Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library Shopping Mall of Zion AHAVA Hero Products 250x250

בס"ד

Time and Eternity.

(a Sermon, For Passover 5604.)

O Thou exalted and holy One, who dwellest with those who are humble in spirit, who art in the midst of the righteous though they be the lowly of the earth! we beseech Thee to let thy presence dwell in the assemblies of thy heritage, the people whom Thou didst redeem unto thy own glory and praise, that they may be full of thy knowledge and be a guiding star to the sons of man, leading them in lowly sincerity to the footstool of thy glorious majesty. O give us thy countenance which is the only light unto salvation, and strengthen us that we may be firm in action when we pursue righteousness, and unwavering in resistance when temptation may threaten to allure us unto the path of sin. Be  Thou our Stay and Teacher, our God and our Refuge of defence; that we may be able to live according to thy will, and be accounted worthy subjects in thy eternal kingdom on the day Thou sittest as the Refiner of silver, and purifiest the house of Levi like silver and like gold, when Thou wilt call unto Thyself those who are truly Thine, to abide in thy presence, even as the stars for everlasting, in deathless joy, in unchanging holiness. May this be thy will, O our God and Redeemer, even for thy own name's sale which is fearful among nations. Amen!

Brethren!

When we cast our eyes abroad and behold the thousand ills which beset our course from our first entrance into the world till we leave it; when we consider that naked were we ushered into earthly life and naked must we descend to the tomb: the mournful reflection forces itself unbidden into our mind that we were born for trouble and tribulation, and that life has not sufficient charms to compensate us for the multitude of vexations to which we are constantly subject. Let us begin any walk of life, any scientific pursuit, any mercantile speculation—and let our plans be ever so well laid, let our experience and forethought be ever so matured: some unforeseen disappointment, some occurrence against which we had no means of guarding will frustrate our efforts at the very moment when we believe ourselves at the point of succeeding. And even let us succeed; no sooner is our end gained, than we are tired of the success for which we have been toiling perhaps for years; fruition destroys, almost invariably, the excessive joy of anticipation; for all earthly things look larger when "distance lends enchantment to the view," than when a close proximity enables us to examine and to define their exact proportions.—Ask the man of wealth, who has been toiling for half a century to amass gold and precious stones, to fill his warehouses with the produce of the farthest India and the spices of the Eastern isles; whose ships come freighted with the fat of the monsters of the deep, and the peltry of the denizens of the forest; whose houses and possessions are scattered in town and country: ask him, whether his desires are gratified, whether the longings of his heart are stilled, now, when he surveys his vast substance, to any greater degree than when he left his father's house, where poverty and an humble lot were his, to court the smiles of fickle fortune in a distant land. Then he was restless to remove the inconvenience of an humble lot, to overcome the pressure of poverty; and now, he feels the cares of accumulated wealth, he fears to lose his hard earnings, he fancies that he must amass yet more to preserve the fruits of his labour; and were it even that he be content, he feels the langour of indolence, the want of something to do to occupy his leisure hours; he is now too old to enjoy, and still he cannot busy himself more with those darling schemes which filled up all the moments of his younger years. Is such a one absolutely happier, because he has wealth? Yes, he may boast of his acquisitions, he may bless himself in his heart, because he has succeeded where so many failed; he may ascribe to his own genius that he has extended substance, and heaps of gold, and herds and flocks that cover the plain and mountain, and ships that whiten the ocean with their sails; but inwardly he feels the sting, the unsatisfied craving for something which neither wealth nor success can supply; because peace is not resulting from a pursuit where every thing is made to yield to one absorbing controlling thought.

Still this is the nature of man, not that he is, what may be termed, avaricious—that is, overfond of acquiring; but that he is endowed with an irrepressible restlessness which is not satisfied whilst there is something attainable yet unattained. The God who made him, endowed him among other impulses with that peculiar sensation, which will always incite him to action, to thought, and make him desire for a change of some sort,—for a variety which a uniform pursuit, a uniform success, and uniform series of enjoyments could never satisfactorily fill up in his heart. Man was born for labour, for exertion; these are his natural elements in which alone he can be said to exist; for indolence and leisure will always fail to amuse and impart health, as soon as one feels inaction and want of employment insupportable evils. Man is, accordingly, placed here to labour, to be busied in some pursuit, which will demand the sacrifice of his time and bodily energies for its proper execution; and hence, as soon as he is in possession of something he ardently craved, and which at one time appeared to be the height of his desire or ambition: he sees another thing, or he feels the necessity for some new acquisition, which has now become equally necessary for his happiness as the things which he craved hitherto and which are now within his possession.

But mere worldly objects, call them wealth, power, or enjoyment, are so unsubstantial in their nature that, possess them in their utmost extent, you will still find that they have supplied not one of the desires for which your soul craves, for which she feels that she ought to be active. We do not wish to inculcate that there is any wrong in the idea of labouring for wealth or power, to enjoy the good things which the Creator has so bountifully supplied in every part of his creation; for if this were so He would not have provided substances which we could possess; He would not have allotted dominion to his favourites over their fellow-men; He would not have endowed all nature with objects which administer to our pleasure by delighting the taste, the sight, the hearing, the smell. It would be derogating from the goodness of the Lord to presume, that what He has so wisely and skillfully brought forth, were merely here to deceive and to mislead.

No, brethren! we may enjoy life, and labour with perfect ease of conscience, for the obtaining of that which will render us independent of the aid of others and place us in a situation wherein we may lead and direct others through our example and precept. But we should take heed that we place not our reliance for happiness on these things solely; for thus we would transform the means into the main object of our existence. Only reflect how unsatisfied the richest man always is; how he fears of losing what he has amassed; how he labours to build up the fortunes of others after all his wants are amply satisfied; how he, should he even cease from labour, finds the unemployed time hang heavily on his hands, because opportunity for acquiring more fails him, or because increasing infirmity of age denies him the strength for farther exertion. Only reflect how many mortifications attend the man of power at the height of his elevation; how many elements are always at work to pull down what he so toilsomely builds up; how impotent he is in the hour of sickness or when death enters his abode. Only reflect how vain are enjoyments; how the very use of our natural functions, in tasting to overflowing the cup of pleasure, renders us liable to premature decay; how the eagerness to live in the gay world destroys the happiness of the hours of solitude which the most courted, the most feasted individual must pass in his own chamber however he may endeavour to be always surrounded with those persons and those appliances which he fancies can alone render life agreeable.

Were there even then no future; as some worldlings would gladly persuade themselves, they would still have cause to look elsewhere than in worldly pursuits for that something, if it could perchance be found, would add some true enjoyment to their favourite passion, be this in the possession of wealth, of power, or of pleasure, which could sweeten for them the time of old age, of sickness and of solitude, of those hours, when the pursuit of wealth becomes too burdensome, when power fails to appease its nominal possessor, when pleasure refuses to gratify its votary.—But how frightful must be the reflection of all who are instructed that there is an hereafter, when the agonizing thought forces itself upon their conviction that all their treasures are of the earth,— all their power only the fleeting kind which constitutes earthly dominion,—all their enjoyments only those which result from animal pleasures! Where are they to seek for that wealth which is imperishable? for that power which conquers even death? for that enjoyment which leaves no sting behind? Let them then turn to the Lord, for He is able to confer this wealth which we ought to desire, this power which is to sustain our sinking spirit, this pleasure in things imperishable; and He has provided them abundantly, without stint or measure as much and more so than those goods which fade whilst we revel in their contemplation! O there is goodness in store for all who seek, for all who come! the doors are ready to be opened;—come ye only, all who are heavily laden, or ye whose step is light, whose shoulders unburthened!—come all—knock at the gates of mercy, and the portals will fly open—wide—to receive you, to let you pass unto the home of peace, of joy, of happiness—even unto the presence of the Lord, where dwells the light which shines for all, for ever, where is the life without end, duration unto everlasting.

Full often have preachers descanted on the subject; many is the time that the moralist has cried out wo over the worldly delusions which he beholds around him; but still there is cause to continue the theme, to again utter that testimony in the hearing of all which the prophets of old denounced against those who see themselves only amidst the sons of man, and who live as though to them alone the earth was given. The sin of selfishness was not witnessed in ancient times alone; the pursuit of worldly advantages as the chief end of life is not chargeable to the days of the prophets only; the same defects are witnessed now, man has not grown wiser as he has advanced in scientific knowledge; and therefore the warning voice has to be lifted up again, from time to time, to warn people, to admonish them that their path is not leading heavenward, that they are defective in a correct apprehension of their best interests, that they are travelling on the road to perdition. Ay, the world does not listen, a deaf ear is turned to the voice of admonition; but what is that to the one who has received a commission to speak? is he to stand bargaining, as it were, for the amount of success which he claims as due to his persuasive eloquence, before he will consent to do the work of his mission? He may indeed feel his own unworthiness, be conscious how small the gift is which has been vouchsafed to him; but with whatever defects he may have to contend, be they inherent in himself, his station, or those among whom he is called on to labour in the cause, he cannot desist, with any degree of safety to his own happiness and future salvation, from proclaiming aloud that he has discovered transgression among those who ought to be faithful, that wrath is impending, unless the repentance and amendment follow soon upon the voice of instruction which is uttered aloud in the public ear.—Ay, who hears? who heeds? A1as the number is small; the words are spoken, their truth is admitted, but the heart remains unmoved, and the heedlessness is continued as before, and sin is perversely pursued as though it were the road of salvation, and the world is purchased at all risks, at every price, as if it could insure everlasting happiness. And he who warns his friends of their danger, the physician of the soul who would gladly snatch the brand from the burning, is denounced for his boldness, for his unwarranted daring, as men term it, to interfere in the private concerns of others. But to a moralist, sins publicly committed are not private affairs; they are poisonous exhalations which, spreading from the spot where they took their root, carry corruption in every direction; and it is his province to oppose his strength, feeble though it be, to arrest the destroyer, or to force him back into his former limits. But if he should succeed in arousing the attention to the imminent danger, if he should see the number of the anxious inquirers after salvation increase: let him not glorify himself at the result of his labours, as human pride is even in this holy work but too apt to arrogate to itself undue praise; but let him ascribe the victory to the Lord of his life, who thought fit to prosper his exertions in the cause of righteousness.

Let me therefore admonish you, beloved brethren, though you may perhaps with justice be able to turn the admonition back on myself, unworthy as I may be from many errors in my own life to censure others;—let me entreat you, to weigh well and prayerfully, whether as individuals or as a community, you do not place too high a value upon the things of this world, and esteem too lightly the everlasting concerns of the immortal soul. It has been said by those who are not of our communion, and you can judge for yourselves whether with truth or not, that we are overfond of the pursuit of wealth, that in this we lose sight of the higher principles of an elevated religious conviction; that love for distinction will lead us to swerve from the path of the law of Israel, and that desire for imitation will induce us to copy the customs which are strictly prohibited in the Bible. Unfortunately we cannot deny the whole of these charges; in fact they are true in every essential; and to get money, mere money, we have neglected the Sabbaths and festivals of the Lord's ordaining; we hold temporal distinction of so great value that many deny their religion in order to secure it; and so much do we crave to be similar to the gentiles, that we are at times ashamed to avow our peculiar opinions, and copy in our conduct all the customs and usages of the world, although in so doing we act counter to the law of Israel. Such things are daily seen; and a casual observer, who might know nothing of the deep-seated faith of all Israel, who be ignorant with how much tenacity the greatest sinner (I am tempted to say) among us, clings to the main principles of our faith, would be drawn to the belief that speculative infidelity were becoming every day more prevalent among us, so little of a healthy religious spirit is discoverable in our conduct. But it is not speculative infidelity which is our bane; we are convinced of the truth of our religion, we value it, in expression at least, as the pure emanation of Divine Wisdom. Our course, however, may be termed, with the strictest truth, practical infidelity, or in other words, our actions are in opposition to our professed opinions; we with our mouth say "we believe," and our whole conduct is a practical denial of our professions. What use is there in my believing that the Lord God is one, when the next moment I join in worship those who gainsay this fundamental truth, and believe in a plurality of the godhead? What benefit can result from my asserting that the Sabbath is a sign between God and Israel, when the next moment I turn around and refuse to abstain from labour, because my resting might occasion me some pecuniary loss, by so much as abstinence would withhold from me? What beneficial result can accrue, either to myself or others, when I admit that the prohibition of certain articles of food is a wise institution, and of God, when the next moment I let the least excuse be enough to induce me to partake of what I hold unlawful, or allow it to be placed upon my table for others to eat, simply because such things are fashionable, and are put upon the festive boards of those who are not bound by the law? Independently of such things being sinful, they are ridiculous, unworthy of a man or woman endowed with the least share of common sense; for next in importance to doing whatever God has asked of us from a spirit of filial reverence, it is the duty required of every person who possesses a sound reason to act consistently with himself, and to let his conduct be an exponent of his professed principles. But we modern Jews do not do so. We profess a sincere belief—and show a heart overflowing with sin. And how mortifying is it to a sincere Jew to be asked by a simple-minded gentile, who perhaps knows not how deeply his questions wound the soul, "How it happens that such persons, who are also Jew, violate the Sabbath? attend habitually gentile worship? or eat the flesh of the swine, shell-fish, and other kinds of food which other Jews and the Bible abominate? What can one answer to such queries? But that the offenders have not been properly educated, or that they have been so long absent from the fellowship of Israel, as to become indifferent to religious observance. But how heart-rending is this confession! Jews estranged from their God by want of education! loving mammon instead of eternal life, because they know not that gold is perishable and that eternity is ever-enduring; that wealth must be left this side of the grave, whilst sin or righteousness bears fruit to everlasting! Israelites turn traitors to their faith, because they know not what the Lord has ordained for his servants; so that they swerve from the fellowship of Israel and join themselves in worship and conduct with the nations of the earth! Sons of Abraham so mingled up with the gentiles, so long absent from the house of God, that they have ceased to feel any reluctance in partaking of the "flesh of the swine, of the creeping things, and of the mouse;" so long absent from the house of their heavenly Father that they feel like strangers when they enter his sacred courts! And why is all this? why does religion lack its votaries? Because gold is worshipped! because we bend the knee to the idol of sensuality! because we feel as though it were a shame to be known as Jews! O that our brothers, yea our American brothers, our brothers who belong in name at least to this holy edifice erected and dedicated to the worship of the one God,—O that they might feel in its full truth, how unsubstantial all their worldly labours are, which do not tell to promote the glory of our Sovereign's kingdom! how utterly worthless are all mere sensual enjoyments over which the spirit of a saving faith does not preside! O that they might feel the joy of being Israelites, not merely by descent, a circumstance over which they themselves could have no control, but in spirit, in thoughts, in words, in action; how would they then cling to the hopes which have never failed, to the truth which has never deceived; yes, then would they love that faith which sees the perfection and end of all things in the wisdom of God from whom we have sprung; they would then learn to lean upon Him, in all troubles, in all joys; they would then be glad in his salvation, inasmuch as He ordained life in the observance of his just precepts; they would then overleap all barriers which covetousness, worldly pride, unworthy ambition, place in their way, and bar unto them the outlets of salvation; they would then be glad to dispense with useless wealth, with senseless pleasures, with vain strivings, the end of which is sorrow, which lead to temptation, from temptation to sin, and from sin to endless misery. For behold! two roads are open to us, the road of life in the law, salvation through obedience,—and the road of death through sin, condemnation through refusal to obey. Each of us is placed, every moment he lives, at the junction of these diverging roads; every moment I say, for we can enter the path of righteousness whenever we please, though we have sinned; the road of evil is open to us though to the last hour of our life we have been pious; we are then placed at the junction of these diverging roads,—one side presents to us labour, seeking, care, but the end is life and salvation; the other appears easy, tempting, gay, but the end is death and misery. The pains, the trials, the solicitude on the one side are terminated after a brief space, and we awake in an undying glorious eternity; the ease, the pleasures, the gayeties of the other are also soon ended, and we pass away and awaken to misery, to shame, to torment. These are not idle words of a heated fancy, to frighten the timid and unlearned; they are the ideas which are consonant both to reason and Scripture, they are the words of alarm which each should address to his own soul, whenever temptation would threaten to allure him unto the way of sin. Let each then reflect that ages of remorse can be purchased by the sinful enjoyment of an hour; so also can a happy eternity be bought by an hour's triumph over sin; as our wise men teach יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת "Some one buys his futurity in one hour.'' Were it indeed that we had no means of resisting the evil, that we were irresistibly drawn by one uniform course of dire necessity, no such responsibility could with any justice be imposed on us. But there is no fate which controls our actions for bad or for good, we ourselves resolve and act, we are free, and as free agents alone are we held accountable. Children therefore under the control of their parents, men absolutely ignorant, if any such can be found, (which is hardly possible,) of the requirements which religion asks, or persons who for the moment act under an unavoidable necessity, are not held responsible for the wrong they do; but remove the necessity, let the children become adults, point out to the ignorant "what the Lord asks of them," and the full force of obligation is at once established with regard to them no less than to others; they are warned, and their blood will be on their own heads if they die in their sin.—And every day the spirit of God appeals to us through the pages "of the book which He has written," to remember that we are dust, accountable to Him for the preservation of the purity of our soul, which we ought to return pure and unspotted as we received her at his hands. For the soul is the highest gift of God to his creatures, she is sent hither to work for her own salvation; she has freedom of will; but above all she is guided by the revelation of her Creator, she is directed to the road which is called righteousness by the evident words of Scripture; and she is petitioned, as it were, by the Spirit of truth: "Choose then life that thou mayest live." Here then are the duty, means and incentive placed all together before our eyes; and we are traitors to ourselves if we suffer the world and its allurements to withdraw us, unto the road of sin, which has nothing, neither reason nor religion to plead for it, and which, when pursued with unvarying success to the very end, terminates abruptly in the death of the body, this all can see, and must conduce to the condemnation of the soul, as she in this manner comes before the heavenly tribunal without virtue, without good deeds to plead on her behalf, before a tribunal where no concealment, no evasion will help the too late repentant.

"But why," some one may ask, "are we to follow so many observances which other religions do not impose upon their votaries?" This objection can weigh nothing, if viewed by the light of reason upon the basis of revelation. Look at our origin. When Egypt was a mighty nation, Jacob came to that land with seventy persons. There we increased speedily unto a numerous people, and the land was full of us. Anon the king of that land laid a heavy yoke on us, and we were held in a hopeless bondage for many years. It was then that the glory of the Lord made itself manifest; our chains were broken, and we went forth rejoicing and redeemed, trusting in and upheld by the power of our Father. We are thus emphatically the ransomed of the Lord, his servants whom He brought forth from thralldom, and as such we ought of right to be devoted to his service, willing to follow his guidance, whithersoever He may lead us. We are not able to penetrate his wisdom, to discover how the acts of each of us may ultimately bring about the great change for which all good men look,—one people and one God over all the earth; but this much every child can see, that the Lord must have some great purpose to accomplish for which He preserved our nation for so many centuries. We ought therefore to rejoice that we have obtained the means to be pleasing unto Him by our conduct, that He vouchsafed to teach us what it is He wishes us to do; and as Israelites we should hasten to sacrifice every thing upon the altar of our faith, wealth, distinction, pleasure, even life itself, to prove that we are not unworthy individually and collectively of the great salvation which the Lord wrought for us when He redeemed us from bondage. It is for this reason that the law often reminds us of our former abject state and says, among other things:

וזכרת כי עבד היית בארץ מצרים ושמרת ועשית את החקים האלה׃ דברים ט״ז י״ב׃

"And thou shalt remember that thou hast been a servant in the land of Egypt, observe therefore and do these ordinances."—Deut. 16. 12.

What a glorious destiny! To be redeemed from the bondage of cruel men to be servants of the Most Merciful! To become from an abject degradation the light of the world. Let us therefore value this glorious redemption; let us be Israelites as the law demands, true in poverty, faithful in prosperity, obedient in all things, even in the moments of pleasure; resisting temptation even if it promise power and distinction. Let then a lot ever so humble be ours, we shall not require any thing more, we are upholden by God, his servants, his children, and our reward is sure, we shall be received by him, to be shielded and guarded in a life without end, in bliss without measure. Amen.

Nisan 11, (April 3rd,) 5604.