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

The Past And Future.

A Sermon.

O God, who comfortest the mourners, and assuagest the grief of the afflicted! have pity on thy sanctuary which is wasted, on thy holy city which is desolate, and on thy land which is solitary, and on thy people which is scattered in all the earth; so that we may rejoice in the establishment of thy kingdom, and in the reassembling of the outcasts, and the rebuilding of the seat of thy glory: when incense shall again burn on thy altars, and the streets of the joyful city be filled with the worshippers hastening from the ends of the earth to bow themselves down before the residence of thy holy Name; whence light and truth are to shine to all the sons of man, who then will know of no Shepherd but thee, the Guardian of Israel, and when all will call as one man for thy blessing, and long for thy salvation, inasmuch as Thou art the God in heaven above and the earth beneath, there is none else. Amen.

Brethren:—

At this season of the year, which has been devoted from the very commencement of our dispersion until now to the commemoration of what we suffered when our sins appealed against us,—when our backsliding demanded almost our extermination,—when it was merely the undeserved mercy of God which permitted a small remnant to escape the pestilence, and the famine, and the sword, which slew our multitudes—at this season of our annual commemoration it is surely fitting to us, as thinking men, to dwell on the past and the future, and to indulge in reflection, be it ever so little, on what we have been and what we may become again. It is illy in accordance with the qualities of rational worshippers to let season after season pass by, and to observe the fasts and ceremonies by rote merely, without permitting them to have any farther, influence on our character; for <<276>>if this were all that is needed, it is evident from the character and writings of the prophets that they would not have sanctioned burdens in addition to the law on the people. But we know that the fasts were so sanctioned, and that the great council of our nation confirmed them at a later period, and that the people always acquiesced in them, even when they were kindly treated, and they kept alive the commemoration of Jerusalem at the height of earthly prosperity. It is therefore evident that to us also, who live now free from the fear of tyranny, and in the equality under the law which this country enjoys, there must be something significant in the season of mourning for the fall of our ancient state. Let it be then our study to trace some of the causes which should influence us to weep for Jerusalem when our joy is the highest, nor to forget our ancient city when all around us smiles with pleasure and prosperity.

My country! O, my country! is the exclamation of the patriot when, exiled from his native land, he recalls on distant shores the paternal roof which he may not hope to see again, because of the tyrant that forbids his return. He dwells with a melancholy pleasure on the hills of his cherished neighbourhood, where as a child he used to play with the companions of his early years. He recalls his innocent sports, his search for the wild berries and fruit of the pleasant valleys which surrounded his father’s cottage, and lives over again in the rapid flight of the imagination the years which have elapsed from his cradled infancy to his now unhappy manhood; and though the stranger’s land be more fruitful than his,—though he now quaffs in the fragrance which scents the gale, odours unknown to his rugged clime, he will disdain all the allurements of nature and art, and sigh once more to behold the rugged and barren land which he loves because there he drew his first breath—because there repose the bones of his cherished parents, and there are hidden the ashes of one who had vowed to travel with him the varied read of life.

Have we not as a nation also some recollections which carry us back to Palestine, and for which no compensation obtained in other lands can repay us? What were we in our ancient land, even when suffering at times the visitation due to our sins? We were under the worst circumstances a united people, having one country, one law, one destiny. When the teachers of righteous<<277>>ness arose among us, they addressed not merely a small isolated congregation, where the voice of admonition is rendered fruitless by the surrounding evil influences, which stifle now among us all appeals to amendment; but they called on a whole people, on an entire race of believers, and they poured forth such strains of eloquence as only such a pulpit as the entrance to the temple could elicit; and they spoke in such terms of entreaty as only they could employ whose whole soul was bound up in the welfare of their nation. And in good truth, it is not to be supposed that, though they failed in arresting the degeneracy of their age, they were not entirely without effect; for they did oppose, and that with success, the entire overthrow of the great fabric of the law; they stemmed the overwhelming torrent of gentile corruption which had seized on the men of Judah and the daughters of Zion; and to them we owe it that we are not lost in the whirlpool of heathenish profligacy, and that there are left those whose mouth swear fealty to the Lord, and in whose hearts his law is implanted to the moment of their death. It was owing to their teaching that we had the myriads of saints who prized nothing but the Creator and his law; who loved Him with the ardent devotion of faithful children; who saw nothing in all the earth but a preparation for a better life; and who hence were enabled to resign all, life itself included, the moment they believed that the sacrifice was demanded by the service of their Maker, whom they were ready to follow through the gates of death into a glorious eternity, so his word bid them advance in that road so beset with terror to common mortals.—And oh! when we lived in our own land, and obeyed our own laws, the villages three times every year poured forth all their male population, and troups followed on troups to hie themselves to the mountains of our Lord, to worship the Father of all in the place chosen as his residence. There came the age-bowed man of a hundred years, leaning on his staff because of the multitude of his days, and by his side skipped the grandchild of the fourth generation; the one once more to see the sanctuary of his God before his departure hence, the other to be there for the first time amidst the faithful multitude; and there came the shepherd who had left his flock in the desert; and the merchant from the seashore, and the farmer from the plains of Jezreel, and the labourer <<278>>from his work-bench, all eager to testify their reverence for the portion which they had received from the almighty Disposer of events, and none afraid because behind him were left his wealth, and those dear to his heart without his arm to protect, without his vigilance to watch over them; in the full confidence that He who had ordained for them to seek his courts, would not fail in his promise, and not permit the sword to pass through the land, nor suffer the wild beast to injure the unprotected, and to let the rain be given in its due season only, not to come to destroy and to sweep away the labours of those who looked up to Him as their sovereign, their Lord, their God.

And if there was a contest between neighbour and neighbour, any unkindness of feeling, any estrangement between brother and  brother, where better than at the foot of the altar could peace be restored? Who more fittingly than the priests of God could interpose to arrest enmity and restrain the angry strife?—And between Israelite and Israelite there was no distinction: we knew nothing of a nobility, nothing of privileged classes; all were servants alike to the Most High, all were equals one to the other. Labour was the lot of all, as all were the sons of mortality; but no one was degraded by the handicraft he pursued; and an exaltation to the offices which the people were empowered to bestow, did not render any one more than one of his brothers, and he was bound by the same laws and regulations which were for the government of the whole state, and there was no immunity for crime which the highest even might have committed. From the sanctuary, therefore, at the very season of the festivals, proceeded then the stream of justice to all the land; and there, when all Israel appeared to worship the Lord, were felt the benefits which result from equitable laws administered for the benefit of all by those who owed their elevation to their brother Israelites, and with them feared the great Head of their common country.

In such a state of things no one needed to fear the arm of power, because of the religion he professed; no one needed to plead any excuse for the profession of faith in the One God; because this very belief was the foundation of his personal security, and under it were contrived the laws which governed the land. And whilst our fathers hearkened to the instruction of the Lord, they were blessed with peace and freedom, with civil liberty and do<<279>>mestic tranquillity,—to borrow the words of Scripture: “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating, drinking, and rejoicing.” “And Judah and Israel dwelt securely each under his own vine and under his fig-tree.” Such a state might have endured up to our own days; we might have expanded to the east, to the west, to the north, and to the south, covering the face of the land with a united, happy, God-fearing race, distinguished for refinement, integrity, knowledge, and the pursuit of peace.

Our silent example would have crushed tyranny and misrule, and we would have chased away the worship of idols, and banished superstition and false belief from all the places whither our fame would have reached. But we would be wise above the law; we would be more intelligent and more free than the religion of Heaven permitted us; we set up our judgment above the wisdom of our Creator; we sought license, exemption from restraint; and as we saw the nations of the earth act, so did we endeavour to do likewise. Therefore it occurred, that moral corruption took possession of our commonwealth; our rulers did not govern in the fear of the Lord; falsehood and vanity usurped the places of truth and virtue; and with the increase of personal licentiousness and irreligion, the more we became like the nations in our morals and thoughts: the more had we to lament the decrease of enlightenment and personal freedom; so that at first we were ruled by domestic tyrants, who filled the streets of Jerusalem with blood and carnage, and then we fell an easy prey to foreign invaders, and the temple of the Lord, which we prized for its glory, splendour, and beauty, as a national safeguard, fell in the midst of the crash of our state, and with it vanished our independence, our self-governing power, our isolated position amidst the nations. And from the day that the flames encircled in their fury the dwelling of the great King, the Lord of all the earth, what unspeakable horrors have not passed over our heads. Speak of the sufferings of any people of which history gives us an account—but what are its sorrows compared to ours? What are its trials in comparison with the hard fate of Israel? Have famine, the pestilence, malignant diseases, intestine warfare within, the sword of the foemen without, thinned the ranks of the human family in any age, in any country: we are yet to learn that a parallel to the <<280>>destruction of human life as witnessed among us, not for one, but for a long series of generations, was ever discovered in the chronicles of another people. But not alone this; for happier were those who died at once, than were those who were reserved for the horrors of persecution, which in a hundred varying forms was applied to us to make us swerve from the Lord. History may well be silent in details of what did befall Israel after their glory fell; for too deep a stain is affixed to human nature on account of the wanton outrages perpetrated against God’s ancient people. Ay, thus they styled us, yea in mockery of our wo; and still they hunted us like a partridge on the mountain, out of mere sport to see the sufferings of the outcasts of Judah. And all this was done out of a false profession of love for our future happiness, as though the Lord had told them, “Go and destroy Israel.”

All this our prophets foresaw when they beheld the ruins of our temple, as the natural consequence of our sins; and that with the disruption of our state there would be an end, for a long time, to our happiness and peace. And hence it was proper and consistent with our dependent state on the bounty of God to appoint days of commemoration, which should be observed during the whole period in which the visitation is felt, as days of penance before the Lord, who will not forsake his people, nor cast them off in utter abhorrence. The Israelite, by fasting then on the days set apart in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months, and which are intended to call to mind the progress in our downfall, does not say that he is not a good citizen of the state in which he lives, that he is not ready to contribute his all for its welfare; but that he especially regrets that his own people are not now sovereign in their own land; and that his religion suffers, and its followers endure all the hardships of a conquered people. He can freely mingle the character of a citizen, true to his land, and that of Israelite faithful to his own race; the two do not come in conflict unless there should be an enactment demanding a violation of his duty to God, when nothing can absolve him from his first allegiance, every consideration compelling him to know no man, and no human mandate, when it concerns that which our Father has taught us. And the saints of the Lord always acted so. In all that concerned the state they <<281>>were strict followers of all the ordinances which affected the other inhabitants; but when a surrender of Judaism was asked, they would at all times be found among those who surrendered their lives rather than be untrue to the Lord of heaven and earth. There were of this kind already in the time before our Bible canon was finally closed,—I speak of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and after them there were millions found, who embraced death, as an honourable distinction, to die for the faith which their fathers had handed down to them; and though they acquired no great renown on earth, their deeds and sacrifices are recorded there, where no forgetfulness will obliterate their memory.

But some may say that the changes which have taken place in our political condition, renders the observance of the fasts of no farther importance. Still if we take a more extensive view of the question than our merely personal benefit, we shall come to a different conclusion. It is not only the political extinction of our state which we regret, but also the little importance which our religion obtains in the eyes of mankind at large. Under the best circumstances in which we are found, it cannot but be observed that we have a great drawback operating against us, when compared with non-Israelites. There is attached to us a great degree of ill-will from the vast majority of mankind, no matter what may be their religious opinions, political views, or country, from no other reason than that we are not of them, but a people different from all through our religion. Tell them, and prove to them, again and again, that our interest in worldly matters is the same with theirs, exhibit a character ever so pure and philanthropic, prove yourselves as elevated as possible above all mean sectarian feelings and exclusive prejudices: still you will never succeed in disarming the world of their prepossession against us. It is after all the Jew that is before them, and they love him not as they love others, though the respective persons differ in the widest manner from each other in all speculative opinions. It is perhaps unaccountable that this has been so among Romans, Grecians, Egyptians, and Persians, who were heathens, and among modern Nazarenes, and Mahomedans; but the fact cannot be denied; and I say, do what you may, cringe to the public as much as you will, and change your ideas to <<282>>appearance as often as you please, to gratify the public prejudice, and still your original character will obstinately adhere to you, and you will even as apostates bear the opprobrium which attaches to you as descendants of Jacob.

It is indeed a providential dispensation that this repulsion should exist against us, as it is well calculated to draw the scattered remnants in bonds of love to each other, and to make them fly to a mutual protection as soon as a community of descent becomes revealed to otherwise strange and distant individuals; and that Jew has yet to be born, who, let his conduct be what it may, does not  feel deep regret when hearing the oppressions to which we are constantly exposed, in all stages of the progress of society. Let me not be told that I overcharge the picture of the evils of our position. Look at the history of the present day, when nations are awakening to their political vassalage: and still you will discover that in every direction, whilst freedom is accorded to us in law, many enormities are practised against us, resulting from the inveterate prejudice to which we are subject. Whether this will ever be changed, is not within the power of man to determine; but that it exists now, no one can deny. Even take the most favourable view of the case: still the number of us who enjoy a comparative state of freedom is small indeed when viewed against the millions who merely breathe by the sufferance of tyrants and despots, and to whom the horrors of a constant dread of persecution are familiar as matters of daily occurrence. Does this prove that we need not weep for the past, or look with hope to the bright future? I speak of the bright future; because to my mind there is no doubt of its coming. It is not a brighter, freer state, by the sufferance of the powers which now divide the earth among them, which I expect; but that very state of glory of which the prophets speak with one voice, with a unanimity and precision which can leave no doubt on the mind of a believer. It is not that we who hope thus do not sympathize with the progress of freedom, that we do not rejoice whenever a single shackle is removed from the chain which binds Israel, and which enslaves the world at large.

May it please our Father to extend freedom more and more, till the name of oppression and tyrant be forgotten. But we hope for something especial, notwithstanding; for a spiritual regeneration of the world, through <<283>>means of the restored Israelites,—the Israelites, no longer scattered in every corner, ruled over by every tongue and people, but united again under one head, overshadowed by the laws which erst Moses received on Sinai. It is for Zion’s glory that we pray; it is for the temple rebuilt in glory that we turn our eyes to God in prayer. We feel that we are destined to a bright end, that future in which our sun will not set, in which our moon will not wane; that period in which the profession of our faith will not subject us to any loss or suspicion from antagonizing creeds and systems; that era when universal freedom shall spring, not from grants of kings or the tumults of the nations, but from the pure knowledge of the name of the Lord, which shall pervade every breast; when from pure love, a newly kindled affection to the Most High, each man will cease from injuring his neighbour, and from forging fetters to keep him in subjection; when peace and the covenant of mercy will bind heart to heart, and tears of anguish at a brother’s wrong will be shed no more.

But till this end comes, it well behooves us to weep for the glory of Israel which has been dimmed, and for the children of our God who have fallen by the sword. Again I say you are not the less attached to the state by so doing; but only by duly honouring your faith, by being deeply imbued with your religious obligations can you be induced to render obedience to the duties which devolve on you as citizens. There is no other appeal, unless it be the threat of physical force, which can otherwise be addressed to you to make you kind to your neighbours of all persuasions, and it is to be hoped that you will have a nobler incentive to do what is demanded from you, and this is a sense of duty; and this again is founded only on religious conviction. The glory of Israel never yet militated against the peace of the world. If our religion flourishes, if our state is triumphant, it needs not be at the expense and the tears of others; we hope for a kingdom of peace, for a spread of divine truth, to be accomplished without the agency of the sword, or political tyranny. It is mercy which is to rule; it is blissful peace which is to conquer. We are to be the pioneers of the regeneration of man; how? will be shown when the fulfilment draws nigh. In the mean time let us cherish the memory of our fallen state; let <<284>>us love our religion; let us defend with firmness the legacy which we have obtained; let us also love one another, listen with charity to the cry of distress from all men, but especially of our fellow Israelites; and let our whole conduct be such that it may be a beautiful commentary on the truth of our religion. So shall the word of the prophet be fulfilled, that unrighteousness shall be purged from our midst through the ordeal of fire to which we have been subjected, and then,

ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה׃ ישעי׳ א׳ כ״ז׃

“Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return in her through righteousness.” (Isaiah, 1:27).

And thus shall he behold the kingdom of the son of David, when we shall no more weep for our sorrows, but rejoice everlastingly at the renewed mercy of the Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 4th,—Ab 5, 5608.

Note.—The doctrine of the restoration, through a lineal descendant from David, the King Messiah, is to my mind the one most important after the cardinal principles of the belief in God, and the belief in the revelation. The state of mankind is one of warfare; that of Israel one of suffering; and change the ideas as you will, assert what you will, you cannot convince me or any sound reasoning person, that Christianity and civilization, philosophy and progress, have resulted in anything else than leaving the moral world as it was many centuries ago, when the earth was governed by rules less elevated, in the opinion of those who claim everything for modern times. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men,” is said to have been the song of angels when the founder of Christianity first saw the light; but has the fulfilment ever taken place up to this moment? has not every step the new religion has made in its progress over the earth, been marked by blood and violence? did not the sword always force the way for the missionaries of glad tidings? yes, even in the present day? Look at Otahiti, Algiers, China, India, yes, the western prairies of America, and how has Christianity penetrated into them? Was it the olive branch of peace, or the prancing war-steed, the thundering cannon, the ship of war, the flashing steel? Let history answer, and the assumption must be confounded without farther argument. Still the prophets speak of a reign of peace, under a leader whom God will raise up as his standard-bearer, (Isaiah, 11:9, 10;) and shall we think that this will not be? Whence do the flatterers of gentile opinions draw their warrant that the Son of David shall not <<285>>come? Let them wrest Scripture as they please, but unless they totally deny all religion, the truth of all inspiration, the words of the prophet as they stand without note or comment must compel them to be silent, compel them to confess that they have taught falsely in the name of the Lord. There is but one thing true in the world, and that is the word of God; hence all the innovations of modern times, which teach us to look for the fulfilment of the good to Israel in the progress of liberal ideas, are the essence of error, and departure from God. It may to some look like incivism to hope for a renovation of human society upon a better platform than has yet been witnessed on earth; but irrespective of its being foolish to flatter the present governments by professing an uncalled-for admiration, the very progress of ideas which these men claim as the highest to be expected political good, presuppose a destruction of the present forms of government. But we have suffered so much under every form of rule, and exclusion among all nations, that our neighbours must be shocked at our hypocrisy when we profess to hope for all the prophets promise us, through their agency. It is absurd to maintain such notions, and they never can gain us, moreover, the favour of the intelligent gentiles. How much nobler will it be then, if we all boldly avow our belief as we have received it, and really act so as to challenge the admiration of mankind by our religious and moral demeanour. Our hopes should inspire us with rectitude, and then only can we look forward to the accomplishment of the good which God has foretold for Israel.