Sermon from Apr. 19, 1865

Liebman Adler sermon

  • Full Title

    Liebman Adler sermon

  • Description

    English translation by Alisa Rethy.

  • Transcription

    Sermon delivered by Rabbi Liebman Adler at Congregation Kehilath Anshe Maariv, Chicago, Illinois on 19 April 1865


         In this hour, the earthly remains of the father of the fatherland leave the White House in Washington. As the bells proclaim it across the vast breadth of the land, so do the heartbeats of every thinking and feeling being that dwells in it.


         Reason can be corrupted, even seduced to go astray. Not only the reason of a few men, but the reason of millions. Let us consider the number of reasonable Israelites, Christians, Mohammedans, and heathens, how various are their understandings of religion! And how various are the opinions of the political parties with regard to the foremost concerns of humanity! The heart, too, can be led astray. But when the heart is stricken unexpectedly and without preparation, all good men feel the same. The voice of the heart is God’s voice.


         Since the beloved leader has lain murdered in Washington, few hearts in this country have been glad. The first reports of the terrible event shook every heart, shocked every emotion, and, in a single moment, the pain flew like an electric spark over millions of miles, through millions of hearts. In this hour our hearts beat with greater force once more, our feelings are more impassioned, the pain is again more piercing. It is as if one were whispering the question, the same question that was asked of Elisha on the day when his master Elijah ascended to heaven (2 Kings, 3:3): “Do you know that today the Lord is going to take away your master?” This accordant feeling of an entire great nation is a divine revelation, is unmistakable testimony, that it is a truly great man, a genuinely noble person, a wise ruler whom they lead to the grave today.


         Is his memory worthy of the honor presently being shown to him in solemn, expressive ceremonies by the greatest and most eminent in the land who gather around his body in Washington? Is he worthy of the honor and homage that is being accorded his memory in this hour by millions of the pious in tens of thousands of houses of God in cities and villages, and even in the wigwams of the savages? In ancient Egypt there was a court of the dead that would undertake a formal, rigorous investigation of the life of a deceased before he was granted a solemn, honorable burial. Above you, O Lincoln, the civilized world sits in judgment, a jury of millions, and calls with one mouth: “You are worthy of the honor! You shall be honored, lamented and praised, through all lands, by all nations, and through all times! – thus will the workmen proudly call: He was our own, blessed be his memory! The merchants will remember proudly that he too once ranked among them and will honor his memory. The judiciary will engrave in marble in their hallowed halls that he was a colleague in their profession and will sanctify his memory. Rulers of the future will read with joy that Abraham Lincoln once sat among them.


         Ring, bells, dull and dismal; it is the faithful echo of our heart! And the bells we hear here will ring onward from village to village, from city to city, and, as you make your return journey from Washington, from the splendid site of your public activity, the field of your worries and sorrows, to your peaceful, tranquil, once so happy home in Springfield, the hearts of the nation will overflow with sadness. Not long ago men called and led you to Washington, to the seat of power; today God leads you back home again. You must follow his call, to this we must yield. – O, how glad would we have been, to have seen you able to announce the news of the golden peace that smiles upon us! How happy would we have been to see your good fortune in life united with the good fortune of the nation. How greatly it would have pleased us, had you been able to enjoy the rest of your term in office in tranquility, peace and reconciliation, after your lot on the presidential seat was one of such unrest, worry, and distress!


         But God wanted it otherwise! Providence gave the land a clement ruler in war. Perhaps it now needs a more stern one in the work of peace that lies ahead – so that strictness and tenderness may always go hand in hand. – But full, heartfelt joy is taken from us, no matter what glad tidings time may bring. The unhappy fate of the leader, the ghastly deed carried out against the chosen one of this nation will remain the bitter droplet that spoils for us the sweetest goblet of joy.


         Praise be to God that he who committed the ghastly deed does not count among our faith, that the Israelites have spawned no such monster! All the same, one might be reminded by this deed – as we now must read in the daily papers – of the “wicked Jews who killed Jesus Christ.” May our ancestors – who 2000 years ago saw[1] an individual who acted against the order of provincial law sentenced to death by their ordinary courts, and in concord with all legal forms, be summoned from the grave and placed as a counterpart to the murderers of the president. Such an accusation would be a heavier blow, now, to Christianity, that after 2000 years of activity and in our enlightened age, its confessors were capable of such a horrible deed. But we are far from such meanness, that we should wish to burden an entire religious community with that for which a mere few are responsible. We would commit a grave sin, were we to call out in our pain: “The wicked Christians have killed Ab. Lincoln! they have killed the savior of their own country!” Let us rather mourn our shared leader together, Jews and Christians, and pray, Jews and Christians, for the peace of a human soul; for indeed, according to our religious teachings, the pious of all nations and of every faith share in the happiness that awaits the pious on the other side. – He may also, as a non-Israelite, light the way for us as a paragon of rigorous honesty, pure morality, unfeigned piety, humility, goodness of heart, and patriotism that glowed in the purest flame. Let us do


    in a small way, in the limited spheres of our lives, what he practiced to the greatest extent in his high position.


         While the body of our beloved former president is carried out of the White House, the new leader of the government moves in. It is now our duty for the fatherland to stand loyally with its leader, and not wait to bestow honor and recognition until death makes us compassionate. – The new president has steadfastly and unswervingly stood loyally with the Union when all stumbled and fell around him; may we forget that he once stumbled while all stood steadily around him. In this way we truly act in the spirit of the former president, the tested patriot.


         Your body, Ab. Lincoln, is now carried from city to city, from state to state, to its final resting place, to be joined as dust with the dust of the earth. But your spirit rises to God. He beholds the worlds, he surveys the spheres of heaven, all riddles of life solve themselves for him. He looks upon the glory among the righteous, while the earthly glory in Washington sinks into dust. But in the book of history the stylus is already stirring, securing immortality for you here below as well – in the realm of mortals.


         Your spirit, Ab. Lincoln, stands before the judgment seat of God. Your deeds are your interceding angels. But we, too, want, from the bottom of our heart, that our prayer for your salvation rise to heaven together with that of the praying nation.


    [1] I say saw because they themselves, with Jesus, were subject to the jurisdiction of the Romans and also, in thousands, had to breathe their last under Roman authority, upon Roman crosses.

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    American Jewish Archives. Translation by Alisa Rethy.

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    Use of this item for research, teaching and private study is permitted with proper citation and attribution.

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    Liebman Adler. "Liebman Adler sermon". Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/552