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The Destiny of Israel.

A Sermon Delivered on Sabbath Vayetzay at the Attorney Street Synagogue, N. Y.

by the Rev. Dr. M. Lilienthal.

Once again we are assembled before Thee, Oh! our God, and God of our fathers, to listen to thy holy word, to rejoice in thy precepts, and to return our thanks for thy manifold blessings. Yes, great things hast Thou done for thy people Israel, all-kind, omnipotent God, Thou last borne us on eagles' wings, through the tempest of centuries; Thou hast enlightened our dark path with the light of truth, with the torch of pure knowledge; Thou hast in all ages called us thy first-born beloved son, and with hearts full of gratitude we rejoice that Thou art our God and we are thy people, that Thou art our Father and we are thy children. Grant, Oh Lord! that this hour be an hour of sanctification, of devotion, of heartfelt edification; that we may fully understand, how glorious a lot is ours to be called thy people, thy Jewish people; that we may fully appreciate the inestimable value of thy holy law; that we may endeavour to the utmost of our ability to preserve and to diffuse it, in order that the word of the prophet he verified: "If even heaven and earth perish, my covenant with you shall never cease." May this be thy will, Thou our Hope, our Protector, our Comforter, our Father. Amen.

Beloved Brethren—

With a moved and grateful heart, I again respond to your call, to expound to you the word of God, to preach to you his holy law. It was to me a happy hour, when I taught the word of God for the first time in this city; the men repaired to the house of God, and listened with devout hearts; the pious mothers hastened to the dwelling of the Lord, and hearkened with a pious and faithful mind; and when I spoke of the holiness of our religion, when I praised the glory of our faith, I saw many a man's heart moved, many a man's eye in tears; and I felt to my unspeakable joy, to my deepest, heartfelt, delight, that that hour was not a lost one, that it was not idly spent, but that it was a holy hour, blessed by God, an hour which will long, long be recalled to memory in the hustle and stir of daily life.

Yes, beloved brethren, I feel that, if the word can penetrate so deeply into the hearts, take so mighty a hold of the minds, these hearts must throb warmly for our faith, that these minds must cling lovingly to the religion inherited from our fathers; I feel that a consciousness of the truth of our divine law must animate your spirits, that you all, all, as many as there are assembled here before the shrine of the Almighty, would do every thing, and suffer every thing for the sake of our religion; that you would desire to penetrate deeper into the word of God, in order to understand, to comprehend, to appreciate, and to reproduce it in life. Oh! thanks to you, my brethren, for this godly disposition which truly ennobles you; for this pious wish, which truly sanctifies you: where such sentiments are prevalent, it is a delightful task to preach the word of God; where such a desire after truth moves the hearts, it is a pleasant duty to co-operate with the inquirer, that the light of faith may shine brighter in our community.

Yes, brethren, to this object we will again devote the present hour of edification; this pride to be Jews, and to remain Jews, we will justify to-day; this joy in our faith we will clearly demonstrate, by answering the following three questions:

  1. Wherein consists the wonderful preservation of the Jewish People?
  2. Wherein consists the destiny of the Jewish people? and
  3. What are we to do to accomplish this destiny?

You are aware with me, that it is a great, holy, and beautiful problem, which we will try to solve to-day, to view the Jewish people in its greatness and importance; you feel with me, your hearts beat in joy and gratitude towards God, in recognising the word "Jew," in its true signification; and you will readily join in the words of our text, which were spoken by our pious mother Leah, at the birth of her fourth son.

הפעם אודה את ה' על כן קראה שמו יהודה:

"This time I will thank the Lord; for then she called his name Judah."— Gen. 29:35.

You will readily conceive, that a sermon on the Jewish people, which by all other nations was recognised as the people of God, must be an important one; an unconscious feeling tells you that you ought to be specially thankful, to belong to this people of God. And may the Lord bless this hour with his blessing, which is love and truth. Amen.


"Wherein consists the wonderful preservation of the Jewish people?" You ask first, my hearers; and I ask in return, Which people, as many as the earth has contained from the beginning of history to the present day, could compare itself to the Jewish nation, in all the causes which make the existence of a people possible?

For, if a people is to maintain its existence, the first requisite for it is to possess a fatherland, a country in which it lives by itself, in which it maintains and propagates its customs and habits; a country in which it is exempt from all foreign influence which other nations could bring to bear upon it: a country, the love of which animates every one alike, and for the maintenance of the honour of which the bosom of all inhabitants glows with an intense feeling of patriotism. Then only, yes, then only, can a people maintain its existence. And the Jewish people? מפזר ומפרד it was thrust into the wide world; כמין אשר תדפנו רוח like chaff that is scattered before the wind, to the four corners of the earth, the Jew was chased about in all directions; nowhere he found rest for the wearied sole of his foot, nowhere smiled a place where he could repose his aching head; for eighteen hundred years, he was not permitted to call any one country his fatherland, and yet— Judah has outlived the nations by whom he was maltreated, and he flourishes, while his oppressors have vanished.

Again, if a people is to maintain its existence, it must have its own language, in which it thinks, speaks, and feels; in which it records the treasures of its knowledge and experience, the days of its adversity and prosperity; a language in which it sings the great and glorious deeds achieved by its ancestors; a language which, while it cements and unites it as a people, distinguishes it at the same time from other nations. Then, yes, then only, can a people maintain its existence. And the Jewish people? It was forced to speak the tongues of all countries; it learned the languages of all nations; it needs had to converse with the eastern in their eastern, and with the western in their western tongue; and still Israel has been preserved! Those languages are dead, their sounds have ceased; those nations are swept always while Israel stands in youthful freshness, כעץ שתול על פלגי מים blooming like the tree planted by the river side.

Again, if any other people is to maintain its existence, it must possess a great history, that the father may relate to the children what mighty and glorious deeds their forefathers have accomplished. And the child listens in eagerness and surprise; the living word inspires anew the youthful heart; new energy, new courage, new perseverances are developed, new heroic deeds achieved, and, like a living spark, enthusiasm is fanned into a brilliant blaze. Yes, with such sentiments, with such courage, with such examples, with such a history of patriots and heroes, a people may preserve itself. And the Jewish people?—Its history is a history of slaves, a record of affliction.וירעו אתנו ויענונו ויתנו עלינו עבדה קשה "They did us evil and afflicted us and laid upon us heavy labour," can be applied to a period of eighteen hundred years, intermitted by very few bright intervals, no heroic deeds and no victories are there to cheer the heart and to invigorate the mind. כלו ימי ביגון ושנתי באנחה, "My days are consumed in sorrow and my years in anguish," this is all, all that we have to relate to the children, to our dear children; and yet Israel does exist, and yet Israel has outlived all those nations. Their heroes have mouldered in the earth, their swords are devoured by rust, their victorious banners have been torn into shreds by the tooth of time; for "The king is not saved by the multitude of a host, whilst the eye of the Lord is upon those that fear him," and Israel, powerless Israel, stands preserved and safe.

Again, if any other people is to maintain its existence, it must live in peace, not be subjected to persecution, nor be exposed to the hatred and fanaticism of powerful enemies; then it may slowly acquire prosperity, and continue to live in the march of time. And Israel, my hearers? "On my back have the ploughmen ploughed" already sang the Psalmist; there is not a species of persecution, nor any sort of oppression, the stake and the rack, famine and misery, allurements and false promises, which have not been employed against thee, my own Jewish people! and thou didst bend thy neck, and they beat thee; and thou didst bend thy head and die in thousands of thy sons the martyr's death for thy religion; and yet, my own Jewish people, thou standest here, and not only here, but even as far as the sun of God illumines the earth, preserved and safe, to the glory of thy God, to the glory of thy faith, to the honour of all those who profess Judaism; and I ask, is not the preservation of such a people a wonderful phenomenon? Might we not exclaim with the Psalmist, "Truly this is from the Lord, wonderful it is in our eyes!" Yes, since none of the causes which are necessary to preserve a people co­operated, neither fatherland nor language, neither history nor peaceful life; and yet, the people, after a lapse of four thousand years, exists in a vigorous and blooming youth, can we do otherwise than acknowledge, "This is a finger of God?"


Surely, beloved brethren, from the hushed silence, which at the present moment pervades this congregation, I am led to think, that you acknowledge in reverential awe the mysterious workings of the Almighty; that new ideas concerning the destiny of your people and the great distinction of being Jews, enter your mind, that you would prostrate yourselves before the all-powerful glory of God, exclaiming: "This time I will thank the Lord, for my name is Judah."

But by doing this, does not the second question present itself? "But why has the Lord preserved this people in so miraculous a manner? What is the object, what the end, of this wonderful preservation?"

Oh, my own Jewish people, great as thy history, is also thy destiny, the end of thy preservation. For "thou shalt be unto the Lord a kingdom of priests and a holy nation;" it is thy destiny to be to all other nations the teacher of truth, of morals, and of LAW; it was thy destiny to be the people of the Spirit; and even as the Spirit is immortal and imperishable, so shalt thou also never cease, shall never perish.

When the night of darkness yet covered the globe, and infidelity and superstition held the human race in disgraceful bondage, it was then that thou didst receive the Ten Commandments, which to this day adorn the shrine of every Jewish community; it was then that thou didst proclaim the great truth: ה' אלהינו ה' אחד: "The Lord our God is One!" Thou preachest the doctrine of One God, of a holy, eternal, and purely spiritual Being through the different creeds of all mankind, and they have yet to work and to struggle before they can fully appreciate this great truth, before they have reached the lofty eminence on which thou standest. When idolatry degraded mankind, thy prophet exclaimed: "Shall then the axe glorify itself against him that heweth, therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the stick should shake those that lift it up, as if the staff should lift up him that is not wood?" (Isa. 10:15.) And when idolatry began to diminish, and a purer knowledge of God began to diffuse itself, thou didst rejoice; but still thou spokest: "How long yet, oh Lord?" how long yet is it to last, until the day will appear of which it is said, "On that day the Lord will be One, and his name One?" the day when all nations will acknowledge: "That the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, there is none else?"

And thus thou standest here, firmly awaiting that great day, and thou proclaimest in the morning: "The Lord our God is One;" and when the stars assume their reign in the firmament, thou again proclaimest: "The Lord our God is One;" and when on the Day of Atonement thou hast reconciled thyself with thy God, the concluding words of thy sanctification are: "The Lord our God is One!" And thus these powerful, glorious words, will continue to reverberate throughout the world, until they will re­echo in every zone, and be responded to by every heart; until all minds will acknowledge these words of faith, which the understanding is capable of comprehending, and reason competent to explain; which words thou wert the first to proclaim to mankind; and which to preserve thou art destined.

Oh, it is a great and glorious task to cultivate this truth for mankind; it is a proud feeling to be teacher and guardian of this truth among the nations of the earth; and every one, who is not entirely absorbed in his physical pursuits, but who, like you, aspires to something higher and more spiritual, must look up to God with a grateful heart for being permitted to have a share in this destiny.

But it is not only this sublime truth of faith, which thou hast first promulgated: Israel was destined to teach to the nations the only true system of morals. We know nothing of "an only saving church," which excludes others from the heavenly kingdom of God.חסידי אומות העולם יש להם חלק לעולם הבא "The righteous of all nations are participants in the happiness of a future life," is the maxim of our sages. We know nothing of a love which only subsists between coreligionists, professors of one religion, sons of one country; the grand moral precept of our religion is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." When Rabbi Akiba was once asked, which was the principal commandment of the Torah, he answered; ואהבת לרעך כמוך זה כלל גדול בתורה "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, is the most comprehensive commandment in the Torah." When once a gentile intended to embrace the Jewish religion, but insisted on learning its principal laws while standing on one foot, Hillel said to him כל מה דסני לך לחברך לא תעביד, "whatever thou dislikest omit doing unto thy neighbour. This is the root of our moral law, all other precepts are its ramifications." We know of no distinction between rich and poor; in our Synagogues, in our communities, in our Jewish festivities, in our מצות, every one is considered equal; we know of no distinction between Christian and Jew, where love and charity call our aid into requisition. אפילו העכ"ום צוה לבקר את חליהם ולבקר את מתיהם, "It is the duty of the Jew to visit the sick of the idolaters; and to bury their dead," is taught by our great Maimonides. Wherever there are tears to dry, distressed to be relieved, unfortunate to be saved, afflicted to be consoled and comforted, there we call to our mind the words of the prophet: "It has been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord asketh of thee, only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." And in all these places, nay, in the whole Bible—open it and read it through—the one grand principle is universally inculcated, that every man is our brother, and as such has equal claims on our love and benevolence; and bitterly and perseveringly as we have been persecuted and oppressed, wherever a friendly hand was tendered to us, we willingly forgot whatever we had suffered, whatever wrongs we had been subjected to; with our tears we washed away all our wrongs into oblivion; and challenged mankind, which does not yet comprehend the moral law in all its force, to imitate our example. But great and beautiful as our moral law is, commanding as it does the respect of all mankind through all ages, our civil laws which we preach to the world are not less admirable. The greatest progress in the development of political life, ever made by mankind, we witness in these United States. Free from any overshadowing power which interferes at will with the public interest; free from those prejudices which divide men into castes, and alienate brother from brother, man is permitted to live here as man, enjoying equal rights, equal privileges, being entitled to equal claims, and having to render equal duties. The way to honour and preferment is as accessible to thy child, poor son of Israel, as to that of any other citizen; thy son, poor widow, may aspire to the same post as that of the wealthiest. Unencumbered by heavy taxes, unannoyed by an armed soldiery, unoppressed by despotic rule, man at last is permitted to live for himself, to work for himself, for his improvement, for his perfection, and for the welfare of his fellow-man. The heart rejoices at witnessing this example, the mind is astonished at the rapid and flourishing development of free institutions, and every sincere man must gladly acknowledge, that a new era has, at last, begun to dawn for mankind. And what is my own Jewish people, in reference to this? When yet no nation foresaw such a state of things, and no man dared pronounce it, it was Israel that foretold it, and prayed for it in their supplications to the Deity. Thy law has anticipated, thy prophets have presaged, thy seers have called this time the happiest days of mankind. According to the Pentateuch, no man could renounce his right as man, for with the jubilee every one regained his liberty and his property. Samuel warned the people not to elect a king, and Isaiah said: "And it shall come to pass at the end of days, that he shall judge between nations, and reprove many people, and they shall beat their swords into plough­shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall not learn any more war." And Malachi, the last of the prophets, put the keystone into this beautiful structure by saying: "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us all? and why shall we act treacherously one against the other?" Yes, it was thou, my people, that hast first invited mankind to this height, to which the inhabitants of this country aspire; it was thou, that first proclaimedst to mankind liberty and equality; and as thou seest mankind gradually accomplish this destiny, even so thou wilt yet see them embrace all the truths which are entrusted to thy safe-keeping. These truths will become more and more recognised, and will spread more and more widely, and the day approaches, when it will be acknowledged: "Surely this great nation was a wise and understanding people; the faith of this people has contributed towards the benefit of mankind; the code of this people alone contained the standard of right and truth: yes, the Jewish people has all along been the people of God."


3. But if this be our destiny, to hold up to mankind in our law the greatest religious, moral, and political truths as the goal of their exertions, what are we to do for this law, for this destiny?

Brothers, but a few weeks have I sojourned in your midst; but I have found in you warm hearts for our faith, deep affection for the religion of our fathers; I have witnessed your endeavours to establish this religion on a sure foundation, in order to glorify the word of God, and as Jews, to command respect from all around you. Men came to me and said: "Brother, untoward circumstances have forced us to transgress the commandments of our law, to deviate from the customs of our fathers; but we know that we have done wrong and we confess it with a penitent heart; and we rejoice that God has prospered our exertions, so that we need not to trespass again." Men came to me and said: "Judaism was badly provided for; but, according to the best of our knowledge and will, we have done all to preserve our religion, and to remain true to our faith. We have built Synagogues, and with joyous hearts we exclaim therein, 'The Lord our God is one;' we have founded institutions to preserve our ancient venerable customs, and the Lord has been with us and has assisted us, and still more rapidly and cheerfully the good work progresses." Oh, be ye blessed in the name of the Lord for these excellent beautiful words, to which I have listened with tears of joy; be ye blessed, men and women, fathers and mothers, youths and maidens, for these godly sentiments, which have expanded my heart. I do not admonish you to proceed in this way; I confide in you, I trust in Him, of whom our sages say : בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בומוליכין "Providence guides man always on the path in which he wishes to walk." Yes, you will walk onward in the path of faith, in the road of our religion, to accomplish your mission as Jews, to do every thing in your power to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might.

Brothers, but a few weeks have I sojourned in your midst; but I have found you good-hearted, noble-minded, and benevolent in a high degree. On a beautiful festive occasion, dedicated to the poor, I saw the wealthy and the rich, nay, I saw every one bestow his gift, according as the Lord had blessed him; and I learned how much you had done in so short a time; I learned that there are few Christian charitable associations in this country, of which Jews are not members, and to which Jews do not cheerfully contribute. Yes, my hearers, an old proverb says of our people, בני ישראל בישנים רחמנים וגומלי חסדים "The children of Israel are modest, compassionate, and benevolent." I feel grateful to you, my brethren, I feel grateful to you, that you have vindicated so gloriously the noble qualities of our people; that you have shown how religion operates on the Jew, how his moral law forms his heart. I feel grateful to you, that you have so truly sanctified the name of God: and here again, I do not call upon you to proceed; such a call would sound as if I put not full trust in your hearts, or doubted your sentiments. No, you are proud of being Jews, your hearts glow with Jewish affection, and a Jewish heart cannot but be good and benevolent; nay, it will be so, to show the sanctifying influence of the divine law which is ours.

Brothers, I entreat you to preserve these sentiments, to cherish these noble sentiments not only for yourselves, but also to inculcate them into the minds of your children, if you, virtuous fathers, and, pious mothers, wish to educate them to the honour of God; in order that these little ones may become proud of the name of Jew, that they may fully understand the holiness and dignity of our faith, and that, when you are awaiting in the grave the great day of the Lord, they may be able and willing to tread in your steps, to labour for the honour of our faith, for the glory of our religion, for the accomplishment of our destiny, to educate the whole human race in religious truths, in moral and civil laws. Yes, then the blessing of Jacob will apply to you: "Judah, thy brothers will thank thee!"

Judah! it was thou, who first didst bring us the sublime truths of faith;
Judah! it was thou who first didst teach us a pure system of morals;
Judah! it was thou who first didst recognise and establish the dignity of man.

Yes, Judah, אתה יודוך אחיך "thy brothers will thank thee;" and the word will be fulfilled, ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה "in thee shall be blessed all the families of the earth."

And may it also be thy will, O our Father and our God, to sustain us in our good intentions, to live in thy law; enlighten Thou our spirit, in order that we may comprehend our destiny; incline Thou our hearts, that we may accomplish it in love, and that we may be worthy of thy great blessing, which Thou hast spoken in the words: "The Lord bless thee, and preserve thee; the Lord let his countenance shine upon thee and be gracious to thee; the Lord lift up his countenance unto thee and give thee peace." Amen!

NOTE.—The above sermon of Dr. L., has been translated from the German by one of our correspondents; the translator wishes his name not to be mentioned, and we apologize for him in case our readers should find it somewhat too close an imitation of the original. The German style is so peculiar, and Dr. L. so purely German, that a literal transcript in English is almost impossible. But sure we are that our friends will thank our collaborateur for giving them an opportunity to refresh themselves by the pious and glowing sentiments of the learned and eloquent divine, who no doubt is destined to occupy a brilliant position amongst us. The Hebrew quotations have been retained at the request of Dr. L. himself; but they are translated and marked accordingly. Ed. Oc.