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בס"ד

The Pentecost

A sermon, delivered at the Synagogue Shearith Israel, Montreal, on Pentecost, 5607, by the Rev. Abraham De Sola.

וביום הבכורים בהקריבכם מנחה חדשה לה' בשבעתיכם מקרא קדש יהיה לכם כל מלאכת עבדה לא תעשו: (במדבר כ"ח)

“On the day of the first-fruits, when ye bring a new meat-offering unto the Eternal, after your weeks be out, ye shall have an holy convocation, ye shall do no servile work.”—Numbers, 28:26.

To-day, brethren, we celebrate חג השבעות the festival of Pentecost—a festival which is calculated to arouse within us reflections of a most serious and affecting character. At this season of the first-fruits, we were wont to assemble ourselves together in the place where the Lord God had chosen to place his name, there to rejoice in the bounteous gifts with which on the day of first-fruits יום הבכורים we were particularly favoured, Prizing his favour in those days, we strove to retain it, and sought his sanctuary to meet Him in prayerful converse. We were not wont then to question his sacred will—to consider, ere we performed. Our pious sages notice approvingly the reply given by Israel to the divine dicta when conveyed to them by Moses. “All the words which the Eternal hath spoken we will perform and hear.” “They took upon themselves,” remark our commentators upon this passage, “first to perform, then to hear or consider.” And, my friends, it was this inclination to seek their God, to perform and to hear, that was pleasing to the Eternal. It was this proper sense of their vocation, this desire to act as became immortal beings, that found favour in His sight, and caused Him, at this same season of the Pentecost, to confer upon us a boon infinitely more precious than the bestowal of our corn, our wine, and our oil; for they only satisfied the material and grosser cravings of our humanity, whilst this both satisfied and promoted the spiritual and more exalted plantings of our immortality. This precious and surpassing boon, my brethren, was Mattan Torah, the gift of the law. Yes, even as the poet has beautifully sung:

נחלו עם זה׃ אמון יום זה׃
 איש האלהים׃

על יד חוזה׃

It was on this glorious day that this peculiar people received the law (their inheritance) by means of the prophet, the man of God.* And in a manner worthy such an inheritance was it bestowed and entered upon. It was the pleasure of the Almighty Donor that Torath Moshe, the Mosaic dispensation, should be as a banner to all the nations of the earth, under which, at a future period to be determined by the Divine wisdom, they should be ranged together in brotherly spirit and love, calling with pure lips upon the name of the true God—that this period should not be an immediate one, but that the religious union of man should be gradual, even as we do daily witness, brethren,† and that its accomplishment should be by means of a Divine revelation to “a nation selected from among nations.” And we, brethren, as the dearly beloved people, even we were to be the lasting witnesses of its truth and the means for its dissemination. Accordingly the words of life were not communicated to one among us, and that, too, in secret, but to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and from Sinai’s fiery mount was the Divine Shechinah visible. With their eyes did they see, and with their ears did they hear the terrible lightnings and thunders accompanying THE VOICE which thus proclaimed to the awe-stricken thousands: “I am the Eternal, thy GOD, who have brought thee ford, from the land of Mitsrayim, from the estate of slaves. No other gods shalt thou have!”

* Introduction to the Azharoth, by Rabbi David Ben Elazar Bekodah, Rev. D. A. De Sola’s translation.

† I allude more particularly to the fact of thousands of heathens rejecting the absurdities and horrors of idolatry, and adopting the belief and knowledge of a true God, although accompanied with many erroneous and militating doctrines. Yet Rommohun Roy has shown how superior is the human mind to these, when freed from extrinsic influences. See his works.

Thus important, thus interesting are the events originating the Pentecost; thus glorious the reflections which at that sacred season must present themselves more or less vividly to the mind of every member of the house of Jeshurun. Be it now our occupation to pursue these reflections in a manner befitting the sacred occasion, so that by their more deliberate examination we may be enabled properly to comprehend, and thus to appreciate the Feast of Weeks.

To this end let us proceed to inquire, first, what is taught us by the institution of the Pentecost? and, secondly, how is the Pentecost properly observed? To this end, also, let us entreat that He who has bestowed on us this and other convocations of holiness, will enable us to perform faithfully all his observances for now and evermore. And let us say Amen!

I.

The Pentecost teaches us that which forms the basis of all religious truths, the existence of an Almighty God, the Creator and Ruler of all.—When blessed with the favour of a kind and gracious Father, we dwelt in our own goodly land, one flowing with milk and honey, how joyous a season was the day of first fruits! We were happy then, my brethren, in the possession of that exceeding great love wherewith our God loved us, and in the shadow of Him who is ALMIGHTY did we safely abide. We were then content, happy, and in peace. No fear “lest the earth should not yield her produce, and that we should perish quickly from off the goodly land which the Lord our God gave us,” disturbed us then. Scarcity, want, and famine we dreaded not; for our God, who is TRUTH, had promised us that if we would perform His behests He would send us those grateful rains so necessary for vegetation; that He would bestow upon us our corn, our wine, and our oil, and that we should eat and be satisfied. (Dent. 11:133-15.)

We listened to the words of the Lord, and performed; we believed, and in believing were convinced. And amply vas our faith rewarded. With the annual arrival of the Passover did nature in every shrub, in every tree, and in every herb, give promise of a bounteous and plentiful harvest; and with the annual arrival of the Pentecost did nature’s God demonstrate His bounteousness, His graciousness, and His love, by amply bestowing upon us His gifts, wherewith we might fill our houses, our stores, and our granaries. During seven weeks—the seven weeks between the first of the Passover and the Pentecost—we were wont to gather of the plentiful supply with glad and thankful hearts; the joyous song of the young men and maidens resounding amidst the gathered heaps of plenty, was re-echoed by the fervent prayer poured forth to the Deity. And this continued till the arrival of that day which God had been pleased to appoint as a time of holy Convocation. We then sought the place in which stood His holy house, there to prostrate ourselves before Him, and by offering the first-fruits unto Him, thus truthfully and gratefully avow our conviction that He alone is the Almighty Creator and Bestower of all gifts, and that from Him alone do all blessings flow.

Such was the lesson taught us by the Pentecost of old. And it is different now, brethren! Can we at this season uninterestingly view the return of vegetation? Can we carelessly observe the gradual growth of the leaf—the development of the bud? Can we, shall we witness all nature smiling around us in bounteous plenty, and not learn, and not feel that it is an almighty Hand that has created and bestowed?  Shall we view, shall we learn, and shall we not acknowledge that a return as appropriate and as great as the created can offer the Creator is called for—is expected? Shall we listen to the beautiful chorus of all nature, that chorus which proclaims “the hand that made us is Divine,” and refuse to join in the sacred chaunt? Dare we, brethren, to uplift our voices in any other strain save this? Can we in the folly of our heart say, There is no God; the heavens, the earth, and all their host are not the work of His hands; the operations of nature are fortuitous? Can we say that “light regularly recedes before darkness, and darkness before light,” from chance? that the earth, the stars, and countless systems which science has brought to our view owe their constant and unvariable courses to accident, and that the nature* of their revolutions, which preserves them from annihilation, is also from accident? Is it from accident that the earth, remaining untaxed and dormant during the winter season, an opportunity is afforded whereby she may obtain increased strength, so necessary for her reproductions? Or is it from chance that her productions, and the productions of all nature are so admirably and incontestably adapted to our nature and wants? My friends, God has been pleased to visit thousands of his creatures, living in the European quarter of the world, with a dearth and scarcity of food. All have sought Him to deprecate the calamity and to entreat his mercy. Our brethren of the house of Israel assembled themselves together for the same purpose, and in one of their Synagogues the minister† addressed his flock in words which, as connected with such a visitation, and with our present inquiry, ‘twere well and profitable for us to hear. “Let us be careful,” said he, “that we do not both foolishly and wickedly misapply to this and similar calamities the words accidental events, for truly nothing happens in this world by accident. What we call so is nothing else than that for which we cannot discover a cause. It was well remarked by a wise author that the word accident is the reproach of our vocabulary, inasmuch as it is a term of no real meaning, but only invented to veil our ignorance.”

* The combination of the centripetal and centrifugal forces consequent upon their relative attractions. “‘Tis attraction’s hidden force upon which nature’s law. depends.”

† My respected father, the Rev. D. A. De Sola. See his Discourse, delivered at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, London, on the occasion of the national fast, 7th Nisan, (24th March,) 5607, published at the express desire of the Mahamad.

Let us mark well these words, my hearers, and we shall soon be convinced of their value and truth. They will satisfy us of the truth of the first teaching of the Pentecost, and will cause us, like David, to exclaim: “The heavens, O Eternal, are thine; the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fullness thereof, Thou hast founded them.” (Ps. 89: 11.)

The Pentecost teaches us that the God of the Universe has revealed himself to His creatures. Its observance to-day by the remnant of Israel, proves this to us. Israel, the stiff-necked people, whose history shows the justness of this appellation, given to them by their offended God—Israel, who have ever been more ready to question than to perform—to rebel than to obey—to reject than to receive, have, nevertheless, been so convinced of the Divine origin of the Pentecost, that they have ever deemed it worthy their especial reverence as the season of the bestowal of our law. Blind, willfully blind as they have ever been, they have yet admitted the Holy Law to be the sole cause under God of their preservation as a nation. And as an historical truth, who shall say that this is not so? More than thirty centuries have elapsed since the words of salvation were uttered, and the descendants of those who “saw the lightnings, and the thunders, and the noise of the trumpets,” (Ex. 20:18,) the witnesses of God’s revelation, in accordance with his great will, still exist an astonishment to the nations. Punishment has fallen heavily but justly upon them for sinning against their God. But He (blessed be He) is a gracious God, and in the words of our great lawgiver, “Ye who have cleaved unto your God are all of ye alive this day.” That human legislation would have been insufficient for effecting this cannot be doubted by any who, examining the universal page of history, shall follow Israel in their wanderings as exiles from the land of their fathers, and shall observe how, bending almost to prostration under countless and cruel persecutions—mixing with every nation and adopting their civilization and laws, they may yet be distinguished because of their law, as the distinct race, retaining the same worship, rites, and ceremonies in the east, as in the west, in the north as in the south, communicating with all, but amalgamating with none. Who shall observe this and not be convinced “that the hand of the Lord hath done this thing?: That human foresight would be insufficient to provide for a course so chequered as has been that of Israel, is also shown by history. For where be the nationality of Rome or of Greece, where the laws of Solon, of Lycurgus, that boastful theme of profane song? Their origin was human, brethren, therefore have they gone the way of all things earthly. Our law is the law of God, and the law of the Eternal endureth for ever. Vain, fruitless, and wicked, therefore, are the attempts of those who would induce Israel to abandon their everlasting inheritance, and vain, fruitless, and wicked will they ever be; for hath not the Eternal declared, “As for my word which I have placed in thy mouth, it shall not depart from thy mouth, nor from the mouth of thy offspring, nor from the mouth of thy offspring’s offspring for now and evermore, saith He who is Eternal?” As social beings, as loving all who are good and virtuous in the species, as questioning no other creed or tenets save their own, Israel are, and have ever been willing to hold forth the hand of good fellowship to those who are with themselves the creatures of a common God. In social intercourse with their gentile brothers, they have ever been ready to cooperate, to advise, and to assist; but when this has been used as a means for inducing them to relinquish their simple and pure faith for one which “neither they nor their forefathers have known,” they have sought the Law for counsel, they have performed and heard its dictates, and the result has been, brethren, that “Ye who have cleaved unto the Lord your God are alive all of ye this day.” Glorious should be this reflection for us, my hearers. that spite of contumely and oppression, the house of Jacob have stood their ground firmly and nobly by the fountain which was “in those days and in this season” opened to them. They have drunk deeply and faithfully of its clear and heavenly waters, and therewith have they satisfied themselves. At the forfeit of their lives have they prevented the approach of those who would have disturbed their pureness; but they have not prevented the approach of those who, having thirst for the word of God, have drawn near that they might quench it. They have preserved, but not withheld. They are and must be alive to the importance, the sacredness of the trust confided to them at Sinai. The reproaches and scorn of the unbeliever they have borne with indifference; for they could not abandon their trust. They have bared their necks to the knife of bigotry; for they could not abandon their trust. But one reply, and that in the words of their forefathers, have they for all:—“All these words which the Eternal, our God, hath commanded us, those will we perform and hear.” Such a proceeding, brethren, will establish the truth of what we have endeavoured to prove—the second great teach­ing of the Pentecost—and will cause all “which shall hear of these statutes to say, Surely this nation is a wise and understanding people; for what nation is there so great who hath God so nigh unto them as is the Lord their God in all that they call upon him for.”

The Pentecost teaches us that the Eternal is infinitely Benevolent, Wise, and Just. If we reflect upon the nature and number of our wants, and how all things visible and invisible are subjected to their satisfaction;—if, when regarding the fruit-tree, the flower bush, and corn-stalk, we reflect that they, with the water that affords their moisture—with the air that supplies their perfume—and with the light that gives them life, were bestowed on us by their and our Creator for our dominion, for the support and healthfulness of our mortality, and if assisted by science we ascertain how they are adapted to our wants: we cannot but remain most sensibly impressed with the Wisdom, Justice, and Benevolence of their almighty Author. At this season of the first-fruits such sentiments must be the sentiments of all. But though it is now that “the earth particularly declareth His glory,” yet, brethren, do we on this sacred day more especially recognise His Infinite Benevolence and Wisdom, since it is the anniversary of that auspicious season whereupon He gave us this Holy Law, which containing, as experience has shown, the wisest and best rules for our conduct as intelligent and immortal beings, secures to us not only the happiness of the day, but the felicity of eternity.

His Infinity do we also perceive in that He has not given us sentiments and aspirations which the rest of creation possess not, and withheld from us the means for their indulgence and satisfaction; that He has not “made us little less than God,” and prevented us from qualifying ourselves to act as become such beings. We would longer raise our voice in words of admiration and gratitude, but that the present occasion requires not a farther consideration of this theme; for as God is, so is His goodness everlasting. What we have said has been sufficient to supply us with that knowledge most important for man to know, and we now fervently say with the Psalmist: “Ascribe unto the Eternal, O ye mighty, ascribe unto the Eternal, glory and strength, ascribe unto the Eternal the glory due unto His name, worship the Eternal in the beauty of holiness.” In this spirit, brethren, we shall be anxious and qualified to proceed to the inquiry which we have appropriated as the second head of discourse—How the Pentecost is properly observed?

II

Our text enjoins that in order to observe the Feast of Weeks we must offer a new meat-offering to the Eternal when our weeks be out, that it shall be an holy convocation unto us, and that we shall do no servile work thereupon. But, as the beautiful and pathetic lament of our liturgy daily reminds us, “Now, alas! on account of our sins the sanctuary lies desolate and the continual offering hath ceased.” We are, therefore, unable to offer the first-fruits to God as they were wont to be offered on this sacred occasion; but shall we for this reason neglect to observe the Pentecost by such a celebration as we may yet afford, as is yet required of us? Surely not, my brethren. Though the Eternal has deprived us, in his justice, of those means whereby we might observe it as did our forefathers: still has He been graciously pleased to declare that it is not in the sacrifice of calves or of bulls that His soul delighteth.

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Eternal; I am satiated with the burnt-offerings of lambs, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, of he-goats.”

It is not because we seek Him with these things that He will regard us, but “The eye of the Eternal is upon those who fear Him, and upon those who hope for His mercy.” Nor has He declared that He would be with us only in the temple. Recollect, brethren, that in our minor sanctuary He also appears to receive our adorations: and if we are unable to seek Him in the place in which at one period shone the Divine effulgence, we may yet commune with Him, though He be not visibly present in the Synagogue. If we have no altar whereupon to lay the first fruits, and if we cannot bring a new meat-offering, when our weeks be out, of calves or of bulls: we have hearts. And if we fill them with sentiments of gratitude, praise, and piety, towards our God, with love and good-will towards our fellow-beings;—if our new meat-offering be a new resolve when appearing before our Eternal Father on this sacred day, to cleave unto Him, so that we may by means of His revealed word, live in Him for ever;—if it be a new resolve that the past sentiments of dislike, prejudice, or ill-will which we may have entertained for a fellow being, frail, even as we are, brethren, shall now, that our weeks of error be out, give place to those of charity and esteem;—if it be a new and fervent resolve to act according to ALL the dictates of God’s law: then have we brought unto the Eternal’s altar a new meat-offering most fitting, most worthy of Him, even that in which his soul best delighteth.

Nor shall we find it a difficult thing for us to form such a new resolve or to procure such an oblation, if we prepare to do so in proper spirit. When God furnished our fathers with those offerings fitting an earthly altar, He also provided them and their latest posterity with those which should be acceptable to Him, even when they no longer possessed the “altar of earth.” When He blessed us with the first-fruit, He also blessed us with the law. If then we be desirous of properly observing the Pentecost, and that its present celebration by the house of Israel should be with such offerings as God would approve, as He expects, is it not obvious whence the oblations are to be procured? Solomon has wisely and truthfully said the law of the Eternal “is a tree of life to all who lay hold upon her, and happy is every one who retaineth her.” What he has wisely and truthfully said, experience has clearly shown, and millions have loudly proclaimed. Let us then lay hold upon this tree of life, and let us examine whether her fruits be sufficiently precious for our purpose.

At the season of the Pentecost, Israel was thus commanded by the law of God: “When ye reap the harvest of your land thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest; thou shalt leave them unto the poor and to the stranger. I am the Eternal your God.” Brethren, all the attributes of the Eternal may be included in one, which is Benevolence,* and here it is enjoined unto us. Can we conceive a recommendation more profitable, a precept more beautiful than that which teaches the created to imitate the Creator, the weak and erring mortal to act as does the Infinite and All-wise God, to vest ourselves with that attribute that so infinitely tends to our perfection, and to assimilate us to Divinity? Are we not now convinced that the fruit of this tree is infinitely precious? Surely, yes, brethren. In the words of one whose conclusion was a conviction afforded by its long and continuous study, let us admit that the word of God indeed excels all things earthly, and כל העולם כולו אינו שוה לדבר אחד מן התורה “The whole world is not equivalent to the word of God’s law.”† Let us, recollect, farther, that God has himself declared, that man shall not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the month of the Eternal shall man live.‡ Let us then show our appreciation for this inestimable boon, by bestowing on it that care and study which shall tend to its preservation. Let us by strict observance of the ordinances of the Holy Law, cull from it those first-fruits which are so pleasing to our gracious Father; so shall we be worthy the title of his chosen children, we did at this time receive from Him; so shall it afford us everlasting life, and so shall we have properly observed THE PENTECOST!

* See this ably shown in Abernethy’s Attributes, &c.

† Dictum of R. Chiya, Talm. Hieros, in Peah.

‡ Deut. 8:3.

Almighty and most merciful Father! Thou whom all creation proclaims! At this season of the Pentecost we have drawn nigh unto Thee in holy convocation, as Thou hast been pleased to command us. We approach Thee, O Lord, to thank Thee for thy mercy shown in our preservation,  and for the bestowal of all those gifts which are necessary for the maintenance of our mortal life. But above all, most merciful Father, do we thank Thee for that surpassing gift, THY SACRED REVELATION, that which hath been our consolation in adversity, our support under grievous affliction. We do all acknowledge before Thee this day, that Thou art infinitely benevolent in having given to thine erring children, that which alone hath enabled them to withstand the temptations which have everywhere surrounded us. We declare before Thee, gracious Father, that it is through thy word alone, that we have been happy; that when sickness and misfortune have visited us, it is from it alone that we have derived consolation and support; and that when we have been happy it has been only because we have observed its precepts. And now, Eternal Father, we entreat Thee with prayerful heart that through it Thou wilt continue to bless these thy people, who now stand assembled before Thee. Cause them to understand that it is to Thy Holy Law that they owe all their happiness in this world, and that it will be through it that they shall possess everlasting bliss in the world after death. Show them that if the child do honour the parent, it is because the parent hath walked in its ways, and that if the parent do love the child, he does so but in obedience to its dictates. Show them that if the wife do love the husband with a faithful love, and if the husband do cherish the wife, that if the sister do love the brother, and the brother protect the sister, it is by thy revealed will that they do so. Show them also, Almighty God, that if they escape the accidents, the violences, and the diseases of this life that it is to thine all-protecting arm that they owe their preservation, and that for this they should observe to do all as Thou hast commanded them. Teach them to think thus, O Father! and thus let them be blessed. Continue to protect with Thy favour both them and Thy servant, and permit us to continue peacefully to assemble in brotherly love and union, to adore Thee in Thine Holy Sanctuary. AMEN AND AMEN!