|Vol. II, No. 4
Tamuz 5604, July 1844
The Mission of Israel.
by Isaac Leeser
Believing as we do, in accountability, we hold it as a necessary deduction from the acknowledged idea of the justice of God, that no one can with impunity divest himself of his duty, nor of the pursuit of the course clearly pointed out to him by Providence. If then Israel has a course marked out in history, all its members are in reason bound to pursue this with unwavering truth; just as in a well-regulated household every one composing it is bound, from prudential motives, if not even from choice, to do something to promote the general welfare. Let us instance the father. How would it comport with his duties were he to sit idling away the time which ought to be spent to acquire the comforts of life for his helpless little ones? who should feed them if he squanders his substance upon unworthy objects? Let us instance the mother! How would it answer, were she, whilst her husband toils, to spend her time in the streets, and leave every thing for which he labours to go to destruction for want of a little care? Let us instance the vigorous sons of the household. Would it be tolerated that they should suffer their aged parents to work on unceasingly whilst they consume the precious hours in pursuit of pleasures and unproductive indolence?—And if there are daughters, must they not attend also to their duties, to arrange, to assist, to bless with their presence and kindly sisterly help? Even so, no matter how many able persons there be in the family circle, no one can be spared from contributing a portion, however small a portion, to the general happiness. Where all are concerned, all must act for all, or else the unlabouring and the unproductive would have equal benefits with those whose exertions alone produce what is necessary for the support of the entire mass. And assume that there be a household where any one or several of the members fail of the fulfilment of the expectations justly formed of them, and you at once see the effect to correspond with the deplorable carelessness, in the disunion and heartburning, and want of success, which are the natural results. For if one or more will not work, the others are unwilling that indolence should be benefited equally with industry; and were it even otherwise, experience would soon show that failure in every enterprise must ensue where a united effort is not made by all who have an equal interest in the progress of the household.—Just the same is the case with our national association, the house of Israel. There are those who are the heads through their superior knowledge; there are those whose example can guide others to pursue a given course; there are those who are humble, yet able to act as others act. There are the men to labour in our blessed cause; there are the women to comfort, to stimulate, to soothe, to work too, where their strength is sufficient; there are the children who must be trained to be able to succeed the older ones in due time, when their strength fails. Who is there among all these that can well be spared? Are the men to be exempt because they have been Israelites long enough? Are the women to be left to swerve from the right path, because they are weaker in bodily strength than the men? Can we think of neglecting our children, because their conduct is yet prompted by innocence? because they are not yet old enough to judge for themselves? and shall this authorize us to permit them to imbibe ideas which we deem injurious to ourselves, and to be guilty of acts which would stamp the adult with the name of a recreant to duty? It is useless almost to waste words to produce an argument which every one can frame for himself; it is folly, worse than folly to permit to be done through others what we deem wrong in principle and injurious in tendency. Now let each Israelite judge in this manner:—I individually think it sinful to believe in any other system than the one which claims as its characteristic the belief in the immutable unity of God; I believe that the law of Moses is permanent, and cannot be altered nor abrogated for any other code ever yet invented, or which may in future be invented, by the skill of one man or the cunning of assembled nations; and let him then train his children so that they too may hold the same truth, and act in a manner consistent with their belief; and let each one of the family of Israel cast around him an influence which will induce others to act with him, united in faith, united in actions.
Indeed, all are alike bound by the law, no matter of what age, station and country, since all are alike in their descent from the stock of Abraham. It cannot be therefore anywise enough that the men make themselves acquainted with their duties and live up to them; for the females too belong to Israel, and they also must be taught, that they may understand and observe the law. For what is noble under the sun in which the gentler sex does not take part? Does not, through the whole Bible history, woman appear behind the veil, as it were, in her mission of counsellor and of guide? True, in the ages of sorrow which supervened after the close of our sacred canon, when our people mingled too much and too intimately with a gentile heathen world, they learned many of their vices, and among other things to disregard more than formerly the beneficial influence of well-instructed females. But this is no reason for their not taking their proper stand now among our ranks. We have collectively and individually much to thank them for;—our early impressions to our mothers; our first heartfelt affections to our sisters; our riper sentiments to our companions in after years: and can in all these stations the women of Israel influence beneficially, if they are strangers to their God and his laws? It is indeed not their province to go forth abroad in the crowd, into the assemblies of men, to take part in deliberations, nor to preach in the congregations with the voice of admonition and prophet-like denunciation; for this arduous labour their weak frame was not made; for this solemn task their shrinking modesty and acute sensibility do but little qualify them. But there are a thousand opportunities when man's voice is not heard, when the admonition of the highly endowed and eloquent will remain without effect, in the tumult of the passions, in the strife of unholy desires, in the moment of disappointment in business, at the hour of sorrow, or when the finger of scorn is pointed at the perhaps unjustly suffering. At all such times how soothingly falls upon the ear the instructive words of the woman who knows and fears the Lord; how powerfully does then her delicate hand withhold from sinful revenge the arm of the strong raised to deal the fatal blow. And what is not her influence in the silence of solitude, in the moment of unguarded frankness, in social intercourse? Who is there that has not felt himself led for good or for ill by her advice, and not rarely her wayward fancy? Is it then nothing that she be properly trained, that she may be the ministering angel of mercy at the social fireside, the beneficient guide of infancy, the trusty counsellor of maturer years? There is so much given to women, especially the women of Israel, that we may freely say with a great writer of modern days, whose name we do not new remember, "that we are always what women make us." When the child first begins to think, it is his mother who infuses into his mind the first ideas. Does he show symptoms of a development of the power of speech? It is the mother who teaches him to lisp the first words. Is he able to learn something of God? it is the mother again who instructs him concerning the great Being who is the Creator of all. And if we leave the paternal roof, what does so powerfully attract us as the influence of woman? Is not our life happy or unhappy not rarely as we yield ourselves to the guidance of the virtuous or vicious of the gentler sex?
But, tell us, how can woman be fitted for the high destiny of teaching her child correctly, if she is herself uninformed? How can she restrain her husband from plunging into sin and iniquity, if she herself has received no moral training? no instruction in the ways and will of God? Again, we admit, as before upon the nature of her mission, that she need not acquire a deep knowledge of dogmatical theology, and the profundity of learned lore, for this is not requisite to fit her for her duties, which are essentially of a domestic, not a forensic nature.
But she ought to be deeply and early impressed, nay penetrated with a profound respect for the Divine ordinances, and be carefully instructed in all the duties which are demanded of us as Israelites, and be thoroughly initiated in the books of Revelation which contain the basis of our holy faith. She ought to be taught that all accomplishments are vain if a holy spirit does not preside over the avenues of the heart, if the desires are not controlled by the saving power of the religion of the Most High. Let her be early told that outward grace is deceptive; let her be made to feel beauty is in truth fading; let her be shown, how every thing is fleeting, vanishing, decaying, except it be the matchless grace which an unfaltering virtuous resolve, aided by humility and piety, throws around her person. It may at first shock her self-love, to know that with all the advantages which youth, beauty, wealth, accomplishments and standing can bring, she has no value without that religious meekness which renders the humble peasant as lovely as herself. But what of that? is it useful to flatter her into a belief that she has a value which she does not possess? Let such absurdities remain where they properly belong, in the saloons of fashion where men assemble, and where women enter with a mask of deceit, with honeyed words of art, which mean nothing, which effect nothing, except to convert the noblest being of the earth into a plaything, a shadowy unreality; a something belonging to life, yet deprived of the elements of life in their most essential essence. No, not so must Israel's daughters be reared! not of this character were Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and a host of others whose lovely image dawns upon us from ages long since gone by. We need mothers, sisters, wives, friends, daughters, who are to be companions for each other and for the men among whom they live. We need such, as have an elevated intellect, a towering piety, a steadfast will in whatever is right and holy, who can look with compassion from their elevated stand upon those who walk in darkness, and are ready and willing to hold out the helping hand, to raise them with Heaven's blessing to an elevation which not the tongue of slander nor the gnawing worm of detraction can reach, a position against which the shafts of malevolence will be broken, no matter how strong the arm which hurled them on their destructive way. We need truth as the basis of the character of our women, truth for the wealthy, truth for those in the higher walks of life, but truth also for the poor, truth for those who labour for others. In every degree a noble bearing in woman is useful; the humbly born, whose mother has a soul which disdains to grovel in the mire, will have a sentiment implanted in him which will impel him onward to the path of preferment and usefulness; for such a mother will show him how piety and virtue, love of God and love of man combined, will bear fruit, the noblest and the best the earth can produce, and that a firm reliance on the aid of the Most High and unwavering integrity will raise the humblest to a high place in heaven, if even the gifts and goods of the earth should always elude his eager grasp. Those who are born to ease, however, will not need such a mother less than the lowly. If the poor have temptations which may counsel them to acquire where they have not laboured, if among the humble are found persons of unbridled passions, of sinful pursuits: how much more likely are they who have the means for gratifying their sensual desires to plunge into the defiling pool of worldly pleasures, of dissipations the end of which is shame and misery. How many a promising youth has been shipwrecked upon the quicksands of drunkenness; how many a precious soul has been lost in the arms of the wanton, and why? It may be that at times parents were not to blame, that despite of their admonition the child learned evil habits from his associates. But too often, alas! the fault lies at the door of the mother, who either from want of capacity, or want of energy knew not how to give the proper tone to the nursling of ease and fashion. "We have wealth," such a one will say, "let our child enjoy it." Yes, let him enjoy it, but let it be under the limitation of a wise education, the fear of the Lord, the desire for the improvement of the soul, to fit him for a residence in the abode of the righteous.
Accidentally as we have touched upon the point of the necessity of a religious training for Israel's daughters we have been hurried on, as is not unusual with us, to leave our subject too long to permit us to discuss it as it deserves in our present number. But we regret this but little, hoping that we may long continue to hold a monthly intercourse with our religious readers for our own improvement and their instruction. We therefore throw off the ideas, perhaps too carelessly for elegance, but not too hastily for truth, as they rise in our mind. We care but little how our words flow, provided they can convey an abstract of our thoughts of what is in our view the vital thing for Israel to our readers.
We only wish, as we have said on a previous occasion, to give food for thought; and whilst deep thinking is characteristic of our people, it matters little whether a subject be presented in all its bearings or not, provided the attention is awakened, and a direction be given in which reflection may freely follow out a train of useful ideas. All we meant to do in the above is to state the duty and to enforce it with argument, that, the mission of Israel being the maintaining of the principle of the divine Unity, it is but reasonable that all our members should be qualified to work together in the furtherance of what the Lord asks of them. Let them do it, and blessing will attend them whilst they bless others.