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Specimens of German Preachers

No. II.

On Education.

A Sermon for Shebuoth, by Dr. Ludwig Philippson, Rabbi of Magdeburg.

Beneficent Father of the sons of man! "Behold children are a heritage of the Lord, offspring a glorious reward." (Ps. 127. 3.) Truly, as Thou hast placed our children in our arms, on our heart, as pledges, as entrusted, invaluable possessions, as a sweet weight, a dear burden, difficult to be borne, yet so gladly borne, not willingly yielded for any price, so dreadfully painful to lose:—do Thou Father, help us, teach us how to guide them in the right path, that they may walk in the light of thy countenance, that they may become an ornament to our neck, a crown to our head, to honour Thee, to be a blessing to man, and to us, their fathers and mothers, a pride, a happiness, that we may constantly take them joyfully to our arms, and they close our eyes in sincere love at the end of cur days. Amen.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Israel!

As often as we unite on this day for worship, on the festival of the revealed God, our view is of itself directed to the terrors of yon desert, where our fathers were assembled at the foot of Sinai, to listen to the word, the commands of the Lord. The thought is too great ever to be forgotten. Above—the thunder-cloud of the Lord, below—millions of awestruck men, between—the smoking, quaking mountain, and above all the Lord's voice, which caused the doctrines of right and virtue to sink unto everlasting into the hearts of mankind. Yea, the very idea is divine! And what did the Lord desire? To educate a great people to a knowledge of divine things, to justice, to religion. Therefore did He them draw forth out of the dark country of superstition and slavery, to render them free from the bonds of error and dependence, as a child is drawn out of the dark domain of unconsciousness, out of the region of sleepiness to the light of day and freedom. Therefore did he lead them forth into the wilderness, that they might be alone, separate during their time of instruction from a contact with the vicious, sunken nations, just as we shieldingly guard our children from the evils and vices of the world. He fed them there with a peculiar species of food, as we do to our children as long as they are infants. He led them through the wilderness for forty years, till they acquired the power to enter into an independent life, just as we kekp our children with us till they reach manhood's years; in the wilderness He taught them doctrines and justice, truth and virtue, knowledge of divine things and piety, just as we would gladly impress them upon our children, and lay them, if we could, in their open heart. And after they had become grown up and strong, He caused them to enter the land of contest, to become manly in the battles for their country, and assisted them in the struggles for that land, till they could live and act as an independent people. So also do we parents let our youth and maidens enter into life, to meet its struggles and fatigues, and we surrender to them our wealth and possessions, that their tasks may be less than ours has been, till they become men and women in their own position, at their own fireside. But even in this also the parallel holds true; often did Israel fall off from the only God, often did Israel go astray from off the road which had been taught to them, and did not always fulfil the hopes which they had awakened:—and how often do not parents behold the same thing with a torn heart in their grown up children? for they too fall off from the right path, and the father's eye and the mother's heart see the danger and the destruction and cannot help;—וישמן ישרון ויבעט "Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked," "we hoped for grapes and find wild grapes."

But I have already, beloved friends, touched upon the very subject to which I meant to lead you. The education of the people of Israel, the principal day and centre of which we celebrate this day, I intended, should lead me to speak of the education of the Israelitish child. But why should I speak to you of this subject to-day? Is not to-day the feast of the first fruits? But where can we find more precious first fruits which we could bring to the altar of the Lord than our children, his blessing and our joy? Is not to-day the feast of our confession of faith? And how can we better lay our confession before the only God than in our children? And is not this a period when all nature is rearing and educating its offspring? And do I not stand now under a canopy* of boughs and flowers? And what are the evergreen boughs of our life, and what are our most fragrant flowers, if not our children?

* It is the custom to decorate the synagogues on the Feast of Weeks with greens and flowers, as alluded to above.—Ed. Oc.

Let me therefore speak to-day concerning the education of the Israelitish children, and earnestly supply answers to the following three questions:

How ought they to be educated?
For what end ought they to be educated?
In what spirit ought they to be educated?
And behold, the truest aim of education is expressed by the prophet in the Haphtorah of to-day (Ezekiel 1. 12):

"They went every one straight forward; whither the spirit was to go, thy went, and they turned not when they went."


My friends! how should education be conducted?—nay, is education at all requisite? If we take counsel of past experience, the effect of education may at times appear very questionable. We behold children educated in the most excellent manner deviate from the road marked out to them which they had already entered upon; in other words, that a good education produces bad fruits. We on the contrary behold children greatly neglected become excellent and distinguished men; or, that a bad education produces good fruits. But this is not the way of considering the subject, brethren. The prophet says: "Whither the spirit was to go they went, and they turned not when they went." A word is this of deep import. The direction a man has once received he never forsakes again, or it never leaves him. Let us rather ask, what would have become of the first mentioned, if in addition they had received withal a bad education? May not the good impressions which they received in their youth withhold them from the worst deeds? May not often with all their wickedness appear unto them the shadows of their noble-spirited parents counselling better things?—Or how might not the others have bean advanced if they in addition had withal received a good education? How much easier might it not have been for them to take their upward flight, and how much farther might they not have risen? Yes, the traces of a good education will ever remain visible in the degenerate, and preserve him from sinking entirely; the traces of a rude education will ever adhere to the one who has risen beyond it, and can never be entirely obliterated! Yes, parents, there exists no more valuable gift, no nobler possession, no more useful and richer present which you can bestow upon your children than a good education! The spirit of man in childhood is like wax, which receives every impression, but like iron for after life retaining fast and for ever all impressions it has received. But how should education be constituted in order to be good? It must, in the first instance, be an education of carefulness, of constant watching; the parental eye must constantly be awake over the child; and if it is said from God towards us, his children—(Ps. 121. 4): "Behold He slumbers not, He sleeps not," it ought to be the same from parents towards their children. Is it sufficient if you leave your children to strangers, or send them even among strangers to grow up among strangers? If so, they will remain strangers to you and paternal care. No, neither business, nor avocation can serve as excuse; the first work of parents must be to educate their children, and they themselves must educate them. For to a stranger's heart the child appeals but negligently, he layours for pay, and he cannot confer on him what is the second requisite of a good education, an education of love and affection. Oh, how soft is the touch of the hand of the father or mother to the heart of the child, how gratefully is the child penetrated by the exertions of the parents, how readily do all the blossoms of the young soul open themselves under the loving rays of the paternal eyes, to which it turns as the sunflower does to the daystar of our planet. Who protects the child from every rude blast? The mother's love. Who guards the child against the worm that secretly gnaws up the root? The father's love. But this love must at the same time be the true love; education must therefore be thirdly—an education wherein mildness and severity are united. Whoever educates his child with and full of indulgence and imagination renders him effeminate and self-willed. Whoever educates his child with and full of repelling severity and coldness renders him unsociable and headstrong. Whoever makes a plaything of his child at one moment and then breaks out in fits of fury like a thunder-storm, renders him uncertain and wavering. On the contrary, love and severity must go hand in hand, at the right time and according to a judicious plan; out of the midst of mildness severity must ever be discernible, and in severity the child should perceive the traits of mildness. The good actions must be rewarded, faults must be punished; but the punishment must appear to the child as a necessary result, and the reward as an immediate consequence of his actions. Education therefore must proceed from the father and mother at the same time, that the earnestness of the one may be intimately united with the mildness of the other, that the education should neither be feminine nor morose. Finally, and fourthly, education should be an education of a good example. For a good example is the soul of education. There are, ye parents, no more attentive observers of your conduct than your children, there are no severer judges, but at the same time, no more ready imitators. Take especial care; and if ye sin, do not show it to the children; if you commit an act of injustice let them not see it; if disunion is between you, let them not become aware of it. Only go before them with an example of mercy, and righteousness, and piety, and they will follow. For they go whither the spirit is directed to go, and they depart not therefrom.

And was not this the education which the Lord vouchsafed to Israel with so much care, since the pillar of cloud did not depart during the day nor the pillar of fire by night, so lovingly, since He bore them on eagles' wings, so mildly yet so severely, since He punished them for their misdeeds, and favoured them when they repented, with an example to us so truly in accordance with his divine goodness, forפניו ילכו "his countenance went before them?" Let your countenance then go before your children, that they may follow on the right path. Behold, then will, as the Psalmist says, "thy children be as olive-plants around thy table."


With love, care, mildness and severity therefore should we educate our children. But for what end? in reference to what object shall we educate them? what direction shall we give them that they may follow it? When the Lord educated the people of Israel He gave them the divine code of justice and mercy, and the law of sanctification. The first instructed Israel concerning their acts towards their fellow-men, the latter concerning their conduct towards the Lord. And thus is man given to two directions; and has built up to himself two worlds, the one the existing human world, the other the inward and higher world of the spirit. And for both must our children be educated. First for the earth. To whom is it more necessary that the growing generation should become a sterling class of men, than Israel? Scarcely as yet acknowledged, scarcely yet somewhat tolerated* and yet much restricted in society, our children ought to be able to maintain an honourable position through the power of mind, firmness, worth, pre-eminence, and to obtain constantly more esteem—a more enlarged field from our opponents.

* The learned divine of course alludes to the situation of the Jews in Germany and many other European countries.—Ed. Oc.

Yes! a man who is laborious, active, productive among mankind is a glorious phenomenon. But how can education conduce to this result? When it is in the first place an education of order, of the severest, surest order. Order is a divine attribute, for only through means of it can God's world exist. Order stamps the character of health and usefulness upon body and soul. Order is the foundation of temperance, and conquers the passions. Children must be accustomed from their earliest infancy to a careful order in time and space, in their person and possessions; and in this very point there is witnessed the most frequently a lamentable neglect. To form, however, a useful character there is necessary as a second requisite an education of perfection. From early infancy the child should be made to do nothing by halves, but to do every thing fully and completely. Whatever has been commenced ought to be finished, he must not be permitted to remain standing still half ways. Only in this manner can unskilfulness in any craft be avoided, and thus only can one become master in any pursuit, whatever it may be. Let the boy choose or be compelled to choose whatever branch it may be, let it be his endeavour to perfect himself therein and become ruler there of as of his proper province. And thirdly, education must be also one of earnestness. Away with every frivolity, with every species of trifling in education—an education which cannot initiate and force the child too early into the vanities of the world, there where light enjoyments and dancing play the first part of life! Away with that effeminacy of education which would prepare for the child nothing but a succession of pleasures, as though he entered the circle of the human family for no other purpose; an education which cannot make the child acquainted at too early an age with all the enjoyments of life, and which calls forth nothing but degeneracy and the desire to enjoy. The child should be early taught by experience, that life is something earnest and difficult; he must early learn how to govern himself, how to dispense with many things, how to conquer his desires. Leave to himself the task of pursuing his plays and amusements, for he is a child, and understands these matters better than you, and will be most pleased with things of his own invention. Finally, and fourthly, education should be one of refinement and nobleness of mind; for in every situation one can be refined and noble-minded, and thus ennoble himself and be a joy to others. But not in mere bowing and in graceful words consists the refinement and nobleness recommended to you, but in disposition and behaviour, in demeanour and conduct. This therefore renders man what he should be, and ripe for intercourse with mankind at large:—when he observes order and perfection, earnestness and refinement.

But is this enough? No, farther yet does the province of education extend itself before our view; it should rear man also for the inner, the spiritual world. In the first place the mind should be awakened to a free, living activity; superstition and terror should be avoided, that the spiritual eye may be enabled to survey every thing with a clear vision, that man may demand an account and obtain the reason of all that takes place. Then however, must the feelings of the child be awakened and formed, for these at last are the noblest part of man; his sensations should be directed towards the good and noble, that he may learn early to love the good and to abominate the evil, next conscience, this guardian of the paradise of the human heart, must be awakened to pronounce a loud, independent sentence over himself, that the child may betimes be made aware of the judge inherent in his own heart, to listen to his voice, to attend to his reproof and his approbation, and to mark his warning and his inciting. In this manner ought you to use your children betimes, not merely to live without but also to live within themselves, and to yield themselves to a contemplation of their inward man. Only through an equal cultivation of the mind, the feelings and conscience, does man in reality become an entire man, who governs himself and the world, who is a king in his own kingdom. And if you have succeeded in this through your education, then will your children follow in this direction, not depart therefrom, but pursue their onward course.


Yes, education, beloved friends, is a difficult, a great work and nevertheless I have not yet led you to its highest pinnacle—to RELIGION, to religious education. But if you were to ask me for the third requisition: "In what spirit shall our children be educated?" what else could I answer you, except in the spirit of the Israelitish religion, in Israelitish piety? Religion must be the basis of education, or else it is valueless and a useless fragment. Religion must be the spiritual influence which covers, the spiritual bond which unites the whole system of education, or else the whole will one day fall to pieces and vanish into nothing. For since in religion alone all the virtues, whatever is beautiful and immortal, have their root, how could these be transplanted into the soul of youth without religion? And if Israel has been educated by God himself to be a people of religion, as the bearer of religion, of religious knowledge, how could our youth solve this problem, this divine task, without the aid of religion? But in truth, in nothing is our age so vacillating, so careless, so uncertain, as precisely in religious education. Most parents are only careful that their children be instructed in the arts and sciences of the world, but religious knowledge they postpone to the last. The frequenting of the school where religion is taught is a burden to the parents, which they postpone as far as possible, and then abridge as soon as possible.

How often do I hear children say in the name of their parents: "I have too many things to learn for my general school, I cannot find time to get the religious lesson;" and this from children of such parents as profess to observe the true religion of Israel! And then, what can the school alone accomplish? The home must effect the principal thing in the department of religion. It may be left to the teacher alone to inculcate worldly knowledge; but religion must be visibly displayed at home before the children; love and respect for religion must be made daily and hourly manifest at home to the children, and be in word and deeds the evident traits of parents if they are to take root in the minds of the younger portions of the household.

How then ought the Israelitish religious education to be constituted? First, how ought it not to be? In the first place, it must not be an education to produce a mere religious lip-worship. Judaism requires not the like, and our times are not suited in anywise for the same. So long as children stand in fear of the father's rod, they may follow it up; but then they seize the first opportunity to free themselves from it; religion has taken no root in them. But much more injurious is that altogether irreligious education which imparts to the child nothing of religion, of prayer, of worship, and of the law; or that species, which lets children grow up in such ignorance that they learn perhaps for the first time from the opprobrious epithets of other children that they are Jews. How confounded must then such children be! They feel no bond which unites them to our religion, and they are nevertheless bound to the name.—There are also many parents who let their children be instructed as much in Christianity as in Judaism, and let them attend at school during those hours when instruction in the Christian religion is imparted. Against such a course, all religion, all reason exclaims. What shall the children look upon as right? What shall they believe? With how much laxity, with how much levity, how speedily, will the children cast off all religion? In all this lies hidden a deep religious corruption.

The child must be early penetrated by the breath of religion, early, at the first dawning of his consciousness, already must he obtain an experience of God, must learn to love, to be grateful to Him; and this love and gratitude must be strengthened through regular hours of prayer, which first should be short, and then constantly increase in length; but should never be omitted, as being the most important business of the day. He must learn to obey this God as the supreme Wisdom, and to follow his law he must he taught to consider as the highest aim of life. He must live in constant connexion with this omnipresent God, and regard Him as the attentive Observer, as an indulgent Judge of error, as the strict Judge of sin, and as the merciful Father of his creatures. And with the increase of years he must learn to acknowledge the only one God, and be instructed in his holy revealed word, and regard religion as a positive reality whether it be in divine worship, the law, or the practice of piety. And as he has been educated as man, he must now be educated to become a Jew. He must be informed of Israel's eventful history, learn to understand Israel's high destiny, to comprehend Israel's exalted possession in the word and law of the Lord, and how and in what Israel's religion differs from the systems of others, and how highly exalted it is above all human knowledge, and how it animates the true Israelite, strengthens, renders him firm, and conducts him to everlasting felicity. In this atmosphere should the Israelitish child be educated, be animated by this spirit, and then will he follow it to whithersoever it is turned, and not depart therefrom.

I turn myself now to you, you elder fathers and mothers, have you thus educated your children? and should they not have become all you would wish, are you free from all blame? Can you perhaps retrieve something yet of the work left undone?

Of you, younger father's and mothers, I ask, do you educate your children in the manner indicated? do you give them such a direction that they can freely pursue it? I testify against you today that you are responsible for your acts to God, the religion of Israel, nay to your own children, that none of these may one day say over your graves, "They have corrupted me, on them is the guilt of my faulty life." And you also who one day hope to be fathers and mothers, if you desire to be worthy of this high calling, prepare yourselves for it and learn to fulfil its duties in the best manner possible.

Parents! it is an immortal soul, a divine breath which is surrendered to your keeping in every child: take the utmost care of the heavenly scion; the joy and sorrow of your child, nay the joy and sorrow of distant generations depend upon your proper appreciation of your duty,—fulfil it, and ascribe to the Lord the glory due fo rhis mercy. Amen.