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בס"ד

The Vocation of the Minister.

A sermon preached by Dr. Lilienthal, at his Installation as Chief Rabbi of the German Congregations of New York.

Lord, how can I return to Thee what Thou hast done for me? Thou, Father, who searchest the innermost heart, and knowest all thoughts, ere they have yet sprung up in the mind of man, Thou knowest, Father, how I would pray to Thee to-day, in what words I would express my grateful feelings. My heart is so deeply moved, my soul so profoundly touched, my mind so completely wrapt in gratitude towards Thee, that I cannot find the word, the right word, wherewith thy servant, thy child would approach Thee. Thou hast placed me to-day at the head of three Jewish congregations; hast ordered me to lead them in the paths of right, to teach them to walk in thy Law, in thy holy Law; to bring them all to Thee, in order that one day, which Thou alone knowest, O God! none, none of them may be missing before thy holy throne. O Lord! I profoundly feel this mercy which Thou hast graciously extended to thy servant, I sincerely acknowledge what is thy fatherly goodness Thou hast imposed on me, and humbly I pray unto Thee; who am I, and what is my life, if Thou O Lord! art not with Me? O, listen then, if I implore Thee with the wise Solomon: "Endow thy servant with an understanding heart, which knows how to guide thy people, which is able to distinguish between good and evil." And as Thou hast graciously accepted his prayer, accept mine likewise. O Father, with thy all-kind eye, enlighten Thou my mind, endow Thou my heart with Love to Thee, fill my bosom with a sincere desire, for thy Law, in order that I may labour for the sanctification of thy name, to the glory of our faith, for the welfare of the flock who to-day have placed me before Thee to give a solemn pledge in thy presence concerning what I shall henceforward be to them. Hallelujah! Amen.

Beloved Brethren,—

Since the time your honoured choice, which: places me to‑day at your head as religious guide, fell upon me, I had the pleasure of performing three marriage ceremonies,—of being three times the means of uniting loving hearts. But the most beautiful union to be consummated by me, was reserved for the present hour. The love which united us at the first moment, the confidence which animated us from the first hour, the sympathies which from our first meeting brought us together still nearer and nearer, have at last caused us to conclude a holy, glorious, and blessed alliance. As a fair, beautiful bride I look upon you to-day, my beloved congregation, in the youthful bloom of faith, in the freshness of religion, courage, and zeal, in the splendour of the most brilliant early morning light that dawns on you on this beautiful bridal-day הנך יפה רעיתי הנך יפה —"Thou art beautiful, my friend, thou art beautiful," and loudly beats my heart towards thee in love and delight. Thou art beautiful before the Lord, our God! to whom you have devoted yourselves; thou art beautiful before the world, which you have afforded so brilliant an example of deep, true religious feeling; thou art beautiful before me, to whom thou hadst spoken: אבקשה את שאהבה נפשי —"Long I have sought after him, whom my soul loveth!" Let me then believe, my brethren, that you love me; let me believe that, as you are every thing to me, I likewise am something to you; that not cold calculation, but a higher and sincerer object has brought us together; ay, let me believe this, my brethren, for your love is my pride, my delight, and my joy. Is it not true, that our hearts beat in unison to-day? that they glow in the fire of love, and of gratitude towards Him, who dispenses all blessings, all salvation, and all success? Yes, the Lord has said: "They shall make unto me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them;" yes, the Lord enters the house of God, the dwelling of faith, and of religion, which we erect unto him; it is He who blesses our covenant; it is He, who with his paternal eye graciously looks down upon us to-day; it is He, who rejoices in the hour in which we begin such great things, and under Him, and before Him, the Almighty, I pronounce the words:— הרי את מקדשת לי—"I wed thee unto me," my flock! as that being, to whom my life and thoughts, my feelings, and my labours shall be devoted for ever more. Joyously I exclaim with the prophet: "I will betroth thee unto me for ever. I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, in right, and in mercy; I will betroth thee unto me in the holy faith in which thou worshippest the God of thy fathers."

Yes! in this holy faith is our covenant concluded; in this holy faith thou hast assigned to me the duties as Rabbi of three young, but flourishing, and large congregations; in this holy faith thou expectest me to walk and to live, to work and to labour, in order that the vineyard of the Lord may prosper in our midst.

To thrive! yes, that is your wish and your prayer, as it is also my wish and my prayer. You will spare neither sacrifice nor trouble, and expect that I likewise, shall be up and doing, until the work of the Lord be completed. You will be active and zealous, and expect the same on my part. We will act and work in concert, you say, in order that the word of God may apply to us: "If thou walkest in my ways, to keep my commandments and laws, like David, thy pious father, then will I lengthen thy days, and thou shalt rise and flourish, as thy Father in heaven wishes it."

But if we wish to act together, and if our united efforts shall succeed: then is it necessary, that a mutual, sincere confidence inspire us; but a sincere confidence grows there only, where every one knows his duties and fulfils them faithfully. Let us then devote this hour of consecration and devotion to answering the question: "What do we expect from each other?" by explaining and showing the duties of the Rabbi:—1, in the congregation; 2, in the Synagogue; 3, in the school; and, 4, in domestic life.

We find a very appropriate text in the prophet Malachi, chap. 2:6-7:

תורת אמת היתה בפיהו ועולה לא נמצא בשפתיו בשלום ובמישור הלך אתי ורבים השיב מעון: כי שפתי כהן ישמרו דעת ותורה יבקשו מפיהו כי מלאך ה' צבאות הוא:

"The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found on his lips; in peace and equity he walked with me, and many did he turn away from iniquity. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and the law they should seek at his mouth; for he is a messenger of the Lord of hosts."

And may the Lord show us the way which leads to our salvation, here on earth and hereafter in heaven. Amen.

I.

"What do you expect from me in the congregations?" is the first, and an important and difficult question.

Judaism, brethren, is split, at present, into two parties, a dangerous division has taken place, and where once harmony, peace, and love prevailed, there is now difference of opinion, difference of views, difference of wishes. The one exclaims: "Hold fast to the ancient institutions, hold fast to the venerable customs, hold fast to that which has been transmitted to us by our pious fathers. The law which Moses has instituted must eternally, eternally remain the inheritance of the congregations of Jacob."

The others say: " Onward, onward, is our motto; 'onward' is the watchword of the times, onward is the spirit of the age, we cannot, we will not, we dare not remain behind, if cold indifference shall not seize every heart, if all shall not be abandoned. Whoever will not follow the wheels of Time and history will be crushed by the wheels of Time in its mighty, all­powerful revolutions, and then all will be lost."

In it this wise, the parties are opposed to each other at present; in this wise the tents of Jacob and the dwellings of Israel, which formerly were the habitations of peace, have become the abodes of strife; the light of harmony which so beautifully illumined our horizon, has disappeared, and night has set in, and the heavenly voice of the prophet Isaiah resounds: "Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night?"

And from us, who are standing on the watch-tower of Israel, you expect the answer, you look for the light which shall shine brightly and reunite all hearts. Thank God! this light is kindled; the Lord himself has kindled it in his mercy; the prophet has revealed it in the words of our text: "The law of truth was in his mouth." However diversified the views, however different the opinions may be, the "Law of truth" stands supreme; the teacher of the word of God has only to stand within the Law and he will be sure to walk in the path of right and truth, and to lead his congregation in the way of salvation and peace. In the law, which has preserved us with a miraculous power for thousands of years, lies the means to reconcile the parties; in the law, which the Lord has given us, there lies the "TRUTH," which is acknowledged by all, and as long as the pastor acts in strict accordance with this law, he may feel secure in the protection of God and be sure of the respect of his flock; for not to him, but to the law, this respect will be paid.

Brethren, I pledge myself to-day, before the Lord, our God, to walk in this law, to administer my office according to this law, and to reconcile all parties according to this law. Independent, without belonging to any party, strictly conforming to the law of truth, of God, I shall fulfil the holy and arduous duties which you have assigned to me. For as I consider it an especial honour to have been unanimously elected; as all hearts concentrated in the wish to appoint me as director of our religious concerns, and no parties were arraigned against each other: I must stand above all parties, conciliate all parties, since partiality on my part would be an injustice, an iniquity, and our text says, "and iniquity was not found on his lips."

But if the position of the Rabbi is rendered difficult in the present state of things, it will be still more so in a country like that in which we live. The congregations are yet young; the houses of worship but recently erected; the institutions scarcely founded; how should there not be wanting many things? how should there not be forgotten many a desideratum? how should there not be omitted many an indispensable requisite? It could not be otherwise at the first start; no other result was to be expected in the beginning, where the members of the congregations flocked together from the most distant countries and the most varying climes; where every one had to toil to procure his daily  bread, to satisfy first his daily wants; and certainly, the Lord looks down upon you with pleasure, and bestows his heavenly blessing on that which you, my beloved congregations, have already achieved for his holy name. But a longing for improvement has been awakened in your hearts; a desire to press onward in the cause of your God has risen in your soul; this wish; which does you more honour than every thing else, has manifested itself, and it is from this reason, from this motive that you have extended to me the call, to act and labour, in order that the holy wish of these three congregations be realized.

Brethren, truly as I promise to-day to do every thing in my power, according to the best of my knowledge and ability, in order that the works of the Lord may thrive, it is impossible, utterly impossible, for me, where the labours are so many, so accumulating, if I should remain unaided in my efforts. Rabbi Yishmael taught: "Do not rely on thy own opinion, or thy own judgment; thou art man, and liable to error." "To follow the many" we are taught in the Bible; and the wise preacher says: "Two are better than one."

I shall follow this wise and holy counsel. I shall appoint a בית דין of learned, pious, and intelligent men, who will consult, deliberate, and decide with me; whom I shall make acquainted with the most important questions; with whose aid I shall continue to study the Law of God; and according to whose advice I shall regulate my ministration.

I shall follow the wise direction of the already-mentioned teacher: "Say not, Accept my opinion, for they are entitled to vote, and not thou alone." I shall, on every occasion, listen to and appreciate your advice, respected heads of my congregations. Yes, it is this which I urgently beg of you: continue to be to me the same friends, who, in the interest of your congregations, in the interest of your religion, have advised me so sincerely and so truly. Continue to be to me the same friends, who will call my attention to the wants of your congregations; who will direct my eye to any object that may require my examination; who are desirous of knowing the precepts of our Laws and are ready to listen to them; who will continue, as you have so well begun, to aid me in my exertions; who will never withdraw their co-operation, nor slacken in their zeal:—and we will, we must succeed.

But you, also, beloved individual members of my congregations, do not withhold from me your assistance or your advice. "Through all my teachers have I became wise," is an old and true saying, and I shall faithfully follow it. The advice of every one will be welcome to me; to the wish of every one I am ready cheerfully to listen, and to comply therewith, if possible; come, come, then, you are welcome to me every hour. With the words you salute me with to-day, "Peace be to thee, and peace to him that helpeth thee,"—I shall, in my turn, salute you: Welcome to the every one, welcome in the name of the Lord; "Then God will help," that we labour and live to his honour, in peace and concord, in delight and love.

II.

"What is the duty of the Rabbi in the Synagogue?" is our next inquiry; and our text says, "And many he turned away from iniquity." "From iniquity? from what iniquity?" Oh, my brethren, the houses of worship, which are all to us, which are the banner round which we rally, which are the places where we meet as Jews, as brethren; which are the only thing that has been left us after we have lost temple, priests, and prophets; these houses which are called "Minor sanctuaries,"—or have become an object of scorn, contempt, and mockery to all nations. Will they designate a disorderly meeting, they say; "They behaved as in a Synagogue;" do they wish to scandalize a discordant chaunting, a simultaneous, confused talking, they say: "They behaved as in a Synagogue," do they wish to describe a running in and out, to and fro, an indecent posture of sitting, standing, and walking, again they say: "They behave as in a Synagogue." Brothers, is it right that we have given cause to such profanation? Brothers, is it not a sin, that the holiest object which we possess on earth, and which leads to the Holy One, who is enthroned in heaven, has become a by-word and a proverb? Is it not a sin that, while we appear before man in a respectful, becoming manner, we are neglectful in this before God; that we converse and talk together as if we had forgotten the precept, Know before whom thou standest? Is it not a sin that, on this account, many do not frequent the houses of God, do not join us in prayer and supplication, but turn their back rather than their heart and soul towards the house of worship?

Is this disorder conformable to our laws? is it prescribed by the ordinances of our sages? No: in the Talmud, Maimonides, the later rabbinical writings, and, lastly, in the Shulchan Aruch, we are taught just the contrary. We are told that we must behave with gravity in the houses devoted to prayer and religious instruction; not to quit the Synagogue whilst the law-book is open for public reading; nor to read our prayers aloud except on the New Year and the Day of Atonement, and then only in such a tone as not to disturb others in their devotion. But nowhere is it permitted to read our prayers in an unbecomingly loud tone of voice, and to interrupt the harmony of worship by conversation, careless responding, and other unseemly demeanour; nay, even the moderate raising of the voice on the solemn festivals, permitted by some, is considered inadmissible by the Zohar and others. Is it not, then, according to the authorities named, a sin which cries to heaven, to have rendered our houses of worship a by-word, a mockery to all nations?

"And many has he turned from iniquity," says our text. It is the duty of the Rabbi to abolish this sin. If we insist on decency and decorum in our house, why should not order, decorum, and quiet prevail in that house, where we pronounce, "We bend the knee, and worship the Most High;" where we are to pour out our hearts in devout humility and sincere devotion before God, our Father; where our soul ascends to Him from whom we expect the welfare of our families, and the salvation of our children? Oh, my brethren, renounce this sin; let me persuade you to leave this course which has rendered us contemptible and a laughing-stock in the eyes of the nations, which has so deeply disgraced our louses of worship. Much as I think it to be my duty to teach the word of God in his house—to proclaim to you His law on every occasion—to preach to you the eternal truths on every solemn occasion—I consider it to be equally my duty to introduce order and decorum into our houses of worship, to see that the divine service is performed according to law and rule, in order that the scandal about our Synagogues cease, and that the words of the prophet be fulfilled: "And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, sanctifying Israel, when my sanctuary is among them for ever."

I have caused, accordingly, to be appointed a special committee, who will act on this important matter, in conjunction with me and my בית דין; but I hope, also, that you, all of you, will assist in the effecting of this improvement of our divine service, of this purifying of our devotion, of this exalting of our religion. I shall undertake nothing that militates against the law; but on whatever is founded in the law I must insist, for the sake of the law, of its being obeyed; and you, my brethren, will, I trust, assist me to carry it out.

And your co-operation, respected Readers of the Synagogue, I claim more especially. It is you who recite the prayers; it is you who take the lead in the Synagogue; and much depends on the Reader, that the house of God becomes a house, whither the congregation direct their steps with delight and joy, and where they offer their prayers with devotion and humility. A pious, God-fearing Reader can change the house of worship into that house, of which is said, "And I will put my sanctuary among them for ever;" exert yourselves, therefore, soon to make it so. My advice, my support, my assistance shall never be wanting; as friend I will stand by you in every good measure you propose, to accomplish this beautiful object.

III.

"What is the duty of the Rabbi in the school?" is our next inquiry, and a more important and holier point than this we have not to discuss: "For the lips of the priest should keep knowledge." To educate our children as Jews, as good men, as useful citizens is the highest and most excellent commission we have received of the Lord.

Children are the blessing of Heaven. What is dearer to the heart of a father than his children? for whom does he labour and toil but for his children? What is dearer and more precious to the heart of a mother than the little ones that she has borne, whom she has nursed and reared with solicitude and care? They are your all, they are your most precious wealth on earth, as they will be your delight and your pride in heaven, where you one day will meet them; and should we not exert ourselves, and risk, and hazard every thing in their behalf in order to meet them there? "Certainly, certainly," you all must answer; but say for yourselves, my brethren, if these little ones, these dear children do not receive a thorough Jewish education, what have we not to fear for them in this country, where every one is permitted to act according to his will and opinion? We, who are already old, bring with us from our home and our fatherland the old wages, the old customs, the old Jewish life, the old Jewish heart; we, who have lived under oppression and destitution, feel here, how deeply we are indebted to the Lord, who has redeemed our name and our honour; and our heart and our soul instinctively cling to him. But our children, who are brought up in this, to Israel so unaccustomed, liberty; who go forth into the distant parts of the country where the Jews live sparsely and scattered, what will become of them, if Jewish principles are not deeply planted into their minds, if religion is not deeply engraved on their hearts? "Give me back my erring children, or I die!" is the exclamation wrung from many a parent's aching heart. O, I know there is no greater affliction for parents than to lose one of their children; but how great, how infinitely greater, must this grief be, if a child is religiously and spiritually lost to us. O, may Heaven guard you from any such calamity, which would break the heart and spirit; from any such trial which has hurried to an untimely grave before their time many a loving father, many a fond mother. But if you wish that He shall save you from this evil, you must obey his Law, which says: And thou shalt teach them diligently to your children." Yes, brethren, do every thing that the schools for the religious education of our children may prosper and flourish. You have felt yourselves what is necessary, and that it is high time to make some preparation for attaining this object. You have commenced to erect schools for this end, and you contribute cheerfully to insure their success and prosperity. My assistance shall never be wanting; I shall assign to myself the religious instruction of all boys who will become of legal age (בר מצוה) and of all girls who shall have attained their twelfth year. I shall willingly assist the schools with my advice; and I hope that here, as in every thing else, you will appreciate my intentions and not withhold your support.

To you, respected directors and teachers of the schools, I address myself particularly. Do not slacken in your attention, in your assiduity, in your diligence, in your sacrifices, to realize this beneficent undertaking. Your best reward you will find in the improvement of the children; there is nothing more encouraging and more delightful than to see the young grow up in the fear of God, in the love of the Lord, and his holy Law, in knowledge and in intellect. Whoever is callous to such impression, knows not the fairest and sweetest joys of life. And you, my brethren, you know these joys, you know to appreciate them, for the undertaking of this work by you proves it; O continue then, to work with me, in order that the holy tongue and the Law be not unknown to our children; continue to act, in order that the love for our holy faith may be cherished and fostered by our children; and when, long after we shall have departed this life, our religion flourishes in this country, then it is you who have sown the seeds for these blessed fruits, and posterity will bless your name.

IV.

And this holy and important consideration leads me to the answering of our fourth inquiry on the relation of the Rabbi to domestic life.

In my wish to educate your children that they may become your delight; in my promise to assist you with all my might and power, that they may grow up to the honour of God, and to the satisfaction of their fellow­men; you will easily perceive that I am heartily solicitous for your good—for your permanent welfare. The more cause the members of my congregations will have to thank God for the blessings bestowed on them, the happier shall I feel; the happier you are, the more contented shall I live. Yes, my happiness shall merge in yours, my peace concentrate in yours; and you know, whoever feels in this manner, must be a good, true, and faithful friend.

Yes! I pray you all, as many as are here assembled in the presence of God, to consider me your friend. Do not see in me only the pastor who is to admonish, to exhort, and to preach; do not only see in me the man who has to manage and to direct your religious affairs; no, look also upon me as the friend who ís ready to share your joys and your sorrows. Between us there do stand no little worldly interests which so frequently alienate the hearts of men; I have nothing in common with all those worldly pursuits that have a conflicting and aggravating tendency; I can be to you, in the strictest sense of the term, a friend, true and faithful. I shall make no distinction between rich and poor, wealthy and humble; whoever knocks at my door shall be welcome to me; whoever seeks my advice, shall receive it according to the dictates of our Law, for it embraces every thing; whoever wants my intercession in any cause which lies in my power to intercede in, shall find me always ready to serve him. Where a sick man suffers, I will hasten to his couch, and convey to his aching heart the consolation of religion. Where a family, surrounded by bitter want, prays for the blessing of God, I will help as far as I can. Where a poor widow, or a forlorn orphan weeps, I will plead their cause, and endeavour to procure them support. Where the Lord has graciously bestowed his blessing, I will rejoice with the joyful, and offer thanks to the Lord with those who owe him their gratitude. Yes, the interests of every individual member of my congregation, I shall consider as my own, and shall assist and advise, wherever I am allowed to do so, in order that the ties of love may knit us still closer together; that mutual confidence may increase, that the beautiful work which we have commenced to-day may rapidly thrive and flourish, and that in future days we may look back with gratified feelings on this joyous hour, which we celebrate to-day.

These, my friends, are the pledges which I offer, these the promises which I give to you to-day; I shall endeavour to fulfill the vows made to the Lord, before the whole world. And that He, from whom cones every blessing, who dispenses every success, may support me with his spirit, with his light, and with his power,—is my prayer to-day and for ever. Amen.

And thus we approach Thee to-day once more, before we leave thy house, all-kind, omnipotent God! Thou art our beginning and our end, and without Thee all our labor is in vain. If Thou, O Lord, dost not build the house, the builders toil in vain; if Thou, O Lord! dost not watch, then all our labour is idle and futile. Oh, listen then to our supplication in this hour of devotion, which flows from our deeply moved and grateful heart, and in which we invoke thy help and thy protection; give to our enterprize thy divine assistance; enlighten our mind with thy spirit; invigorate our heart with the sun of thy mercy; bless our undertaking with success, and Israel will prosper, and Jacob will flourish in this country, for the welfare of which we pray Thee.

Like no other country on earth, O Lord, has this one received us: like no other land, it has generously removed from our shoulders contumely, and cruelty, and oppression, and with equal rights and equal privileges it has hailed us as brothers. Take, then, O Lord, this republic under thy special protection; grant that it may rise and prosper as it has hitherto done; that it may improve and contribute towards the happiness of mankind; yes, if Thou blessest it, then will it be blessed; if thou pourest over it the plentitude of thy mercy, then will it prosper with all its inhabitants, for whom we supplicate thee to-day.

Turn likewise, O Lord, thy merciful countenance towards all the authorities of this country. Bless the President and Vice President of the United States; enlighten them with thy light, that they may effect the welfare of this country and the happiness of its inhabitants, that they may acquit themselves creditably and honourably before Thee and men.

Bless the Governor and the Representatives of the people of this state, and the magistrates of this flourishing city, that prosperity, peace and happiness may prevail in the land, and every one may feel contented with his place and station.

And on the presidents of these congregations, which Thou hast confided to my charge to-day, look down, O Lord! in love and mercy. Strengthen them in the calling which they have accepted; grant them perseverance in the office which they so faithfully, so conscientiously fill, in order that they may be able to continue their labours to thy honour and effect much good for the glory of thy faith. Be Thou the Head of all our undertakings, the Leader of all our institutions, the Director of our benevolent associations, and they will thrive and flourish, for Thou, O Lord! art the Fountain of love, and of mercy, and of grace, and of truth.

And we pray Thee, O Lord, do not withdraw thy paternal hand from all those who, in any way, participate in the management of the affairs of these congregations; teach them, the way they should walk in; show them the path that leads to success; be unto them the beacon-light which warns them of rocks and shoals, and show them the safe course which leads to Thee, O God and Father!

And we beseech Thee, O Lord! to watch with thy parental eye over every member of these congregations. Grant their supplication and give to them what they desire and what will promote their true happiness. Protect the fathers who so assiduously work for the welfare of their families; bless the mothers who confidingly trust themselves to thy protecting hand; bless the children, the little ones whom we educate to thy glory, that they may become the joy of their parents, the delight of their Father in heaven.

And we implore Thee, O Lord, to pour over us thy blessing, which thou hast spoken in the words of thy prophet Moses, and grant us thy light and thy peace, now and for ever. Amen.