Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein
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|I ENTREAT you to read this little paper calmly from beginning to end. To read it thoughtfully,|
without prejudice, and undisturbed by the outcry made by people who are either deceivers themselves or deceived. I beg you to read it attentively and honestly, and to judge if its contents are logical, based on sound judgment, and deeply rooted in that Rock on which Moses stood when he beheld the glory of God.
The times are past when public thought was led in bondage by certain newswriters, and when men of narrow and indolent mind expected an unenlightened laity to cry Amen to anything they gave out to be dogma and beyond dispute. Reason has at last entered upon her right. “Wisdom cries aloud, she calls at the top of the market; at the town gates; through the whole town her cry resounds.” Prov. 8:1-3
Mankind is now mature and of age to understand and appreciate truth, which is eternal and absolute, though formerly misjudged. Everybody is now zealous for his own sound judgment and independent convictions.
Well, let us understand one another in brotherly love and goodwill. Let us go hand in hand without reserve, but taking with us the plummet of reason and of a spiritual religious consciousness; let us consider whether that which I have already written, and now write, is worthy to be cherished as in accord with the signs of the times, the hopes and expectations of Israel, with our past, present and future; whether it harmonises or not with that which I genuine and unadulterated of our Jewish sentiment and maxims. With the Psalmist I fervently pray, “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Thy law graciously. I have chosen the way of Faith; Thy judgments have I laid before me. I hold fast Thy testimonies; O Lord, put me not to shame. I walk in the way of Thy commandments, for this enlarges my heart.”
It is true, I have penetrated far into the Holy of Holies; I have boldly my enemies say madly crossed the Rubicon, and trodden an unfrequented path, hitherto shunned like the pest by every Jew, and especially by their Rabbis. I have paid homage to the founder of Christianity, and rendered Him praise as the Redeemer of the World, the Saviour, the long-expected Messiah of the Jews. But humanly speaking, do not our eventful, truly epochal time, require extraordinary means, bold thoughts, and thorough reforms? Are not new men now more than ever needed, who conscious of the purpose of their being, shall be as new channels of good to all peoples of every family and race? And is not this also the need of Israel? Scattered in all the world, fallen out in himself and with himself, dismembered, disunited Israel, who has yearned so longingly, and yet in vain, for the coming of the Angel of the Covenant! What?! Who?! can effect the regeneration and resurrection of Israel? Who shall bring to pass the prophesied miracle of Ezekiel? (chapter 37)
At the very outset I make my honest and public confession, the result of earnest thought and inward struggle, that is my steadfast, unalterable conviction, that Christ, and no other, is intended in this passage of the Prophet, and that it was fulfilled in His appearance. Yes, as a Rabbi grown grey in office, as an old Jew faithful to the Law, I confess candidly, Jesus is the predicted Messiah of Israel; Christ, and no other, is the Angel of the Covenant, for whom we long, and whose Advent our people have ever expected. He is come! This is now my shout of rejoicing, which my lips and pen, and, if God will, my prolonged life shall serve to make known. He is the most worthy successor of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets, for He beheld in cloudless light that which they saw dimly as through mist, and longed for with holy presentiment and awe. At the time of the sacrificial death of Christ, the veil of the Temple was rent in two, from top to bottom, and the glory of the Lord and His secret were revealed in brightest light to all the world.
“This is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7) “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21)
“Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord and His glory are risen over thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in the Light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.” Isaiah 60:1-3
“O House of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5) Or shall Israel alone be untrue to his longing, his hope, his ideal? Shall Israel God’s possession above all people, the priestly kingdom, the holy people, elected and called of God to render priestly service to the world, to stand at the head of the nations as the most excellent witness of God’s truth, light, and salvation, as represented by Moses and the Prophets, proclaimed by Christ, and written in the New Testament shall Israel willfully, defiantly, and obstinately renounce such high privilege? Truly deplorable and hopeless is the case of the man who has lost all confidence in God as well as in himself, and folds his idle hands in his bosom, saying, despairingly, “There is no more hope or possibility of improvement for me.” That nation is despicable which obstinately surrenders itself, and, so doing, crushes the hope of all its sons; it is like that unnatural mother who wickedly exclaimed, “Neither I nor thou shalt have it; cut it asunder.” But, on the other hand, that people is worthy of honour, and immortal, who, in spite of temporary weakness and long subjection, powerless and helpless, neither despair or give up hope, but continue to cherish faith in their hidden energy, in their future, and in revival of national life.
What power was that which raised to prosperity the degraded and neglected States of Greece, Roumania, Servia, and Bulgaria, not withstanding their political dissolution, the destruction of all scientific life, and servile degradation; in spite of the stupidity, ignorance, the enervation, in which the inhabitants had been held for centuries by the terrible and despotic Turkish government? Was it not inextinguishable hope? the longing for better times, thought on what their past had been, sad memory of departed glory, united with the impulse to awake out of the national sleep of centuries? The noblest among them felt ever more and more impelled towards freedom by the history of their land and people, their proverbs and national songs. You may well reply: The mighty hand of Russia, as of other powers, was to be seen here, compelling and giving freedom. But look at Hungary! forsaken and abandoned of all of the world. What power was that which restored life to its withered, dried-up bones, which renewed its suspended constitution, and gave it power to re-assert its nationality, and to blossom anew in unexpected prosperity? Was is not perhaps its songs, breathing hope and promise of freedom, its patriotic poets, the songs of the grandchildren singing their ancestors’ courage and strength, of the never to be forgotten spirit of self-sacrifice of their heroes; the inspiriting inexhaustible love of Fatherland; the irresistible impulse toward freedom and independence?
But listen to me as I say: We groan and cry and sigh for our Messiah, and out of the very longing for Redemption, we have often been misled by false Messiahs; and yet how inconceivable! What perversity! What unnatural confusion of thought! Let us suppose a poor man in great need, who expectantly waits to obtain a number in the lottery, being told, “Your lot has won the highest sum; you can draw your money when you will.” Would he not hasten home and make diligent search to satisfy himself if it were true?Now through all these centuries, thousands upon thousands of the most excellent of all nations have cried triumphantly to us: “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion, behold thy Redeemer, He is come, He spreads out His hands to you, He will gather you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings: He comes on the mountains and leaps on the hills; behold, He stands at thy door and knocks.” Open to me, my beloved, my sister, my dove! They fathers have often followed false Messiahs, idolatrously rendering them diving homage: shut thine ears no longer, open thine eyes, search thy Bible, inquire of thy Prophets, read the New Testament attentively, and thou shalt find Moses here, the Prophets there, Christ as Redeemer, Messiah, in the midst, -- God over all. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6, 7) “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah, in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, although they saw my works.” (Psalm 95:8) “Taste and see how kind the Lord is; blessed is the man who trusteth in Him. Fear the Lord, ye His saints, for there is no lack to them that fear Him. The lions lack and suffer hunger, but they that fear the Lord want no good thing. Come, ye children listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:9-12)
“For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that publish the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)
“But to whom shall I speak, and whom shall I warn that they may hear? Their ear is closed, they cannot understand, the word of the Lord is to them a reproach, they hear it with reluctance.” (Jeremiah 6:10) All else the Jew will receive with respect, however opposed it may be to God and His Word. Everyone, however forgetful of God, and worldly-minded, the greatest sinners and most hypocritical braggarts, he will treat with great esteem. He accepts the latest phases of modern thought, and smiles benevolently at the strangest principles advanced; only one thing oh horror! oh grief! will he not endure, that Christ should be preached to him, and whosoever dares to name that sacred name with reverence, him he will curse and execrate bitterly. Dear brethren, “I am the man that hath seen affliction.”
 An accomplished lady, who was conversing with me, exclaimed when her arguments had all been met, “He is everything great, everything noble, if only He were not called Jesus Christ.” We Jews call him (Yeshua) was my laconic answer.