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 Jewish Ministry

An Initiation Sermon of the Rev. J. K. Gutheim at New Orleans.
Delivered on January 12, 5610 Sabbath Va-Ayra, Tebeth 28.

קול אומר קרא ואומר מה אקרא

“A voice saith, Call out! and I say, What shall I call out?”

WHAT shall I call out, what shall I preach? a stranger before a congregation of strangers! Truly it is not without a feeling of deep anxiety that I appear before you, that I begin to speak. But there is no stranger in Israel; for those who scarcely saw and conversed with each other are united by the firm bonds of our holy faith and although I come among you a stranger from a great distance, yet are we inspired by a unity of religious sentiments and hopes, by a unity of purpose. What is it, my friends, that caused you to unite and constitute yourselves a body corporate?—what is it that induced you to provide this place of worship—humble though it be—wherein to assemble in holy communion?—what is it, in fine, that prompted you to make some sacrifices for the purpose of securing the services of a minister who would expound to you the word of the Lord, instil into the minds of your children the doctrines of our holy faith, and imbue their hearts with religious and moral sentiments? Is it not the deep-rooted conviction that man is a dependent being, created and sustained by the goodness of the Almighty Father, and that it is his duty to take the light of Revelation as a guide on his path below? Is it not the solicitude you felt for the ancient, time-hallowed religion received from your fathers, which, in your turn, you are anxious to transmit to your children? In casting my eye over this congregation of brother Israelites, I see before me representatives of perhaps every country of the civilized world,—but have these differences of nativity and locality proved an obstacle to your union ? By no <<9>>means. And why not? Because the Israelite, in whatever clime he be born, traces his parentage to him who enjoyed the high privilege of being called the “Friend of God;” and the mission assigned, him by the Deity, near four thousand years ago, “that in the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth shall one day be blessed,” is thus vividly impressed on his mind. Clinging to the patrimony inherited from our ancestors, which has become the more endeared to us on account of the severe ordeals to which it was subjected, and the bitter persecutions we had to endure for our faithful adherence, never being at variance on doctrinal points, it is easy for the scattered members of our household, wherever the banner of our religion is once unfurled, to gather under its folds, to dwell together in peace and harmony, and testify by their lives and actions, as they do by their mere existence, “that they are the living witnesses of the living God.”

While thus deeply impressed with the importance of our position among the nations of the earth, and deeming it my duty to come forward when my services might be useful, I cheerfully responded to the call extended to me by this congregation. I did so the more readily, since I had the gratifying assurance that I had won your confidence. However slight the aid I may be able to offer in the promotion of our holy cause, I am convinced that the seeds of religion, will be scattered on fertile soil, and that my sincere endeavours to establish the sanctuary of the Lord on a firm basis will be brought to a prosperous end, if supported by your hearty co-operation. May then my feeble voice be a welcome sound to your ears, and my words, coming from the heart, find a ready entrance into your hearts.

The office of minister is surrounded with many difficulties, and one that imposes a great responsibility. Difficult as it is in any situation of life, and more especially in a public position, to please everybody, it must nevertheless be his study to secure the approbation of the congregation, whilst at the same time no earthly consideration must induce him to swerve from the path of truth or to act contrary to his conscience and inward conviction. Let us then in this hour of devotion inquire, *How can the religious teacher in Israel best promote the end of his mission; <<10>>how is he to act in order that his labours may prove success and be deserving of the blessing of God?*

We find an answer in the forty-second chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet lays down the plan of action for the chosen servant of the Lord. I have selected the third verse for our text:—

קנה רצוץ לא ישבור ופשתה כהה לא יכבנה לאמת יוציא משפט

“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

By closely examining these words, we shall find that they point out the true way in which the minister should walk ; he is to teach, in 1. Truth, 2. Light, and 3. Love. Let us consider these three propositions separately.

לאמת יוציא משפט “He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Truth is one of the most precious virtues with which man was endowed by his Creator. Being a divine attribute, it assigns to him so exalted a position as to justify the words of the psalmist, “Thou hast made him a little less than the angels!” Its transcendant quality has been well appreciated by our learned fathers, for they say, “The seal of God is truth.” Its influence on the mind has been well weighed, when they prefixed the beautiful admonition to our prayers, “Man should ever fear God in private, confess the truth, and speak truth in his heart.” Why then should not we?—why should not the servant of the Most High live and act in truth? But what is truth? Truth is the correspondence of our thoughts and innermost convictions with our thoughts and actions—a correspondence so precise and distinct, that not a diverging line should be perceptible to our mind, And it is only while thus living in truth that our labours will be truly blessed. Whoever can rise on the wings of the mind, above the cloudy region of human error, to the sunny heights of pure, untrammelled thoughts, must certainly acknowledge that truth alone imparts to man true dignity, as also heavenly bliss. But to be true, to be true in everything, true towards <<11>>every one, is a problem, the solution of which is attended with the greatest difficulty. Thousands are prostrated by the trammels of superstition, the fetters of pride, the chains of ambition, and the pressure of the passions, the mighty weight of gold; truth alone is exalted above all degrading passions and human vanities, truth alone reconciles all differences, surmounts all obstacles. Is it then saying too much that the entire life of him must be truth, whose office and duty it is to expound and diffuse the law of truth?

It is, therefore, an indispensable qualification of the preacher of religion, to be a sincere friend of truth. In whatever circumstances he may be placed, whatever the consequences resulting to him from his action, nothing must deter him from paying due homage to truth; no preconceived opinion, no prejudice, no self-love, no interest must bias his mind and sway his judgment.

As a sincere friend of truth, he must strive with, an ardent zeal to find it. The more conflicting the opinions on religious subjects have become in our day, the more calmly and deliberately must he search, in order to be able correctly to distinguish between the true and the false. And this zeal must animate him so powerfully and completely, that it only ceases with the last breath he draws on earth. It is not enough for him to blindly accept whatever tradition has handed down, to answer every intricate question that may present itself, with an air of authority and self-satisfaction, by pronouncing the dictum, “Whatever is, is right!” Far from it. His conviction must be the result of careful and assiduous study. He must be able to trace effects to their legitimate causes, to separate the form from the substance, the essential from the incidental, the immutable from the temporal and local. If any one stands in need of a thorough, well-grounded, immovable conviction, it is undoubtedly the religious teacher whose province it is to satisfy the inquirer, and to convince the doubting and wavering. He cannot successfully teach the truth by hollow phrases; his words must be the mirror of his soul. “He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

And corresponding with his teaching should be his life and actions. In the circle in which he moves his deportment must be open, respectful, and commanding respect, and every one of his actions<<12>>bear the stamp of truth. While on the one hand he is often obliged, from the peculiar circumstances in which he may be placed and for the sake of the cause in which he is engaged, to act with wise moderation, caution, and prudence, he must never, from any motive whatsoever, so far forget himself as to stoop to base hypocrisy, and allow his actions to belie his inward conviction. In order to be trusted he must be true in everything, strictly true and candid towards every one in all the relations of life. No timidity, no fear, no interest, no prospect of reward must ever determine him to misrepresent truth by his words or actions. And should he even meet with opposition, should he even be misrepresented, calumniated and persecuted, he must not swerve from his purpose; the consciousness of having acted according to duty and conscience is ample reward. Truth will conquer its way.אמת קאי שקרא לא קאי “Truth will prevail, while falsehood will fall to the ground.”

II.

But, my friends, how often do short-sighted mortals mistake error for truth, and pronounce firmness a visionary idea. Has not for the last 1800 years our truthful religion been decried as an exploded system, and our faithful adherence to it charitably styled stubbornness? Well then, we want some auxiliary to arrive at the clear truth. What this should be is indicated in the words of our text, ופשתה כהה לא יכבנה “and smoking flax shall he not quench.” The prophet represents the servant of the Lord, as being unwilling to allow the light entirely to vanish and darkness take its place, wherever the slightest spark is found to glow. Light shall prevail! Can you conceive anything in nature more beneficial and grand than light? In our daily prayers we praise the Creator of light;—every being joyfully greets the light; the first thing created by the Lord of the universe is light. Who does not feel a holy sensation filling his bosom, whenever lie reads the two words in the first paragraph of holy writ: ויהי אור “There was light?”

The blessings of light are incalculable, they are divine. And here I do not merely speak of the material light that gives form. and outline to every visible object; I <<13>>refer more particularly to that spiritual light which the Almighty has vouchsafed to bestow on those lie created in his own image, namely, the light of religion and reason. “For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light.” “Wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” Religion and reason combined form the spiritual light in man. It is true, my friends, that he who never saw the light of day from his birth, or who was by some misfortune deprived of his sight at a later period, may, nevertheless, not altogether pass his days without joy or delight. But can he gaze at the splendour of the sun, the moon’s silvery beams, the brilliancy of the stars? Does the azure sky, the mountain’s grand scenery, the verdure of the forest, the meadow’s variegated tints, the waving harvests of the field, open to him a delightful vista? Is he able to view the millions of charms so profusely displayed by nature and art? Can he look upon those who gave him birth and nursed and reared him, on the brother or friend to whom he is fondly attached?

Alas, no! Life’s highest enjoyments, life’s sweetest joys are denied him. And so too may he whose mental eye is o’erclouded or darkened by superstition and irreligion, who cannot see the sun of truth, not live altogether without joy or delight. But to appreciate properly and truly the mysterious workings of Providence, the destiny of man, the blissful emotions engendered by virtue, the invaluable blessings of Revelation, and how refined and ennobled all mental culture is rendered, if joined to true religion based on firm conviction—can he appreciate all this! Alas, no! these spiritual enjoyments are utterly lost to him.

Well, then, it is the duty of the preacher in Israel to diffuse light, to impart clear information, and wherever the clouds of error and prejudice cover the mental vision, to dispel them by his words. His teaching must be an emanation from, and in strict accordance with the law of God. “And smoking flax, he shall not quench.” He is to fan the yet glimmering embers, that they increase to a blaze and cast about a refulgent light.

When Moses, the man of God, entreated the Almighty “to let him see his glory,”—when David, the pious king, sang, “May the Lord let his countenance shine upon us,”—when Solomon prayed, that God might endow him with wisdom,—what else did <<14>>they desire but luminous knowledge? What else did all the God-inspired men, the prophets of old, endeavour to diffuse among the people of Israel, when they attacked the idolatry and superstition and denounced the mere form and lip-service of their age, but the spread of luminous knowledge? Such is the beauty and simplicity of our creed, that no blind belief is enjoined on the Israelite, but that he is first commanded to know the doctrines of his faith, since to know is to believe. Those mystical incongruities and absurdities, requiring implicit belief, which we meet elsewhere, are in no way interwoven in our creed.

“Thou shalt know the Lord thy God,” is a commandment we find on almost every page of Scripture, where His existence. and providence are adverted to. “Thou shalt meditate in the Law and teach it diligently to thy children,” is enjoined with the like urgency. And if we examine the history of our fathers, of those times especially which are commonly denominated the dark ages, we shall find that, although the Jew was shut out, as it were, from the light of the world, his obscure abode was illumined by the light of the Law. It was to him a source of consolation, of sweet enjoyment, while it kept alive in his bosom the hope of better days. If such was the practice of our fathers in adversity, shall we pursue an opposite course in our days of prosperity? Is it not, on the contrary, our duty to obtain a clear knowledge of the venerable religion of our fathers, and be thus enabled to vindicate the purity and sublimity of its doctrines before the eyes of the world? To awaken the spirit of inquiry and yearning towards religious light in the Synagogue as well as in the school, is the duty of the religious teacher. “For the lips of the priest should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth; for he is a messenger of the Lord of hosts.”

III.

Truth, my friends, often produces a harsh effect; light often leaves us cold; it is for this that mildness must be coupled with truth, that warmth was associated with the light. Both, therefore, will assert their beauty and supremacy, if joined by love. And this our text indicates in reference to the servant of God, <<15>> “A bruised reed he shall not break.” Love is one of the cardinal virtues of all religion; it is the mighty link and tenure by which society is held together, the animating principle of the human heart. Before its salutary rays the differences of creed and opinion, the inequalities of fortune and position vanish into air. The ties of family, friendship, connexion, are woven and sustained under its heavenly influence. “It is out of love that the Creator, blessed be He! has called the universe into existence,” is the saying of our teachers of old. When once Rabbi Yochanan ben Zacchai, a great talmudic teacher, propounded to five of his best scholars the question, Which is the good path for man to adhere to? then the first answered, “A good eye;” the second, “A worthy associate;” the third, “A good neighbour;” the fourth, “He who foresees the consequences;” but the fifth said, “A loving heart.” And the teacher said, “I prefer the last sentiment, as it includes all the others.” Love is the very foundation of our religion, the living principle of the whole structure. Hence the third requisite of the religious teacher is, that his words must breathe the spirit of love.

It is true, that in the discharge of the duties of his calling, the minister is often called upon to admonish and warn. But his words, although characterized by all the zeal and energy he is capable of, ought never to merge into severe rebuke and denunciation. Whenever a son or daughter of Israel has fallen into sin, whenever in an unfortunate moment, worldly considerations or passion gained the mastery, it is the duty of the religious teacher to recall the erring by mild admonition and wise moderation. “Love covereth all sins,” is the beautiful maxim of the wise king.

I would expatiate still more at length on the duties of the minister, and the relation he bears to his congregation, were it not that I intend to resume this subject in my next discourse. Enough however has been said to show that his calling is a difficult one, difficult on account of the heavy responsibility that rests on him, to do justice to his religion and to his congregation. But he is sure to succeed, his labours are sure to be blessed, if he is actuated by truth, guided by light, prompted by love.

My friends, during the course of my ministerial labours it has <<16>>been my privilege to know something of the reciprocal affection which is calculated to steel our energies for renewed vigorous action. The pain of separation has revealed the power of these ligaments, and memory shall never cease to recall the images of many dear friends left behind me, whose warm attachment and esteem I had secured. To-day I have performed my first duty in your midst. If we are permitted to walk together as minister and congregation, need I assure you that your affection, your hearty esteem will be neither unprized nor unreciprocated? Next to the divine approbation and that of his conscience, the true minister covets the sincere, intelligent, and just affection of his congregation. Without this, my usefulness here is at an end; with it, it will go on increasing till death or God’s providence in other ways parts us. May then truth, light, and love characterize your conduct, may our connexion be based on mutual confidence and esteem, and it will redound to our salvation, to the glory of God and his everlasting covenant.—Let us pray.

Father of the universe! a law of truth Thou hast given to thy children. When night covered the earth, and the nations groped their way in the darkness of superstition and idolatry, Thou caused thy light to shine on thy people Israel, to he an everlasting guide to the children of Man. Through all the dangers that surrounded our path through all the vicissitudes of a long series of centuries, Thou hast borne and protected us with paternal love. We thank Thee, O God, for the many tokens of divine mercy Thou hast bestowed on us, and gratefully acknowledge thy bounty. Be with us in this hour of devotion, and bless our pious efforts to promote the welfare of thy holy religion. Strengthen our minds and fortify our hearts in thy service. And we pray Thee, O God, to let the light of thy countenance shine upon this congregation, that they prosper under thy protection. Bless all those who are here assembled, and whose hearts are turned to Thee with prayerful emotions. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy presence, O Lord, who art our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.