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בס"ד

The Destiny of Israel.

A Sermon.*

* In the course of last August, the editor was induced to visit the Canadas, and whilst at Montreal he complied with the request addressed to him to speak unto the brethren there on the concerns of eternal life. The time allowed him for preparation was limited to about four hours; still he cannot withstand giving the address, such as it is, in the pages of the Occident, as it affords him an opportunity of making public a sort of memento of his presence in Montreal, and to return his thanks to the Israelites of that place, few as they are in number, for the politeness extended to him during his brief sojourn in their city. The days spent with them were few indeed, but the recollection of them will long live in the memory.

O Lord Supreme, who art the Fountain of all grace and goodness, look down, we beseech Thee, upon thy servants the house of Israel, in all the places of their dispersion, to bless them with the abundance of grace and peace from before thy holy throne. Strengthen them in their pilgrimage, that they may walk uprightly in thy presence, and guard their steps that they may not hurry away into the path of sin, where man meets thy indignation. But above all, we pray Thee to teach us to feel our insignificance and unworthiness, that we may be able to subdue the pride and arrogance which cling to human nature, which counsel us to value ourselves above those who like us are thy children, like whom we are servants in thy holy house. Yea, inspire us with that meekness which is the best ornament of thy adorers, which sees in Thee one universal Father, in every man a neighbour, in every Israelite a brother; so that, united heart and hand, we may hasten to promote the spread of thy kingdom, and lead sinners to fall down before the footstool of thy glory; and in this shall we know that Thou art our Lord, and that indeed we have found grace in thy eyes. Do this for thy sake, for we have no merit to deserve this blessing; do this for the sake of thy holy name which is profaned among the nations; and do this also for the sake of the covenant which Thou madest with thy adorers, Abraham; Isaac, and Jacob, who walked before Thee in the days of old, whose seed Thou hast promised to bless, and whom Thou hast redeemed to be unto Thee a peculiar treasure, to proclaim thy glory unto the ends of the earth. Amen.

Brethren,

A glorious lot is ours, a blessed task has been imposed on us. Ever since our forefather wandered forth from Ur of the Chaldeans even unto this day, we have stood the representatives of high principles, the defenders of truths, everlasting as the Source from which they sprung. Ask of history what have been the Jews? And you will not be referred to magnificent temples, nor to beautiful works of art, nor to scientific discoveries as the evidence of our existence, but to the code of laws which we have received from the Almighty himself through the hands of his servant Moses. There indeed have been nations more numerous and more powerful than we, nations whose architecture, whose wisdom, whose refinement, whose arts are the themes of all the world of this present day. But they all have been, to speak emphatically, they have been, and now they have passed away from among the families of mankind, and the ploughshare of destruction has passed over their lands, the wand of oblivion over their mighty achievements. But Israel? they have indeed endured hardships at which the heart recoils when calling them to mind, sorrows have fallen to their portion which harrow up the soul when one recounts them; but with all this we exist, no one can say we merely have been; no, we are, here, there, in every land where freedom and toleration reign, and here, there, and wherever enlightenment has passed over the soil, we are present to proclaim aloud, that we are the servants of one God, followers of one law, a law which came from the Lord, which is the brightest chain which entwines in one holy union the creature that obtains life and asks favours from the highest Source, with the Source whence all, that is, has sprung into being. It is a principle which marks our life, it is a principle which we must uphold; hence we place not our fame upon perishable things, though these be the adamantine rocks of Egypt’s pyramids, or the marble statuary which graced the temples of Rome and Hellas, which adorned the mighty structures of a primeval world, and which excites the emulation of after ages; but upon the inspiration which has been entrusted to our charge, a gift which is ours, and which is inseparably connected with our name. — Darkness rested on the face of the mind, as did chaos at the beginning upon the face of the waters, and nations walked in the ignorance of their soul after vanities which are the works of their hands, and called upon gods which are powerless to save. Wherever you turned you beheld the inventions of a disordered intellect enshrined in the hearts of the multitude, and wisdom was fled far from man. It was then that, as at the first creation, God said “Let there be light,” and “there was light;” for the earth was blessed by the appearance of Abraham, who feeling the greatness of his Creator’s ways, proclaimed to all around him that the works of man’s hands are not the beings that can demand his worship, that nothing which springs from matter can be otherwise than perishable and decaying. It was he who first felt, when others who had been taught refused to believe, that there is indeed an Almighty Power who called forth the earth, the sea, the sky, and all that fills them, from the depths of non-existence, and that it is He to whom man should turn in all hours of joy, in all the moments of sorrow, since it is by His will that we are at ease, since it is by His dispensation that we are wounded. It was this teaching which we may aptly style a new creation which characterized the mission of Abraham, it is this instruction which constitutes the structure on which we rest, to which we point as our best, as our only monument which we have erected in the world’s history. For, when in the course of events the state which we had established by the labours of centuries, which at one time seemed fated to bid defiance to a united world, fell under the assaults of enemies that overran with fire and sword our beautiful inheritance, all that was perishable in human greatness fell and vanished, just as had vanished Assyria, and Babel, and Persia, and Egypt; the flames seized upon whatever offered food to their devouring fury, and men who had boasted of their unbridled freedom wandered forth in the chains of slavery to bend their necks under the rule of ruthless conquerors, of those who mocked the misfortunes of their captives. Yea, all that the world calls greatness, all that man calls glory fell on that frightful day when the blades of ten thousands of swords gleamed in the hands of Rome’s countless legions, when severed heads filled up the streets, O fallen Jerusalem! when thy courts, O sacred Zion! were choked with the scattered limbs of the brave defenders who perished sooner than yield the fane which was the glory of their nation. Yea, on that day fell the power of Judah’s sons, on that day sunk the crown of Judah’s daughters, and ended was the dominion of those who bore rule in Israel. But precisely that which would have marked the death-hour of every other nation, became the point of revival of our own race: and even whilst the temple’s lurid flames yet shot up to the skies before the agonized view of those who had so often worshipped in its precincts, the light of its rebuilt splendour flashed before the hopeful view of those ­who felt themselves strengthened by the promised salvation of their God, whose chastisement they had evoked by their manifold sins. And thus while they with awestruck hearts watched in mute despair the progress of the destruction, which henceforward marked them as wanderers and outcasts, their unveiled eye beheld their temple rise again from its ashes in renewed and hitherto unapproached splendour, and their own son of David sitting on his throne, the pillars of which are righteousness and justice, establishing on earth a kingdom which is to stand unto eternity, encircling them with the armour of heavenly protection, and subduing the world by the potent spell of the divine wisdom, which was handed down to their forefathers on Horeb from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly, when truth descended from Heaven and took up its abode among the children of man. The Israelites thus saw their outward symbols fall into the abyss which had swallowed up so many other nations; but they felt that a new life was given them; they felt that now they had to endure privation, contumely, scorn, because they were marked with the seal of the Lord’s covenant, because in their features they carried the lineaments of a once renowned now hated ancestry, because by their deeds and their belief they bore a decided testimony against the deeds and opinions which other nations professed. They felt then, that if it was impossible for them to triumph, it was still granted them to suffer all that man could inflict on them for defending the noble truths which were in their safe­keeping; and they resolved thus to be patient and submissive to what they considered to have been decreed from Heaven, and they took up the pilgrim’s staff which was handed to them, and they glorified in their sorrow the Hand which in mercy had struck and wounded them, in order to recall them from their sinful ways, and to cement, by the blood which was shed freely by the saints, the union which had been loosened in the hours of peace and prosperity.

I need not tell you, brethren, how many sufferings we had to endure for eighteen hundred years, for no other reason, than because we were Jews. History tells the sorrowful tale, how oppression exhausted its malice to invent new inflictions wherewith to crush the spirit of Israel’s descendants; how false accusations were constantly brought forward in order to afford some pretext for the cruelties which were heaped upon us; how every honourable pursuit was caused against us, and we were compelled to resort to mean and degrading employments, in order to find the wealth, which was the only thing which at the same time excited the cupidity of our tyrants and afforded us the only opportunity of appeasing their unholy thirst for the life’s blood of our best and wisest members. I could detain you for hours, were I to paint for you the agony which met us at every turn during the centuries of darkness which have passed over our heads, and which stain the annals of all those nations almost who profess to follow what they term a religion of peace, of good will among men; but I forbear, I will not descant on what is known to all. All I want to do is to call your attention to the miraculous constancy which was displayed on all occasions, and in every country, and under all circumstances, by our suffering people, and that nothing ever caused them to despair of better times, and that nothing could induce the mass, whatever individuals might do in their agony of despair, to embrace, even in appearance, the opinions of the gentiles, and to sever their connexion with the house of Israel. Let me entreat you to carry your view back to the scenes which were enacted in Palestine, in Egypt, in Spain, in Italy, in France, in England, in Germany, to crush the spirit of our people, and to compel them to renounce their faith or die by the sword, the gibbet, the rack, and the flaming fire; recall for a moment the dungeon filled with those who, like yourselves, were guilty only of worshipping the one God who created heaven and earth; look back upon the ships which fled from Spain’s bloodstained coasts, laden with those who were cast forth in poverty and indigence, for being followers of the God of Jacob.—and then say whether you can otherwise than glow with admiration for the noble martyrs who thus sacrificed all, because they would not, could not, renounce the faith which they had inherited from their fathers. It must strike you, that it must have been a holy thing which fortified their hearts, which could induce the aged sire to bid farewell to the sacred spot where reposed the earthly portion of a beloved wife who had preceded him to the mansions of glory; which could impel the tender maiden, who had been reared in splendour and luxury, whose hands had never toiled, whose feet had scarcely touched the ground, to fling from her the jewels which were to grace her on her bridal day, to venture forth alone amidst brothers who wandered into foreign climes, alone, without him whom she had chosen as the lord of her young affections, because he had forsaken his God in the fear of the sword which the oppressors of Israel wielded,—that it must have been a holy thing which rendered such as these, and many others like them, wanderers upon the wide face of the earth, which armed them with fortitude to endure all the privations, all the toil, which they might have avoided by claiming the new associations which their tyrants offered to their acceptance. Think of this, and then answer to yourselves, whether, with the change of circumstances, with the improvement in our condition, the principles for which our fathers fought and suffered have undergone any, nay the least change; whether the blessed belief in the unity of our gracious Father in heaven is less true now than during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella in the Spanish Peninsula; whether the obligation to be true and faithful in our allegiance to the law of Sinai is of less binding force now than when the persecutions of European kings were braved, and their power defied, in order that we might not transgress voluntarily a single one of its glorious precepts! Surely there has been no change in our relative position to our God; He is precisely the same He ever was; He is as unerring in his wisdom as in the days of yore, and He has never repealed or altered the least of the precepts which he once communicated to us as the expression of his will. Nor has our obligation been removed. We have never received any dispensation to do away with, or to alter any of the commandments; no one can aver that any of our duties have in any wise been removed or diminished; nor can it be alleged that the march of enlightenment has destroyed or abridged the national allegiance which we owe to God, as subjects to their sovereign, as scholars to their teacher, as children to their father. No! God has not changed and we are yet, to this day, to this hour, to this moment, Israelites, children of the same patriarchs, defenders of the same principles, which we were, from the first moment of our institution as a nation, separate in our descent, different in our belief and conduct among the other families of the earth.

A wonderful change has, it is true, come over our condition within the recollection of the generation yet living, in the manner with which we are treated by those who differ from us in religious opinions. In many countries the gentiles have learned to respect the Jews, and to appreciate their conduct and principles by a different standard from what they were formerly wont to do. In others again all civil disabilities have been removed; and in the country where my lot has been cast, and in this noble land where you, my beloved brethren, have erected the first house of prayer to the living God, the Lord of hosts, whose name be blessed, the laws know of no distinction between the Israelites and their fellow-citizens, and they are free to go and free to come, to assemble for prayer, to meet for instruction, to, congregate as believers in their own faith, with no one to let or hinder them, with no one to question the legality of their so assembling. In these lands, too, they can act as their law demands of them; there is no disqualification attached to the observance of the Sabbath, there is no government tax for the food which they prepare in accordance with their customs; there is no exclusion imposed on them for introducing their sons into the covenant of Abraham, for sealing them with the sacred sign of circumcision, the outward token of the covenant between God and Abraham’s seed; there is no one can prevent them from erecting houses of prayer, and establishing schools in which to proclaim and teach their religion. There, therefore, we ought all to be zealous to stand firmly in support of the sacred cause entrusted to our charge; there should we show by our every act that we are worthy of the freedom we enjoy, not undeserving of the mercy of the Lord who has given us enlargement from our sorrows! But, alas! in modern times the bonds have been loosened; with the freedom from oppression, our adhesion to the principles of Judaism has become constantly more lax and uncertain; and in modern times men have learned to set themselves above the law, and to interpose their own will and their own interpretation between the doctrines of religion and their observance of them. Besides, with the increase of the tranquillity from without, we have not learned to maintain peace within ourselves. The truth must be spoken; in many communities individuals have obtrusively offered their own sentiments, and if not able to rule according to their own views, have sown dissensions in the midst of our congregations. But, brethren! all this is not well; it is unbecoming to us as men who owe gratitude to our benevolent Father, who has wrought so many great things in our behalf, that we do not emulate and surpass our forefathers in devotion and attachment to the law. They could be obedient only in terror and apprehension. Whilst they commenced the Sabbath, they knew not but that before its termination they might, because of it, be led out to execution; whilst the child was carried forth to be received into the covenant, they knew not but that a cruel death might be impending over the faithful father and the devoted mother. Still they persevered, and acted up to their duties, rejoicingly, with undismayed courage. Yet now, where is our devotion to principles? to those principles which mark our place in the history of mankind? to those blessed monuments upon which we have been labouring unceasingly since the calling of Abraham?—But why should we not rejoice, as did our fathers, at the approach of the holy Sabbath? why should we not welcome its arrival as the heavenly bride which brings peace and rest in her train to those who are weary with labour? whose weekly toil calls them to rest on the Lord’s day from their unceasing pursuits? why should we not be sedulous in abstaining from those things which the Lord declares unclean, and render our body holy as the earthly temple of God, by this means consecrating our soul as the habitation of his holy spirit? why should we hesitate in offering our children to be impressed with the sign which is to mark them as servants of God? servants chosen from among men to be the bearers of truth and salvation to the ends of the earth? Why will we endeavour to sow dissensions in our communities, which have suffered, alas! too long from outward pressure, that they require all the healing and care which internal tranquility alone can produce under the blessing of Heaven? What matters it to the individual “who rules,” provided the cornmunity be well governed, and the glory of God be promoted by each one acting in unison and harmony? Why will we forget that every one cannot rule? that every one must yield something, if the public is to be truly benefited, if the good cause is to be really pro­moted, if we sincerely desire to see our religion respected and its precepts obeyed? It is true, that in all this continent, with but one or two exceptions, our congregations are yet small, are, so to say, in their infancy; but for this very reason ought each sincere Israelite to contribute his share of influence; of means, and of personal service, to lay the foundation in such a manner that, in progress of time, the small may become a thousand, and the younger one a great and mighty nation. But two things are required to promote the best interests of our people, especially in America,—union and forbearance. Nothing can be accomplished if each member of the community acts independently and in opposition to the others; never did any cause prosper under such circumstances, nor can ours do so unless by the especial interposition of the favour of Heaven. It is true, so many dangers have already passed over our heads, that we may freely assert our religion to be in no permanent danger from any thing we can do to injure it. But such a flattering of ourselves will hardly excuse us in our own eyes, not to mention, in the estimation of good men, but especially in the judgment of the Lord, who sees the inward working of our sinful heart. No, we must alter all this, if we have even once acted so; it is no sign of weakness to amend an error, it is no evidence of an unsound judgment to yield if we are convinced of having been to blame in our former conduct. Though it is, therefore, true, that our religion can advance in spite of our own supineness and wrong-doing, though I can bear a cheerful testimony, that despite the misdoing of many individuals, our cause has progressed rapidly within the last ten years on this very continent, nay, if I err not, in this very city: there can be no doubt that it will progress much faster if we all unite for the same end, with one will, with one heart.

Shall our religion, beloved brethren, appeal to you in vain for aid, for countenance, shall she always be suffering either from the wounds inflicted by her foes or the treachery of her faithless defenders? is Judaism always to be the suffering cause, never the triumphant? Yea, triumphant or suffering, Judaism will be dear to the souls of those who fear the Lord, whose eye can penetrate into the recesses of futurity, and behold the Messiah on his throne and the knowledge of God spread over all the earth! Judaism will be dear to the true Israelite, whether it is oppressed, or marches in glory over the fallen ruins of systems of error in the Lord’s own appointed time. Still let us hope that there are many, many among the sons and daughters of Israel, who are here this day, who are zealous for their God and his law, and who will resolve to unite in acts, to be one in belief, in order to extend among the household of Jacob, the love of the Lord, and the fear of his holy Name, by observing themselves all that their religion asks of them, and to aid all who come under their influence to follow in their footsteps in sincerity and simpleness of heart.

Of all the endearing epithets with which we address the Deity none appeals more strongly to the heart than that of Father. He is our Father in heaven. No term is more full of kindness as applied by Him, who is so pure and so holy, than his calling us his children. Of our own accord we could never have assumed the title of God’s children; still, in the record of his will, written by his servant Moses, God addresses us as such in the following words, which we find in the commencement of the fourteenth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy:— בנים אתם לה׳ אלהיכם׃ דברים י״ד א׳׃

“Ye are children to the Lord your God;” by which we are certified that we are objects of especial care to our Creator, who, in order to render us proper subjects of his kingdom, has sanctified us by his commandments that we might walk before Him and be perfect, as He spoke to Abraham. If we all, as individual Israelites, are especially the children of the Most High, chosen to be the bearers of his glorious standard of truth and faith before the sons of man, it follows as a necessary consequence that we all ought to regard each other as brothers in faith, in hopes, in duty, and are therefore bound by the ties of love to walk together in due affection, and to aid each other in the attainment of the utmost perfection of which our nature is capable in this state of probation and sin. Perfection, absolute and unconditional is not asked, our Father knows our frame, knows that we are dust. He requires only that we do all which lies in our power; but we also must not expect too much of one another; we must bear with each other’s failings, and endeavour to improve others by gentle means and brotherly admonition, where we see that a wrong has been done.—Do you feel the full weight of this? beloved hearers! Are you penetrated with your relation to your Maker, with your relation to all Israel? Remember, God is your Father; it is not to injure you that He gave you a law of duty and precept, but to render you more worthy of his favour and mercy; not to exclude others who may differ from you in religion, but to preserve you each and all as parts of a holy people who are to lead by their presence, silently, but surely, many who do not now believe, to fall down and worship the Holy One of Israel. Remember, too, that all Israelites have received the same mission, from the highest to the least, they are all servants of the Most High, messengers of his mercy. Aid them therefore, in their endeavours to be obedient; encourage the faithful, confirm the wavering, and assist those with advice and instruction who are ignorant of the ways of the Lord. Look upon the Creator as your Father, whose mercies claim your gratitude; regard all the world as your neighbours, whom you, as children of God, are bound to love and serve, no matter what may be their country, what their faith; with all, however, you are bound more to the Israelite, you must act with him, for him; you must endeavour to induce him to be a true and faithful servant in the same cause in which you are engaged, and draw him towards your common Parent by the ties of kindred and of love.—What a delightful picture of union and blessedness presents itself thus to our view! One God our Father! the whole human family the object of our tenderness! the whole house of Israel our fellow-labourers! and each individual guided by those around him unto the gates of righteousness! entering therein by the accomplishment of the good which his God assigned to him in his sphere of action. Do you feel it then to be your task to be thus engaged? are you willing to be Israelites in deed more than in name? If so, which we fervently trust to be your will, resolve from henceforward to devote yourselves to the glorious task of self-regeneration, in order that the glory of the Lord may be spread over the earth, and his precepts be obeyed by all who are with us of the seed of Jacob, the chosen of the Lord, the servant in whom He has found delight.

And may the goodness of the Lord guide us unto the light which is undeceiving, and permit us to enter his presence with songs of thanksgiving when our spirits return to his holy throne, when our race is run and our task is ended. May this be his will. Amen.

Montreal, August 9th, Ab 24th, 5604.