merit be accorded to others. Therefore also does he consult with and listen to others.

Whoever possesses moral greatness, cares for the good cause which it behooves him to promote, not for his own fame, not for his own honour; God's praise, God's glory, these are objects which he lays to heart. He therefore also asks and follows the counsel of those by whose means the praise and glory of God may be extended. "If thou doest this, and God command it thee," were the words of Jethro.

Whoever possesses moral greatness, is sedulous for the truth, not for appearance; righteousness and the fear of God are to become more at home among mankind; through whom this takes place is of no importance, provided only it does take place. Therefore does he call to his counsel the good and the nobleminded, and he appreciates duly their advice; therefore was the noble-minded Moses so much moved by the words of Jethro: "Choose able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness;" because how much that is good and useful cannot men effect, in whom all such exalted virtues are united!

Where, however, moral greatness is wanting, there egotism will show itself openly, an egotism which desires only what is advantageous to one's self, and seeks only one's own interest; where moral greatness is wanting, there pride will puff itself into importance, a pride which seems to understand every thing better than another; where moral greatness is wanting, there the soul is full of ambition, which longs for high-sounding praise and flattery; how could and would such a one share his incense and his laurels with another? Every thing, therefore, is conducted according to his own will, even if houses of God, and schools, and congregations should be ruined thereby!

Jethro is a heathenish priest, and the greatest prophet in Israel follows his advice, preserves the words as though they were gold and precious metal, preserves them—in the holy Scriptures.* This is a humility which belongs only to great souls. We may, therefore, assume that we have above all in our Parashah† of today a measure of true greatness, and we are certified that we are bound to listen to wisdom, whether it come out of the mouth of the Israelite, or non-Israelite. The truth belongs to God, and whoever teaches us the same, even if he be a heathenish priest, is a servant of the living God. (Compare Treatise ע"ז, vol. iii., and Maimonides on שמיטה ויובל chapter 13. § 3.) But we learn also a second and more important doctrine: if you require men, be it for the foundation of schools or the support of our houses of God, or the promotion of other concerns of the congregation or of mankind, you should look after them, learn to know them well. If they believe that they alone are in possession of wisdom and learning, if they look down in their vanity upon others, and refuse to accept reasonable advice, let them pass on, you lose nothing by not having them; choose for yourselves persons with a modest mind, persons who walk in humility before God; who regard, more the will of God than their own; choose such as these, for they work beneficially, they devote their powers and capacities, their days and years, to their calling, and desire no other acknowledgment than that of their own conscience, and know of no other approbation than the approbation of God, and the being pleasing in the eyes of God.

* According to the saying יתר שיתר פרשה אחת בתורה "Jethro was called Jether (the one who adds), because he was the means of adding one section to the law."

† Section.

IV.

"Coming and parting border very closely on one another."

Only a short time had Moses been in the society of his father-in-law, when fate, which bid one go to the right, the other to the left, separated them anew. (Exodus 18. 27.)

Just so is it in our own life; coming and parting border very upon one another. And it is not merely the all-separating death that steps in between the loving and the loved, but innumerable circumstances and duties demand in an imperious tone that those, who have scarcely met and seen one another, should soon separate again. But this arrangement also is derived from a higher Hand, it is intended to effect in hart that our love for our friends should ever become more sincere and heartfelt.

Let us endeavour to enjoy and to detain the hours—they are only hours—which we are permitted to spend in the circle of hove and friendship. Let us strive to enchain them, I may say, to perpetuate them, by thinking, working, living, while they last, for one another and then work and live thus, that, when we dismiss the object of our affection, as Moses did Jethro, and he returns to his land, to his home, or if we be the dismissed, they who return, no reproaches of any kind for neglected, delayed duties, may disturb the tranquillity of our soul. No! we ought to be able to say unto ourselves at parting, whilst bidding farewell: We have completely tasted and enjoyed the short, but eventful, festive hours which Heaven had vouchsafed to us; our being and living together were of a holy and divine nature, and we have thereby been rendered happy and blessed. Oh how beneficently must the effect of this doctrine, the truth that our coming and parting border so closely on each other, be upon our narrow, our narrowest circle! What a blessing must the love of parents for their children, and of children for their parents become, if they mutually place it as manifest before their mind, that they have received but fleeting hours for the exercise of love. How must this thought spur on the parents to labour for the welfare of their children with the utmost solicitude, and to establish it as firmly as possible; for in this alone can genuine and true love be displayed. How must this thought stimulate the children, even the giddy and the most unreflecting, to sweeten the short pilgrimage of the guides of their life, to become their pride and their joy. What a blessing will the thought that "coming and parting border so closely on one another," be, if it admonishes brothers and relatives to live with and near each other, not to live far apart and indifferent to each other's fate, and to remove every thing which may have placed enmity between them, or what the loveless world may have placed between them, envy, jealousy, calumny, or what other names the serpents may bear which are in the habit of forcing themselves into the paradise of love. O how greatly must the thought of coming and parting incite you all, brothers and sisters, to lay to heart the word of Scripture, which is a word of the truest love: "How good and lovely is it when brethren dwell together in unity, for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life unto everlasting," there will be understood what is life unto everlasting.

And may such a blessing and such a happy life be your portion, beloved brethren, may our to-day's lecture help to contribute to this result. It will, it must happen, if the festive hours in your life guide you unto God; if you live wholly and fully in the pursuit of your calling in such a manner that you may be able to live long for the same; if you walk humbly before God, and, as it accords with wisdom and true greatness, you do not despise the counsel of tried souls; if you finally take it to heart that coming and parting border very closely on one another; and you employ, for this reason, the hours which God permits you to spend in the circle of loved friends, wisely and conscientiously for your own happiness and blessing, and the happiness and blessing of others. Amen.