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בס"ד

On the Violation of the Sabbath.

 

The age in which we live, is marked by its advanced and advancing state, Therein it is impossible to remain at a stand still; if we do not progress, we may fancy we are improving, but not to progress is to retrograde. Indeed, to be plain, we have wofully gone back, and were there not a total extinction of nationality, things would not long remain as they are; our whole system is out of order, and any subject that may engage our attention, any theme that may employ our pen, cannot fail ultimately of improving the house of Israel. Is it not true that trifles, comparatively speaking, engage our sole care, whilst duties of the greatest import, of the most vital consequence, are totally lost sight of, or become most criminally disregarded? We should not thus plainly commence our dissertation, were it not in the humble hope that truth (without the adventitious aid of delicacy) may under divine aid have the desired effect. Indeed we are assured by the words of inspiration “the words which proceed from my mouth shall not be ineffectual, shall not return empty.” The dictates of true religion must eventually be productive; the frequent dropping of water at last perforates the massive stone; the word of God shall ultimately pierce the obdurate heart, ossified by pride and sin; the word of God cannot fail, at some time, bringing about the retrievement of our former moral and spiritual condition, leading even to that proud altitude once observed by other families of men with admiration, who, fully impressed with the visible sins of our religious and moral excellence, bore testimony to our pre-eminence in the exclamation: “Surely this is the only great, intelligent, and wise people;” and it is only by intellectual ascendency we can ever again hope to reach that proud eminence. In the onset, however, we are warned that we may be charged with laying a false foundation to our mental fabric, in asserting that we are not improving. “What, not gaining ground? look at our Hebrew schools, our Sunday teachings, our numerous Synagogues, behold our increase, our zeal, our prosperity, with scarcely a village throughout these United States which has not a descendant of Abraham as one of its denizens, with immigration from every shore to find here a safe asylum, with our abundance of merchants and our numerous artizans, with the pleasing accounts that daily reach us of our people being industrious and happy! With all these facts which are incontrovertible, are we to be charged with not progressing!” Yes, my friends and co-religionists, with all these flattering returns of improvement, we beg leave to observe that the landmarks of religion and truth are rapidly receding. We may persuade ourselves that we are keeping pace with the gigantic strides of civilisation; yet we cannot assume this fact to cover our culpability. If it be true that we are gaining ground with the rapid wings of time, not PHYSICALLY but RELIGIOUSLY, adduce the evidence. Where is it? is it evidenced in a better observance of the Sabbath? for that to me is the test question, the main spring, the chief pillar, the soul of our religious polity. What is all profession of Judaism, if the Sabbath continues to be publicly violated and profaned, that good and happy day, destined in its various ramifications to confer dignity on man, to make him happy here, and prepare him for eternal bliss hereafter,—the day appearing in imperishable characters in the Decalogue,—a day coeval with the creation. Let me be assured that the Sabbath is observed with scrupulosity, that no work is done thereon, that the Jew and his beast are at rest, that the pilgrim of hope is engaged in seeking his God at the appointed hour, that he is enjoying himself in his domestic circle at the proper season, admiring God through his works at the fit opportunity, cheering the heart of some way-worn traveller with some portion of his sumptuous fare; let me be assured that such is the Sabbath of the Jews as practised by the collective body in America, and we will recant every word we have written, apologize for every sentiment recorded, and in humility and penitence ask pardon for suffering our zeal to overstep the bounds of prudence. But if, to our utter confusion and self-reproach, these evidences are not to be found, if the holy Sabbath is a day devoted by the trader to his calling, by the storekeeper to his store, by the merchant to his counting-house, by the man of pleasure to his idol: then we need not scruple to say that all our boasted improvement is a vain and empty boast, calculated to gratify the body at the expense of the soul, destined to destroy the hallowed spirit of our religion, for a spurious and most deceptive article of fashion. Let not the spurious liberality of our accommodating age pass current for religious progression, if progression it can be called, since we regret to say that it is all the wrong way. Its course must therefore be speedily averted and directed to its legitimate channel, that in rills of blessing it may flow to our re­generation and lasting peace.

The Sabbath of the Bible has received the impress of the Divine Architect of the universe; when the six days of the creation had completed the task allotted them; the Seventh day was ushered in, according to Holy Writ, as a day of rest, for on that day God rested. Our reasoning faculties are sufficient to convince us, that the being who could create מאין יש “the world from nothing,” and that by his word only, required no period for rest; rest is a word in no way applicable to the Omnipotent, it is registered there only to guide, influence, and improve us, and to bring our wandering thoughts to a single focus that the Sabbath as an antediluvian dogma, is quite sufficient in its simplicity of language to convince the most skeptical of its holy intention.

But, alas! we do not look so far back, we do not gaze on the oldest pages on record, we desire no such evidence, for “fear of pirates we sink the ship;” dreading a little self-denial for the body, we endanger the soul; we fear to read the Bible, lest in its pages we should ponder on a theme that might convince us of our erring ways, that might inform us of the sinful nature of our passions; and thus comforting ourselves with the delusion, that our fellow-travellers row in the same boat, we expect at last to reach a safe landing, as well as those who have made the Bible the polar star of their lives. Miserable delusion! thus to treat the word of God, and to expect the reward annexed to its observance. Is not the Sabbath day an enactment of the Decalogue? is it not clearly defined that no work shall be done thereon? and in defiance of this behest of our God, shall we continue recklessly to profane that day which He has decreed should be kept holy? work on a day which he has ordained should be a day of rest, a total cessation from labour? In Exod. c. 16, it is clearly defined ראו כי ה׳ נתן לכם את השבת על כן הוא נתן לכם ביום הששי לחם יומים “Behold the Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day bread for two days,” and with this assertion spoken in the desert, dare we doubt it in this happy land? “Is the hand of the Lord waxed short?” Or do we think that the scrutinising gaze of Omnipotence has become dim from age? Oh! let us not lay the flattering unction to our souls, that it is of no import how we observe the Sabbath, if we are still Jews at heart. It is only this specious reasoning which has done so much mischief, that right has almost by common consent become wrong. Let us test the current opinions of the day, and we shall readily perceive that most men justify or palliate their own position however irreconcileable to reason. One will assert even without a blush that the institution of the Sabbath has become obsolete, without for a moment reflecting that his very existence falsifies the assertion. Another, a shade more religious, is convinced of the fallacy of such a doctrine; yet he, too, has a soothing balm more healing, he is conscious of doing wrong, but he trusts to the mercy of God, who knows the purity of his intention. A third blames the climate of America; he would be strict in the observance of the Sabbath, but there is something in the air that opposes his intention. A fourth reflects on the injurious effect it would have on his commercial pursuits. Thus we might go on with a string of excuses, neither of which is calculated to extricate the violator from his ingeniously-constructed labyrinth, nor suited to aid us in seeking a better observance. The whole amount of the argument betrays a great want of faith, or to be more charitable, a lack of a due comprehension of their high-born and sacred duty, from which nothing can absolve them. It is very well to find argument to satisfy their fellow-man; but at the bar of Heaven, where things, are searched to the very motive, where sin is stripped of all disguise, and exhibits its naked deformity: at that awful crisis what will become of the soul? Oh, my friends, reflect on the importance of the Sabbath, it is the Alpha and Omega of the Pentateuch; and our prophecies, from the first book to Malachi, are replete with lessons highly instructive, all tending to demonstrate that שבת שקולה כנגד כל מצות שבתורה “the Sabbath is equal to all the precepts in the law.” Gladly would we unclasp the volume of our sages, and show how important they deemed its sanctity, how criminal its violation; but our fast receding pages warn us to be brief. It must therefore suffice if we observe that revelation and tradition consider the Sabbath the most important of all our behests. In days of yore the violator was publicly stoned to death, and this by a direct decree from Heaven; but now, so far have we retrograded from the principles of our pious ancestry, that instead of shunning the meshes of those who would enthrall us in sin and ruin, we court their society, give them the first honours in the Synagogue, call them up to hear that law recited which anathematizes the Sabbath­violator; and this we call the age of liberality, the period for reform. This may be liberal, but it is far from being just; we guard the court of God’s house from being polluted by the being who in an unfortunate moment has allied himself to the “daughter of the stranger;” but we open our portals very wide to receive the being who transgresses God’s holy commands every week. We dread the moment that the finger of innovation should erase any thing from the ceremonial code; but calmly we behold the hand of sacrilege destroying the ten commandments, by publicly violating the enactment “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” We train our children to the strict principles of Judaism; but we forget that our example is indelibly fixed in their tender minds. We expect our wives and children to pay their oblations at God’s shrine, whilst we go to discharge our obligations at the Stock exchange, the counting house, the auction mart, and the public store. May we not add, like Aaron, הייטב בעיני ה׳ “can this be pleasing in the sight of God,” to observe his commands disregarded, his precepts derided, his words contemned? Let us be convinced of our errors; let us hear it in the broad places and the narrow ways,—let us look on the Sabbath day as a day of rest; then shall we be acceptable to our Creator, and perpetuate the utility of Israel.

We are free to confess that much has been done; we have in the midst of us many such men, who formerly violated the Sabbath, now reposing on faith; and God has not forsaken them; let the list then be increased. Why should our thoughts be alone for this world, “when a day must infallibly arrive when the desire shall fail?” At that crisis where shall we find support, suspended o’er perdition by the flimsy thread of life, worn in a thousand places? how shall we make good our hold on that guidance to lead us beyond death, if our desires relate only to earth? shall we say, when the time arrives, like the Israelites of old, “We will not go up?” When the disjunction of soul and body takes place, what is there to impede its flight, or to prevent its returning to its Owner? how shall we elevate the intellectual eye of the soul to imperishable excellence? how shall we answer for violating the Sabbath when we appear before our Maker? These are vital questions, problems rife with interest; God grant that they may be indelibly impressed on our minds, to wean us from those frivolities that now engage our undivided attention, to cure our stolid fondness for trifles, to restrain our longings for superfluities; in a word, to make our doings tend to life everlasting; so that its ultimatum may be a participation in the Sabbath of the Lord, in everlasting enjoyment, and eternal rest.

S. M. ISAACS.

New York, Shebat 1st, 5605.