|Vol. III, No. 10
Tebeth 5606, January 1846
Dr. Lilienthal's Sermon,
In The Henry Street Synagogue.
New York, Dec. 8, 1845.
Dear Sir:--Thinking that any occurrence of a religious nature in our midst is a fit subject for the pages of your magazine, take the liberty of transmitting to you the following communication.
On the 29th ult., Sabbath Toledoth, a sermon in the German language was delivered by the Rev. Dr. M. Lilienthal, (whose arrival to our shores has been noticed in the last Occident,) in the Henry Street Synagogue, in pursuance of an invitation tendered to him by the authorities of that congregation. Coming from so eminent a scholar, and so experienced and tried a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord as Dr. L. is known to be, the Synagogue was crowded to its fullest capacity. After the Torah had been replaced in the ark, the Rev. Dr. ascended the desk, and opened his sermon by an appropriate prayer, in which he expressed the feelings of gratitude to the Almighty Being, by whose providence he was permitted to address, for the first time, his Jewish brethren in this country, and to expound to them the blissful doctrines of our holy faith. In the course of his introductory remarks, the Dr. observed, that, being yet a stranger in our midst, he could not select a fitter subject for his discourse than that religion which has proved a source of comfort to our nation, and filled their bosoms with hope and courage even during the darkest days of Israel's sufferings. Religion is the cement which keeps together the scattered remnants of Israel, and unites those in harmony and love who, in every other respect, are most distant from each other. He chose his text from Malachi, "Remember ye the law of Moses," &c., and proposed the following three questions:
Is there any religion?
Religion, he said, is the acknowledgment of a Supreme Being, who created and sustains every thing, who governs alike the individual affairs of man as the destinies of whole nations, and whose existence reveals itself to every heart in the still but powerful voice of conscience, and in the innate hope of a future existence. The regularity and undeviating order which pervade all nature, the unmistakable rule of a higher power than those on earth, recognisable in the rise and progress of nations in general, and the providential protection of Israel in particular, undeniably prove the existence of a God. And if every man reverts to the history of his own heart, and sees how, in adversity and affliction a hope of better days animates his soul, and sustains his being; how in the bereavement one beloved by him, he instinctively directs his eye on high, fondly hoping there, in the presence of the Almighty Father, once again to meet those who were dear to him on earth, submissively exclaiming, "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken; blessed be the name of the Lord:" he must come to the consoling conclusion that there is a supreme and all-kind Being that shapes our destinies.
This truth being established, the question arises, "Which is the true religion?" After expatiating on the absurd systems of Paganism, which in a great degree have vanished, and reviewing the incongruous and incomprehensible dogmas of the Christian religion, the Rev. Dr. showed the truthfulness of our glorious faith, teaching, as it does, in the most emphatic manner, the great principle of a pure monotheism. The Rev. Dr. here cited the most important of the thirteen articles of Maimonides in illustration of his proposition. "We believe, with a perfect faith, that the Creator, blessed be his name, is not corporeal, nor has he any corporeal qualities; he was, is, and unchangeably will be to all eternity." The words, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One!" as addressed by Moses to our ancestors in the wilderness thousands of years ago, have ever since been our firm belief, and the basis of our unfaltering faith; they have been inscribed on Israel's banner through ages, have been their comfort in prosperity, their shield in adversity, and, in defiance of cruelty and persecution, boldly confessed on the rack, and at the stake. "The Lord our God is One!" is the confession which still lives in the mouth and heart of every true Israelite, with which he rises in the morning and goes to rest at night; it is his companion through his mundane career, and with it his spirit takes its flight when spirit and matter became disconnected by death.
If such is the power of our religion, how ought we to act and feel? The reverend preacher here very impressively exhorted his audience to remain true and faithful to this blessed creed, the inheritance of Jacob; to act up to its spirit and precepts. Let not, he said, the words of our great teacher apply to us, that וישמן ישרון ויבעט, in prosperity Israel becomes unmindful of its duty; and that יפה עניותא לישראל, but in adversity we cling to our law. We have remained faithful through ages of oppression and destitution; let us not desert the standard of our God now, when we are at liberty to worship Him unmolestedly, according to the dictates of our conscience, and when our rights as men are recognised and respected. But, above all, let us live in peace and harmony, and let us endeavour to uphold that unity and concert of action and feeling which always characterized our nation. A people that prays in the morning שים שלום, "Bestow peace on us," and supplicates in the evening, שלום רב על ישראל עמך תשים לעולם, "A glorious peace give to thy people, Israel, for evermore," ought to act in the sense of these words, in order to deserve that great benediction of the Lord, which concludes, "And he will give thee peace."
Thus, you have, dear sir, a meagre outline of the discourse to which, as I write from memory, it is impossible for me to do full justice. It was delivered with an eloquence and fervour that did not fail to make a deep impression on the minds of the audience, and the effects of which were reflected in many a tearful eye. I could but wish that frequent opportunity to preach would be given to Dr. L., and that his services would be permanently engaged by our community. There is, indeed, a wide field open to his talents, a field which, to a great extent, lies fallow, and requires cultivation. It was always a matter of astonishment to me, how little the necessity of religions instruction is felt by some of our seemingly most prosperous and enlightened congregations. If a Meturgeman (interpreter) was appointed in days of old, when, it may naturally be supposed, the knowledge of our institutions and language was more generally diffused than it is now, I should think that an interpreter of the word of God is much more necessary in our days, in order that the law be not only read, but that its spirit also be explained, and thus its knowledge diffused. The time has gone by when the ancient sage could say: "Let Israel alone, if they are not prophets themselves, they are at least sons of prophets." The law is our inheritance; but its knowledge must be acquired by study, and imparted by instruction.
J. K. G.