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בס"ד

Sabbath Nachamu

A Sermon delivered in the Shaar Hashamayim, of New York, by Rabbi Lilienthal, Dr. Ph.

Thine, O Lord, are greatness and power, praise, victory, and majesty; and as thy name is now glorified and sanctified amongst us thy people Israel, so will it one day be glorified, praised, acknowledged, and adored by all the children of men. This is our joy in our faith; this is our pride in the knowledge of Thee which thy religion has given us; this is our consolation in the days of our sorrow and affliction, and our hope when they are ended; and this is the sublime idea connected with the festivity of this day’s Sabbath. O do Thou grant in thy mercy, O our Father! that we may not be compelled to ask in the anxiety of our spirit, עד מתי ה׳, “How long yet, O Lord?” But may it be thy will to fulfil the words of promise which Thou hast spoken, that thy sanctuary shall be a sanctuary for all the nations, when all mankind shall praise Thee with one voice, with one heart, and with one mind, Thee, our Father, our Lord, and our King.—Amen. Amen.

Beloved Congregation,—

What is the “Sabbath of Consolation,” שבת נחמו, which we celebrate to-day? Some one will answer, “A good Sabbath.” True. But what idea is connected with it? what is the meaning of the term itself? Ask the large majority of Jews, and their only answer will be, “Our parents and grandfathers called it so;” and they merely follow the example of their pious ancestors, without knowing any reason for so doing. Others, who are better instructed, answer: “This Sabbath is called the Sabbath of Consolation, because the Lord will have again mercy on Zion, his holy city, restore it to its former splendour, and the mourning of the third of Tishry, of the tenth of Tebeth, of the seventeenth of Tamuz, and of the ninth of Ab shall then cease.” Though this answer is correct in every particular, there is, nevertheless, a <<479>>third party who will exclaim: “What do you want with your Zion, and what with your Jewish state? we live here so happily and contentedly, we enjoy so much liberty, have so many privileges, that we do not feel any desire for a return to Jerusalem; and truly if it were not for the fast of the ninth of Ab, nobody would think any more of Jerusalem, and all would be forgotten.” Am I not correct in my statement? You, yourselves, brethren, have had to listen to such words; and is not, then, this picture of Israel a true one? and is not Israel torn into factions? There are some who live as Jews, have a Jewish heart, and would not for any consideration live in another manner; but do they know why they are Jews? In what consists the glory of the Jewish religion? in what the pre-eminent sublimity of the Jewish confession of faith? By no means; they go to the Synagogue, they keep their house and their table in accordance with the law, they give away their money in charity; but this is all which is comprised in their Judaism; and, therefore, do we witness so much apathy in their conduct; therefore do we discover so little energy, so little desire for the accomplishment of any great and glorious deed. Another party consists of those who do not care the least for the whole Jewish religion; for religion is the last idea that has any interest for them; business, business, and only business, is the rallying cry of their life, and a higher and nobler thought is not known, not even perceived by them, and only becomes an object of derision, if others should be bold enough to express it in their presence.

To counteract such carelessness and such frivolity as just described, were the festivals instituted, and among them the day we now celebrate. They are intended to bring before our view the greatness of our faith, the glory of our destiny, and the eternal truth of the divine promises, in order that we may be edified through them, and be strengthened and inspired with love for our religion, and to feel and to labour for its preservation and diffusion among us. The “Sabbath of Consolation” brings before our mind the idea and the importance of the kingdom of the Messiah, the kingdom in which the Jews shall be rewarded by a state of honour and glory, for all their sufferings and trials, in which the truth of our faith shall be acknowledged and accepted by all the world; in which there shall not be any more a Syna<<480>>gogue or a Church, but in which all nations shall call aloud with one voice: “Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Verily, this is a word of consolation, a Sabbath of Consolation for all who understand the mourning and exile of Israel. That this word may penetrate deeply into your heart, inspire your mind, and strengthen your faith, let us institute an inquiry into the following points:

  1. What is the mourning of Israel?
  2. What is the consolation of Israel? and
  3. What ideas ought this consolation to awaken in us?

Our text will be found in this day’s Haphtorah, Isaiah 40:9-11.

“O Zion, that bringeth good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with a strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him; behold his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—And may the Lord grant a speedy fulfillment, even according to his blessed word, to this joyful announcement.—Amen.

I.

Why, brethren, were the Israelites chosen by the Lord in preference to all other nations? why did the Lord deliver the sons of Jacob with an outstretched arm from Egyptian bondage, and tell them: “I bore you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to me?” For no other reason than to teach them the great doctrine: “There is a God, One and Alone, a spiritual, a holy, an eternal, and a perfect Being; He is the Lord, and there is no one else besides Him;” in order to give to them a moral code, the basis of which is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” and “thy neighbour” comprises every one, whatever be his creed—his station; for every one who has the image of God <<481>>stamped on his face, is a child of God, and He is the good and gracious Parent of all; a code, which teaches us as one of its distinguishing features,חסידי אומות העולם יש להם חלק לעולם הבא “The pious of all creeds shall participate in the glory of everlasting happiness.” In this manner were revealed at that time those heavenly truths which are contained in our law; in this manner was at that time proclaimed on earth the law of love and toleration, and set up as the goal which mankind have to reach in order to attain their highest perfection. And what was the destiny of Israel after this law was revealed and promulgated to them? The answer we have in the words of Scripture: “This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments; thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart and with all thy soul. And the Lord hath avouched thee this day, to be his peculiar people, and that thou shouldst keep all his commandments.” This is Israel’s destiny, to keep as a sacred trust the truths which we have learned in the Shemang concerning the One God, the יחיד whom we adore, to be the bearers thereof through all ages and times, in order to unite all nations ultimately under the standard of our faith, that they may be induced to accept the doctrine of the Torah, and may acknowledge with us, that “the Lord is ONE and his name is ONE.”

It is indeed a great and holy destiny, and he who understands it clearly, will say with David: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; thou maintainest my lot; the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.” Alas! that so few understand it; alas! that the multitude should say in their folly: “What difference does it make whether a man belong to this or that religion? there are good and honest persons among all persuasions.” But I ask them, “Does it not produce a difference in your own life whether you be deemed honest and true, or be considered in a false light and wrongfully judged?” O well do you know how deeply calumny wounds you; how much mischief is daily caused by false reports and lying tongues; but how much more should you be concerned to be correctly judged, where this concerns the eternal truths of Heaven, and where the happiness and future well-being of mankind are at stake! How many millions have the heathen murdered, and murder to this very day, as sacrifices to their idols of gold and silver, which they make unto themselves <<482>>and adore? Yea, at this very day the women of India take new-born infants, carry them up into a mountain, and dash them to pieces on a rock, as an acceptable offering to the sun.

How many thousands of men have not Christians sacrificed on the altar of their deity! How many did there not fall during the crusades, when the watchword was, “Before we conquer the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, let us extirpate every one who is not a true believer in Christianity;” and thus thousands were massacred and destroyed in honour of their cross! How many thousands suffered death by the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, on the rack, on the gibbet, or at the burning stake, because they would not believe that the Roman pontiff’s power was of divine appointment! Eight hundred thousand Jews had to leave Spain; they were driven forth mercilessly into exile, without knowing whither to direct their steps, and a majority perished on the road before they obtained a place of refuge; and everywhere could be witnessed the horrid acts of reeking auto-da-fes, where they burned alive men and women in honour of their god.

How many hundred thousands fell during the thirty years’ war, when European nations quarreled about the comparative superiority of the Catholic and Protestant creeds? how many fields were then laid waste? how many cities were rendered desolate? how many wealthy and opulent citizens were reduced to poverty, and driven from their homes, in the useless contest, to prove  by the sword the unmeaning doctrine of the spiritual or actual presence of their deity in the bread and wine which are the sacrifice of their church? O when you reflect on these terrible sacrifices, brought to various systems of error, can you still believe that it matters not whether one believes in the truth or not? On the contrary, you will have to acknowledge that it is a holy object, a great destiny, which the Israelitish people has to accomplish; it is to liberate nations from their idle and erroneous thoughts, and to bring them back to the simple and only Truth of the Existence of One God, from which mankind have strayed in the process of time. O ‘tis this idea which fills with heavenly joys the heart of the philanthropist, which inspires the Hebrew’s breast with gratitude and love, so that he falls down in the dust before God, his Father and his Only Redeemer, exclaiming with Jacob: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which thou halt showed unto thy servant.”

<<483>>Yes, we are blessed, in having been constituted the receivers of the truth; and thrice happy, that it is our duty to proclaim it aloud before all the world. But, brethren, has Israel met with worldly prosperity in the pursuit of its destiny? Has it been thus far successful, as a nation, whilst proclaiming the truth? Behold, and see, doubt arising in our mind, and sorrow seizing on our innermost soul; for what has Israel not had to suffer for its faith, and for the principle of its holy creed? Has Israel not been excluded, during eighteen hundred long years, from all rights of man, all benefits of civilization? been persecuted, and tortured, and banished, as though its faith were an injury to mankind? Have we not been debarred of every sympathy, as though we were not men, and children of the same heavenly Father, who created all, and only because we adored God as one and undivided, and would not believe in the trinity, which the Christians teach? Did we not ourselves, we who are here assembled this day, quit our homes, our parents, our kin, and our friends, because we are Jews, and would only live as Jews, which privilege was denied to us in our native land? And then, have we as a nation attained our aim? Do we know why we have had to suffer and bear all this? Is the God of the Jews, is the holy Torah acknowledged? or are they cast aside, equally as we are the rejected of mankind? Do not other creeds flourish more luxuriantly and triumphantly than our faith? O it makes the tears start from their fountain, the bleeding heart aches at this reflection in sorrow and anguish, and cries out in the bitterness of despair, עד מתי ה׳ “How long yet, O Lord?”

II.

But hear the words of the, Lord, נחמו נחמו עמי “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, O Jerusalem that bringeth good tidings, lift up thy voice in strength, lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God; behold his reward is with him, and his work before him.”

Is not Christianity, spread though it is over the whole globe, divided into numerous sects? Do we not see, both here and on the eastern continent, daily new divisions arising, with new opi<<484>>nions, thus proving clearly that men do not feel satisfied within the limits of the ancient landmarks, that they perceive here and there an error and a falsehood, which cannot stand the scrutiny of an investigating mind, and they lay thus aside one opinion after the other, to approach nearer and nearer unto the truth, to ascend the ladder of truth, on the top of which our father Jacob already saw the only one and true God? Let us see farther, whether Christianity has fulfilled its promises or not. It professes that the founder of the Christian religion came into the world to raise mankind from their fallen state of sin and corruption, and to destroy all sin with his blood. But has not sin, up to this very hour, universal sway, and drags along its victims, as of old, to destruction: in the words of the Scriptures, כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעריו “The desire of the heart of man is evil from his youth?” It promised to bring about a kingdom of love and peace; but how many nations have been immolated on its altars? How many wars have been waged in its behalf? and how, under its rule, is the state of human society undermined in old and decrepit Europe, foreboding daily, terrible catastrophes and furious revolutions? No, Christianity cannot be the ultimate religion of mankind; its only destiny is to destroy the idols of heathenism, to bestow on the world at large the beneficent idea of a spiritual Deity, and to end at length its separate existence, by lapsing into the Mosaic revelation. This is the consolation shadowed forth by this Sabbath: this is the joy and the hope of the festival of this day, and this hope will be accomplished in the victory and splendour of the truth; for it is the word of God, “and the word of our God will stand for ever.”

Has not every word which the Lord has promised in his holy book, the Torah, been accomplished? God said to Abraham: “I will give this land to thy seed;” and Israel obtained possession of it, and even in our own day, all nations regard it as the inheritance of Jacob, and as the land of Israel: as the residence of God, whence the truth shall emanate unto all the world. God threatened us with heavy curses, which should overtake and reach us, even unto the destruction of our state, in case of our disobedience; and has not this prophecy been literally fulfilled in every particular? Has Israel not drained the cup of bitterness and of suffering to the very dregs? Can it then be possible, that the words of joy, and <<485>>the promised blessings, shall not meet their ultimate accomplishment?

O my brethren, even Bileam already exclaimed, “God is not a man, that he should lie; or a son of man, that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it; or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” No, the words of the prophets will prove their truth, in being fulfilled; and what Isaiah promised will become accomplished: “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear;” and fulfilled shall be also the words of Zephaniah: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent;” also the promises of Zachariah: “And many nations shall be joined unto the Lord in that day, and they shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee;” also the other words of Isaiah: “And I will bring them to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in mine house of prayer; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people;” and it shall also be accomplished what the royal Psalmist sang: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” But let us not in the mean time grow faint-hearted at the slowness of the fulfillment. It is the will of Providence, that mankind shall, from their own free will, laboriously toil upward to that height, whereon the Lord has placed us by his revelation. And already is the night waning, and the dawn of approaching day grows brighter and brighter; and the time will come, when all nations shall exclaim, “The Israelites are the people of the Lord, and we acted wrongfully towards them; let us therefore acknowledge the injustice of which we have been guilty, and let us join the kingdom of love and truth.” Do you now, brethren, understand the joy foreshadowed by the festival which we celebrate this day? Do you hear in your soul the joyful news of such a consolation? Do you know which is Israel’s pride and glory? which is Israel’s joy and victory? O truly, Israel’s victory is the triumph of truth, and it will surely come to pass.

<<486>>III.

But, brethren, since such is the task assigned to us, if such be the nature of the promises which we have received, let us endeavour to trace what we have to do, and how we can best accomplish the duty incumbent on us.

Above all, it is obligatory on you to do the utmost for the glory of our faith, our blessed and beatifying religion. Be not cold and indifferent when your religion is the topic of conversation; be not careless and uninterested when any work is to be done in its behalf; do not let your own private grievances, pitiful bickerings, and narrow views of public policy, be mixed up whenever your actions concern the interests of your religion, by which you would risk your own sanctification on earth, and the hopes of eternal blessedness in heaven. Labour, purify, and sanctify yourselves, that the faith of your fathers may flourish, that your children may be brought up as Jews, that they may become trustworthy guardians of the inheritance of Jacob, to deliver it pure and undefiled to those who will arise after them; so that the words may be fulfilled which the Lord spoke through Jeremiah: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, which my covenant they brake; but this shall be the covenant: I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”

And in the same degree that you are bound to be great and glorious in acts relating to your faith, you are also bound to be eminently good in your daily intercourse with the world at large, and not allow yourselves to be excelled in acts of goodness towards all men. The love of a Jew should not be confined to his brothers in faith; the heart of the Jew should not beat with emotion only for those in his own circle, nor should the beneficence of the Jew know of any boundaries. As his destiny is to benefit the whole world, so ought his love, his friend<<487>>ship, and his beneficence, be extended to every son of man. Where something great is to be achieved, there should the name of the Jew adorn the page which is to record it; where the universal good can be promoted, there should the Jew take the lead. In this manner can we sanctify the name of the Holy One, which is to be glorified through us; and thus will be fulfilled the word of the Lord, which says: “Keep ye judgment and do justice, for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.” O that this might be soon the will of the Lord, our Father in heaven. Amen. Amen.