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בס"ד

Address*

of the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, of New York, at the Consecration of the Wooster Street Synagogue, on Friday, June 25, 5607.

* We deem it our duty to state that we have had the MS. of this address in our possession for more than two months, and it was only owing to the press of other matter that it was excluded hitherto. In the mean time, however, it has lost nothing of its value.—Ed. Oc.

ארחץ בנקיון כפי ואסבבה את מזבחך ה׳׃ לשמע בקול תורה לספר כל נפלאותיך׃ ה׳ אהבתי מעון ביתך ומקום משכן כבודך׃ תהלים כ״ו ו׳ ז׳ ח׳

“I will cleanse my hands in innocence, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord, that I may cause to be heard the voice of gratitude, and recite all thy wondrous works. Lord, I have loved the habitations of thy House, and the location where thy glory resides.”—Psalm 26:6,7,8.

Beloved Hearers,

By the mercy of God, favoured to enter these sacred portals, especially to dedicate this house to the service of the (Deity) the Holy One of Israel, overwhelmed with feelings so immediately associated with our nearest and dearest interests, connected with time and eternity, we seek in vain to give expression to the flood of absorbing thoughts in the studied phraseology of inadequate words; but, grateful for the past, and hopeful for the future, simply to elucidate the language of our text, so comprehensive, embodying all that is most strictly suitable to this hallowed occasion.

The holy ceremony or חנוך we have met to celebrate, originated in the pious custom practised by our ancestry, (consonant to divine precept,) and afterwards copied by the Greeks and Romans. The ritual being so highly symbolical, demands exposition, which will be given in the sequel; our chief object in the present Discourse being mainly directed to illustrate the momentous questions, 1st, What constitutes a Synagogue or House of Prayer? 2d, What means are indispensibly requisite to support the cause in all its efficiency?

<<383>>First. What constitutes a Synagogue? ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם “They shall make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst them.” (Exodus 35:8)

It is thus by express command we are enjoined to consecrate some specific place to the service of the Most High, where he may abide, glorifying it by his divine presence, (or Shechinah,) as if it were possible to confine his glory within an enclosure of walls, or circumscribe his majesty even by geographical bounds. What, by the limited appliances of human means to raise a structure for the Omnipresent Sovereign of the universe, whose omniscience truly unconfined pervades numberless systems, and makes all space his temple? “The heavens constitute my throne, and the entire earth my footstool; where is the house we would build for me, and where the place devoted to my rest?” “For in very truth will God deign to dwell with man on earth, when behold the heavens and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee?”—(Chron.) Is it predictable to raise an edifice for him of whom the Oriental sage speaks, הן קדם אהלך ואיננו ואחור ולא אבין לו שמאל בעשותו ולא אחד יעטוף ימין ולא אראה כי ידע דרך עמדי These words of Job may be thus paraphrased:

“If I go forward to the eastern coast,
To seek him out, I mourn my labour lost;
If I turn backwards to the western seats,
To find him there, he still my hopes defeats;
I roam through populous northern kingdoms, where
His most surprising works and wonders are:
Yet is my strict inquiry fruitless there.
Nor will his place be in the south revealed,
Who is in clouds pavilioned and shades concealed;
Yet this is my comfort, that his searching eye,
Does all my thoughts, my aims, and ways decry.”

Then to the all-present and all-felt God, here so eloquently portrayed, are we to rear a tabernacle, when the whole world is the arena manifestive of his glory, and ruling dominion? No, dear hearers, it is not for Him required, לא למענו יעש but ostensibly for ourselves it is most needed, that we might have a sanctuary as a refuge for the His that float on time, a spot consecrated to holiness, within whose sacred precincts, we atoms of the supreme creative Power, children of a day, may seek and find abiding calm, the truce to worldly clamour and confusion, there to have free access to un<<384>>varying goodness, an asylum from the corruptions of sin, where also in unostentatious devotion purity of heart may yield its choicest and costliest offering. This we hold was the intention of Israel’s royal bard when in the words of the text he said, ארחץ בנקיון כפי “I will cleanse my hands in innocence, so will I encompass thine altar, O God !” Yes,  it is only proportionate to our purity of mind, it is only in ratio to our cleanliness of hand, that the invisible God is found in a pacifying sensation by the regenerated; for, although it is utterly impossible to be altogether spotless, yet will it readily appear, that purification is the grand essential of our blessed religion, which by this process prepares man to meet his God.

How pathetically has King Solomon symbolized the prayer-fraught soul in his inimitable canticles. “Oh, my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret of gradations, let me see thy countenance (if pure), let me hear thy melodious notes, for sweet is thy voice, and comely thy countenance.” King David, in the same spirit, asks, “Who shall ascend to the mount of God, and who abide in his holy place? he who is pure-handed, and pure-hearted, shall receive a blessing from God, and righteousness from the God of His salvation.” Thus Maimonides observed, טהרת מקום התפלה “Prayer must be performed in purity,” so to surround the sacred altar, as typified in the ceremonial just concluded,* cherishing the holy law in our hearts, as well as we carry it in our arms. To bring here the unfeigned homage of our gratitude, all we have and can render our Father above, as an acceptable offering, will lead us to apprehend the purpose of raising a building we term a house of Assembly, בית הכנסת where the members who meet may influence each other, by the common bond of brotherhood to the prosecution of the true good, in its real character and permanence. Treating on this sublime subject, we cannot forbear to observe, that when Isaiah the Prophet in the vision of enthroned glory, caught the sounds of the heavenly Cherubim and Seraphim, that unceasingly minister before the throne of the God of Hosts, in sorrowing accents he spoke: “Wo is me, I am undone, for a man of unclean lips am I.” My impure voice, said he, cannot approach that unsullied choir. Now, if the favoured of Heaven felt this, should we, steeped in defilement, not have cause to tremble for our sins, and immediately apply ourselves to the benign requirement, “Purify <<385>>thyself, and be clean,” רחץ וטהר so shall we feel and know by internal evidences, that our affections are not misplaced, that our bosom-nursed and most sanguine hopes will not be disappointed, and that the Deity, in pity to our frailty, in commiseration for our wavering impulses, directed us to build this house, where our purest felicities may be consummated.

* In the Hackafote.

If, in all this, you fail to discern what constitutes a Synagogue, we would add, when with chafed feelings and bruised spirit you come here to unbosom your griefs before the eye of supreme Mercy, even if when laden with guilt, you venture to give utterance to your emotions of contrition, knowing He delights to forgive the penitent: ah, in those hallowed moments you will deeply feel that finely sympathetic link which binds us to his gracious paternity. Then, in conference with our Best of beings, the genial tear glistens in the faith-directed eye, the noble susceptibilities of the heart expand in devotion, and the soul drinks deeply from the fount of salvation, freed from all debasing passions and corroding care; the spirit serene will find a blissful calm. And while in the sanctuary we hold that intercourse with Heaven, experiencing those nameless ecstacies, those spiritualized sensations: enraptured we should realize the grand purpose of the Synagogue, exclaiming with the Patriarch, as if awakening from a dream to life’s reality: “It cannot be otherwise than the house of God, and this indeed is the gate of heaven.”—From that auspicious moment that we learn the exalted nature of this sacred spot, the intellect, emancipated from its former puerilities, refined by the contemplation of divine perfection, elevates itself in the lofty theme of adoration, as exultingly it proclaims the emphatic assertion of our text, “O Lord, I love thy house and the residence of thy supreme glory,”—From that instant we appreciate the nature of this holy abode; we shall learn that the Psalmist in his declaration, “I will cleanse my hands in innocence, so to compass thine altar, O Lord,” had in view the four pre-requisites which animate devotion, namely, purification, gratitude, intelligence, and love; and, farther, it will be evident that revelation in this respect has taught us what all the accumulated learning of ages could not and did not reveal. Look at the Grecians, regard the far-famed city, the homestead of science, the Acropolis, the court of Greece, where Homer sang, and <<386>>Plato taught, even after they had deified all subjects, having their thousands of gods, their learning humiliated at its own impotence, drooped over the grandest altar dedicated to the unknown god. Now we, as Hebrews, have been taught to know our God. “Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightiest know that the Lord he is God, there is none else besides him,” and in our own land, as well as in our dispersions, we raise an altar, build an edifice, and hope to endow it with suitable appurtenances, to the known God; known as one, all-beneficent, and all-wise, Being of beings, creation’s Creator, besides whom there is none beside, first and last, perennial source of blessedness, our shield and protector, our Father and God. Thus, superstition, which degraded and degrades other nations, must be unknown to us, basking as we do in the full noontide of divine truth; our mental faculties are not cramped by those rites which ever becloud and narrow the mind. Far otherwise; our religion teaches us to serve our God, and benefit our fellow-man, and thus we conceive we obey the intention of our common Parent, who loves all his creatures, and wishes that all men should know and comprehend their eternal happiness. To this end run all our holy laws appertaining to the temple, and its apparently mystic appurtenances solely directed, to shadow forth the grand lessons of morality, of which numerous instances could be adduced. For example, speaking of the ark, our legislator Moses, enjoins: “Inwardly and outwardly shall it be overlaid laid with pure gold,” which is incorruptible; to teach us that we likewise are bound internally and externally to exhibit candor, that deception is not to corrode our hearts, nor illiberality to tarnish our reputation; but that sterling integrity must mark our intercourse with our fellow-man;—no double-dealing, no overreaching, no dissimulation must tarnish our fair fame, as the adopted of God. By the structure we have raised, we seek not to confine sanctity to four walls, as if none were holy excepting those who utter their words of praise within its precincts; nor do we assume to keep the keys of heaven, as if none were co-heirs of immortality, save those who worship within the portals of a Synagogue. Heaven forbid! that we should think so little of our God, or so greatly of ourselves; no, our creed teaches that all men are the objects of his care, inasmuch as they conform to his will. My beloved hearers, the banner we unfurl is but to <<387>>portray that temple of nature of which was spoken so truly and so eloquently, that it is a sanctuary formed by Almighty Power, whose resplendent dome is the cerulean sky, whose columns are the lofty trees, whose secret incense is the flower-perfumed dew, whose symphony is the melodious anthem of nature, whose ornaments are the rich and varied productions of revolving seasons, whose altar is the cloud-capped mountains. Yes, beloved hearers, the entire world is the sacred fane, where, trembling and adoring, we may yield devotion’s tribute.

Then, if such be the case, of what use is the Synagogue? if the whole world be his temple, why should we confine our worship to Him to time and place? is it not the dream of bigotry and idle superstition, (to assume,) to imagine that the Deity can be more easily propitiated in one place than another. Our reply is simply this, that the law of God distinctly prohihits worship in all places indiscriminately. השמר לך פן תעלה עלותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה “Take heed that thou bringest not thine offerings in all places thou seest.” Thus Maimonides asserts צריך אדם להתפלל ולהשתתף את עצמו עם הצבור ולא יתפלל יחיד כל זמן שיכול להתפלל עם הצבור שאין תפלתו נשמעת בכל עת אלא בב״הכ “that man should at all times join in  the service of the Synagogue, not to offer up his devotion by himself, whenever it is possible to pray with a congregation; for the prayer of the many in a suitable place is never rejected.”—Hilchath Tephilla, 8, 1.

The psalm we have selected concludes, “My foot standeth in an even place, in the congregations will I bless the Lord.”

Irrespective of this consideration, praying in places not adapted to devotional purposes, the very objects by which we are surrounded, must, nay, do, mar devotion; while on the other hand, the place where sanctity is localised, claims a space from worldly turmoil, an immunity from din and tumult; on this, if on no other grounds, our gratitude is due, and hereby freely offered to that small and trusty band, who having the Lord in their hearts, made every sacrifice of person and purse, in order to build this miniature temple to be a house of God. To adduce the importance of devoting certain places to religious exercises, has been taught by our philosophers in many places, more especially in their comments on the well-known passage: “And many nations shall come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob.”— <<388>>(Micah, 4:2.) Not saying the house of the God of Abraham, nor that of Isaac; for Abraham spoke “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen,” no temple nor house does he mention; וילך יצחק לשוח בשדה Isaac went to meditate in the open field; but Jacob denominated the place of his devotions בית אל house of God. With the like holy purpose and heavenly feeling, with a keen comprehension of our past suffering, and our present halcyon state, with a solemn assurance that orthodox principles alone shall here hold undivided  empire, and a vow made to Heaven before this assembled multitude, that no changes In. our religious polity will be introduced: we dedicate this shrine from henceforth to the God of Israel; we consecrate it holy to the Lord, קדוש לה׳. And wo to the being, be he high or low, who will attempt to divert it from its hallowed object; Heaven avert such a true calamity. Remember the motto on the corner-stone, והיה מעשה הצדקה שלום “And the work of righteousness shall be peace,” let us be endowed with the spirit it conveys, and assert שלום לך ושלום לעזרך כי עזרך אלהיך. Peace, glorious peace be thy motto; peace to those who aid this heaven-born virtue; for thus endowed, the building will perpetuate its usefulness, God being its mainstay and support.

Haying thus manifested what constitutes a Synagogue, or House of God, we now proceed to evince what the requisites are to maintain its efficiency.

Beloved Brethren—It is an undeniable fact that every member of our community is in a great measure dependent on the perfections of the institutions under which he lives; it is, therefore, our interest, as it is our duty, to improve, and to make our sanctuary a receptacle for blessings. To effectuate this it is necessary, next to purification, to be constant and punctual in our attendance here; to occupy the seats as well as to pay for them; nothing can be more detrimental to our peace of mind than absence from stated worship, or presence only on extraordinary occasions. Not alone is such conduct injurious to ourselves; it is repugnant to the requirements of our faith, opposed to the spiritual health of our children, and a reproach to the common cause; whilst, by our constant attendance, and our ardent devotion, we familiarize our minds with heaven-born truths, we become more and more intimately acquainted with the holy attributes of God, and as far as is practicable we assimilate ourselves to that standard of per<<389>>fection:—“Ye shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy.” And what, we would ask, is so much calculated to consummate this most desirable object, as the stated use of the heart-stirring prayers and thanksgivings composing our beautiful and liturgical services, so admirably adapted to inspire piety, reclaim the wanderer, and to lead the mind, by easy gradations, to the recognition of the sublime principles constituting our holy faith, and which are as strictly undeviating in the moral, as the laws of gravity are in the physical world? Far be it, then, from us, to mutilate or abrogate an iota of these prayers, composed by our sages, amongst whom were even prophets of God; let not our modern ideas deprive Judaism of its historic worth, of its proudest heirloom, its antiquity; let not pride usurp the name of religion.—For from the moment we become tributary to its influence, then sanctity, in its most venerable associations, will be desecrated by its sacrilegious hand, till the whole fabric of our religious polity becomes a mutilated structure, soon to fall. From the dread moment that spirit gains an entrance to the human heart, it will seek to extend its perilous influence; in its over-weening all-sufficiency, it will enlarge or contract, build up or pluck down, unite or sever; in a word, that turbulent, ungovernable spirit, will be satisfied with nothing short of a total renunciation of everything that bears an ancient or ordinary appearance.It is that factious spirit which would unhinge society, and hurl us once again into anarchy and ruin. Earnestly we exhort you, suffer not the sacrilegious hand of innovation, under the euphonious title of reform, to vitiate the sanctity of those precious relics of bygone days, for the possession of which our forefathers surrendered all their worldly advantages, nay, their very life’s blood. If you really desire reform, commence within your own hearts, and the improvement  will manifest itself in our Synagogue; scrupulously observe the landmarks fixed by wisdom, guard well each avenue of the court of God’s house, let not the smallest inroad be made on the sacred and inviolable; it is not the last blow that fells the tree, but the slow sapping means which accelerate its downfall.

Our New Synagogue will flourish, if we bear constantly in our minds, that Judaism is planted in the Rock of Ages; but from the moment we give it a chameleon-like form, it ceases to be Judaism,  only living upon the air it breathes, contradistinguished <<390>>from that heavenly plant, (the Synagogue,) which in dark ages brought life and salvation in cell or cavern, and in our halcyon days assured us of immortality wheresoever we unfurl our banner.

In thus admonishing you against the reckless spirit of the age, we must not be understood as rejecting all improvement; we are well aware, and desirous to impress it on your attention, that  in order to maintain the Synagogue in its efficiency, the study of our sacred language should be sedulously cultivated; it is not enough that Hebrew should be read in the Synagogue, it is of vital importance that it should be understood. Not alone would it conserve and render our Synagogue efficient; it would also excite children to emulation; for by understanding the holy tongue, they would kindle the sparks of wisdom, genius, and talent, at these smouldering fires, which, however neglected, remain unquenched, destined still to be the beacon of Israel amidst her tribulation. Were we attached to a court, how soon should we study and acquire that language desired to be spoken by the sovereign; wherefore, then, should the Hebrew language be disregarded, reflecting, as we must, that in that language God promulgated his laws, and which was once the vernacular in that land on which our hearts are fixed, and where we hope to return to find repose from suffering and unmerited obloquy?

But not to digress, the Supreme, who is immaculate, is attracted by purity, his image, in man; this purity must be the atmosphere of the Synagogue. When truth springs from the sacred place, it will not fail to attract righteousness from above,אמת מארץ תצמח וצדק משמים נשקף גם ה׳ יתן הטוב and bring its rich dower of happiness to elevate us above the low tangling. mass of corruption, and to lead us in those paths tracked by Mercy and Love. The last though not the least requisite remains yet to be mentioned, it is that all who are here assembled will, with cheerful alacrity contribute to the support of the shrine you have raised as commanded by God when, the tabernacle was first raised.

“From every man whose heart prompts him thereto, shall ye take my offering.” n  Knowing your liberality on all occasions, having for the past eight years been an eyewitness of your ever-active charity, exerted in the cause of benevolence; noticing the readiness in which you cheered the poor man’s fireside in cheerless winter; the alacrity with which you laved bleeding feet; <<391>>the energy with which you stanched the wounded heart; the activity with which you wiped the tear of sorrow, without making any invidious distinction of sect or grade, any inquiry whether the recipient of your bounty worshipped in a Synagogue:—happily for me you will not require an eloquent appeal to rouse you to duty, we feel quite certain that inborn generosity which characterizes  the true Israelite, and liberal feeling which distinguishes the noble people among whom it is our pleasing destiny to dwell, that these feelings will not now relax.

We know of no better cause in which your funds can be employed, than in dedicating places of instruction and worship to the glory of the living God. By such means you honour the religion you profess, so that all the venerable associations with which its sacred rites are connected, will render the altars they have consecrated doubly dear to us; by properly endowing God’s house, you will be the means of blessing generations yet hidden in the womb of futurity. A large outlay has been incurred in raising this holy fane, to render it in all respects worthy of our cause, and the respectability of the Hebrews in this splendid city of the West; where we meet beneath the same shade which shelters all men, secure from the shafts of malevolence, and the poisonous arrow of benighted bigotry. Oh, how glorious is this sight to the theologian and philanthropist! for a moment let us contemplate the scene before us, and ask the eye of the soul, whether the predictions of the seer do not appear to be fulfilling: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together?” Unclasp the volume of the past, and amidst the dark paper, or the chequered leaves, see if you can find one as fair as this; it is a sight at which angels might weep for joy, at the consecration of a Synagogue, to behold the elite of the city, members of Congress and State Legislature, its most eminent judges, clergy, and laity, holding different opinions as regards external worship, yet looking with veneration and attachment at the parent tree from which their sapling has come forth. And who will tell me that this is not better for the cause of religion than the scholastical subtleties and polemical ingenuities on which our forefathers spent their substance, the narrow illiberality and mutual hatred, in which they embittered the well-spring of their lives? tell us of your Fultons, and a correspondent galaxy of talent, who by their <<392>>genius illumined their age; without a wish to detract from their merit or greatness, they shrink into comparative obscurity, when we properly consider the spirit of inquiry by which you are actuated. Their thoughts were on earth, yours soar to heaven. Be assured, my hearers, whatever your creed, that such contemplation is your noblest employment; for as oft as we benefit humanity by the diffusion of happiness consequent on the advancement of truth; as oft as we raise the standard of excellence by the elevation of religious principles; as oft as we widen the field of our own usefulness, by the promotion of the grand motives of religion: so oft shall we have rendered essential service to mankind, by contributing our modicum to that general happiness predicted by various prophets, when all differences shall merge into fellowship, all jarring discordance subside in uniformity. Then all discrepancies will be adjusted, every incongruity dissolve into one harmonious connexion: in those days shall righteousness flourish. To hasten that period, give each of your store, in accordance with the blessings you have received, to do good in life; and in thus doing good, be grateful that you have the means of perpetuating your name on the tablet of immortality, of registering your good acts in indelible colours. Remember, my hearers, your substance cannot follow you to the grave; naked we came into the world, and denuded of all (save good deeds) we must return to our original element. I adjure you by that purity, gratitude, intelligence, and love, which form the four pillars of our faith, inculcated by our text, lay this tribute of your duty on the sacred altar of our holy religion; invest some of your share capital in the Bank of Futurity; by such means will you enjoy the interest while here, and when you shall be called on to depart for shores of everlasting bliss, you will then find that the principal will have been carefully garnered for your use הקרן קימת לעולם הבא. Let not frigid calculations arrest the hand of generosity; say not you have so many calls on your benevolence, or that your means are limited. Has the hand of the Lord grown short in his benevolence to you? Look at the old world, how it is stricken down by poverty, sickness, and famine. “Every head is sick, every heart is sore.” The mind recoils from reflecting this day on a subject so heart-rending and harrowing, where old and young appear of one age, from the afflic<<393>>tions with which a wise Providence has thought proper to essay their principles. Now let us contemplate our own condition; here every lap is filled with plenty, and our superabundance helps to supply those who suffer from the ravages of famine. Under such circumstances, shall our hand wax short, or shall we who do so much for the body, be unmindful of the soul? Heaven forbid! that we should give money a thought for when, for once, we are called on to give purely for the House of God, where, in all our casualties we may come before the Hearer of Prayer, soliciting strength; for indeed we are frail, and require to be invigorated; praying for steadfastness, feeling our inconstancy and wavering affection; importuning for pardon, being so full of sin.

In a word, if already you have given freely, give again! for here the heart, purified, shall coruscate in lovely affection, fructify in all the luxuriousness of grace, and the soul effloresce in true holiness; that when the moral adjuncts shall have fallen, and withered all vigour, the spirit will wing its flight, on well-poised wing, to breathe its proper element; clinging to the arm of Omnipotence; it will hear the consoling words, לא אעזבך “I will never leave thee,” no, never, never leave thee; but conduct thee to those realms of bliss, where care and sorrow no more contend, to the House of God, and within the portals of heaven. May this be the destiny of all who give for the glory of God. אמן סלה

ומה נכבד היום למעלה ישראל מארץ גזרתו
לעיר האלהים בהררי קודש יסודתו
ועלינו יזרח ברוח נדיבתו ושפע נבואתו
באהבתו ובחמלתו יגאל את גאולתו
ויסך פזורי עמו באברתו אמן׃

Prayer

Lord God of Israel, Source of life and light, whose illimitable goodness is certified by all living, our thoughts and our expressions fail in addressing Thee as we ought! Where shall the timorous tongue begin thy praise? where end its thanksgivings? for thy mindful eye, unseen, sees; thy providence, unknown, guides; and thy mercy, unbounded, upholds. When we have explored all nature, the wide range of existence is inadequate to utter the lofty theme of thine adoration; the soul falleth back on itself in the deepest humility, exclaiming אין קדוש כה׳ “There is none so holy as God, there is none besides Thee!”

To the <<394>>glorification of thy sacred Name, we have dedicated this sanctuary. O that thine eyes may be upon this place, and thine ear, to which the gentlest whisper is audible, be open to hear the cries and prayers of thy people.—Every one acquainted with his own griefs, spreading forth his hands in supplication to Thee:—deign, O Father, to hear from heaven, and mercifully forgive, when in purity he returns to Thee and thy service. O that truth and mercy, heaven-sent, might spread their wings over this altar of devotion and love! Shower thy benign influences on those who have built this house, on those who give freely from their substance in aid of the cause, and on those who have the heart but not the means to strengthen this fane; give them thy best gifts, that hereafter they may be better conditioned. And, in pity, inspire thy servant, and others who minister before Thee; inspire them with strength and fortitude to vanquish error and doubt from all who come here to seek thy Divine Presence, that in fraternal affection we may hold on that way which leads to Thee, where the wanderer is sheltered from the blast, and where the exile finds his fatherland, in the boundless regions of immortality.—Amen.