Home page Catechism for Jewish Children Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Catechism For Jewish Children

By Isaac Leeser.

Chapter VI.

The Moral Law

1. What does the moral law teach?

It teaches us our duty.

2. What is this duty?

We must do whatever God demands of us.

3. What obliges us to do this?

By the possession of the life given by God we are from motives of gratitude compelled to obey his wishes; and by the benefits which He daily and hourly bestows on us, we should be induced to show that we are not unworthy of his fatherly care; and lastly, as children of the covenant with the Lord, it is reasonable that we should repay his especial kindness by a more ardent display of activity in the fulfillment of our duties.

4. Towards whom have we duties to perform?

a. Towards God, through whose favour we live.
b. Towards our fellow-men, who, as well as ourselves, have received life and being from God.
c. Towards ourselves, both as regards our body and our soul.

5. Can you as a religious person do one part of these duties whilst you neglect the others?

No; because they are connected one with the other, and are all founded upon the bond which united us to the Lord our God.

6. What is this bond?

The love of God.

7. How do you explain this?

First. We shall love the Lord God above all, even more than ourselves.
Secondly. We shall love God in ourselves, since we also are the work of his hands.
Thirdly. We shall love God in ourselves, since we also are the work of his hands.

8. What are the words of the principal commandment which enjoins the love to God?

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE. and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Deut. vi. 4, 5.

9. How are we to love God with all our heart?

We should prize his favour and bounty as our highest good, and direct to Him alone all our wishes; never desire any thing which He has forbidden to us, and lastly, fear Him in sincerity, and devote our life to his service.

"The Lord thy God thou shalt fear, Him thou shalt serve, to Him thou shalt adhere, and by his name thou shalt swear." Ibid. x. 20.

10. How are we to love God with all our soul?

We should direct all our thoughts to the Lord, and place always our god, his holy will, his law, his goodness and his providence before our eyes. Furthermore, we should never transgress his will, if even harm should come to us for obedience; but we should reflect that He is our Creator, and He is therefore justified in demanding of us an implicit obedience, even if the life which He has given should thereby be taken from us.

"And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt speak of them, when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deut. vi. 6, 7.

"I have always set the Lord before me, that being at my right hand, I might not be moved." Ps. xvi. 8.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil; for Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Ibid. 23:4.

11. How are we to love god with all our might?

We should direct all our power and energy of mind to honour the Lord God with our conduct throughout life, and to devote every thing which we have to serve Him; since He is the Giver of all the good we enjoy, as well as the Author of our being.

"This day the Lord thy God commandeth thee to do these statutes and judgments; and thou shalt keep and do them with all thy heart and with all thy soul." Deut. 26:16.

"And the people answered and said: -- For the Lord our God it is that brought us and our fathers out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight, and preserved us on all the way whereon we went, and among all the people through whom we passed;-- therefore will we also serve the Lord, for He is our God." Josh. 24:16-18.

12. Be kind enough to tell me in a few words what you understand by the words "serving the Lord?"

We serve the Lord when we stand in fear of offending Him, and are engaged in pious works whenever we have an opportunity of doing them.

13. What is the chief commandment of those relating to our conduct towards our fellow-men?

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev. xix. 18); what you do not wish that others should do to you, do not unto others. If you, before acting, reflect that your conduct might give pain or offence to another, you should on no account do as you intended; for you would feel grieved if others were to treat you in a similar way.

14. Is this all?

No; we should not alone abstain from injuring others, but we ought also to endeavour to serve them. for instance, if I see a poor man asking for bread, or a garment to put on, and I have the power to grant what he asks, it is my duty to assist him; for I should reflect that I may at one time stand also in need of the assistance of others; and surely I would be sorely grieved were I then to be refused the favour which my distress might compel me to ask of others.

15. Are there any more particulars in these duties?

Yes; we should never show pride towards those who are not so rich as we are; for we ourselves would not like to be treated with contempt by those richer than ourselves. It is sinful to be overbearing to our fellow-men because of our greater power and wisdom; for we would ourselves be very unwilling to receive such treatment from others. Likewise, it is ridiculous to look upon beauty of the body as a particular claim to distinction; but most sinful it is to mock others for personal defects, such as blindness, lameness, deafness, stammering, or similar misfortunes; for we should consider that all the advantages we have are gifts of God, and the disadvantages of others afflictions sent by Him.

16. What is the duty therefore of superiors towards those less than themselves?

Those entrusted with power over their fellow-beings, such as rulers of states, judges, magistrates, military commanders, superintendents and teachers, ought, as servants of God, to use their power with mildness; nor should they ever dare to make those under their control feel the weight of the mastery which they have over them: so that the governed may obey their superiors from duty and affection more than from interest and fear.

17. What should be our conduct towards persons in our domestic employ, and servants in general?

It is our duty to behave mildly and affectionately to those who are engaged to work for us; never to make their task heavier than occasion and absolute necessity require; to speak to them in a polite and conciliatory manner, but never in the insolent tone which the proud and presumptuous make use of. We should reflect, that though they are subject to our control, from the force of circumstances, such as slaves, or from their own free choice, such as domestics who work for hire, or because we can make better use of their labour than they themselves could do, such as apprentices and journeymen mechanics and labourers: still they, as well as ourselves, are creatures of the same God, and, as such, objects of his care and bounty no less than ourselves.

18. How should we act towards the poor?

When we see a poor person, or are notified that a fellow-being is suffering for want of the necessaries and comforts of life, and we have the means to help him: we should not feel an indifference towards his sufferings, but it is our duty to give freely according to the blessing of the Lord which He has given us to our brother in distress. We should consider, that we only then deserve the blessing of God, when we are willing to bless others.

19. Is it enough merely to give?

No; when we give, we should give cheerfully, but not do it as though we were parting with something great and of importance to us. We should not make the poor feel his poverty, nor humble him, because he is compelled to ask us for assistance. We should consider, that God's bounty to us is freely given; He gives us food before we want it; and He grants us his favour, though our conduct does never deserve his mercy.

20. What should be the conduct of inferiors to their superiors?

Those who from their stations in life are under the power of others, should endeavour by all proper means to gain their favour; they ought to be respectful, obedient, and ready to do at all times the reasonable duties which are demanded of them; not to give sharp answers, even when harshly spoken to; so that they may overcome the anger of their superiors more by humility and becoming submission, than by insisting upon their supposed rights, and not irritate them more by hasty and impertinent replies, and useless bandying of words; and lastly, to execute the trusts reposed in them with fidelity and strict honour, as though the work and the advantage thereof, were entirely their own.

21. How should scholars behave to their teacher?

Scholars, such as those who have the fear of God in their hearts, ought to treat their teachers with the utmost possible respect; they ought to get well the lessons that are given them to study; they ought to be early at school, and have their clothes always clean and tidy; they ought to sit quietly and still during school hours, and listen with the strictest attention to whatever is taught them; if the teachers reprove them, they should not look sullen or angry, much less give an impertinent answer; when the teachers have to use punishment, they should submit with becoming patience; when the teachers inquire about any transaction, they should answer according to the strictest truth, and never excuse themselves by falsehood or prevarication, which is a concealment of the truth; and lastly, no scholar should ever get angry or displeased, if the teachers reward a deserving fellow-scholar; for such reward should stimulate the others to excel likewise, but should be no cause for envy and bitter feeling.

22. What should our conduct by to equals?

We are bound to meet all persons with becoming politeness; to greet them upon meeting, and to return their salutation; to be decorous in our deportment when in society, and to do nothing there which could offend any one present, either by boisterous mirth, or by unpleasant allusions to the faults of our companions or their friends. Neither are we permitted to make ourselves ridiculous by boasting of our own merits, or to give offence by a behaviour which would seem to indicate that we thought ourselves better than our neighbours. Thus also teach our wise men:

"Whosoever has the good will of men, has the good will of his Maker; but whosoever fails to please his fellow-creatures, cannot be pleasing to God." Abothe iii.

23. Now tell me, in a few words, how we are to act towards others?

We should be kind and considerate towards inferiors; obedient and respectful to superiors, parents, and teachers, and polite and decorous to our equals in society: in short, humility is the virtue which we ought to display in our intercourse with others.

24. How are we then to love God in our neighbour?

We should honour in our neighbour the image of God, and look upon him as our equal and brother, though he may be subject to our control for the present; for the time will come, when death will render us all equal again, and when we all must appear in judgment before the Lord our God. It is therefore that we ought to practise brotherly love and kindness towards all the children of the Lord's creation.

"Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, to profane the covenant of our fathers?" Mal. ii. 10.

25. What are our duties towards ourselves?

We are bound to value highly the life which God has given us; we are not at liberty to expose our health or life uselessly, so as to show a disregard of God's favour, displayed in giving us existence; and if we wish to be obedient to the will of the law, we must make the best use of our time and the intellect we have received, and endeavour to acquire all the knowledge which is accessible to us; so that we may become intelligent and religious, and better calculated to promote the general interest of all mankind, and to glorify God in our persons.

26. How then can we love God in ourselves?

We should endeavour to honour the image and likeness of God in ourselves, and to preserve it pure and unstained; that is to say, we should always try to keep our soul, the true image of God, unstained and free from the effects of sin, and preserve it holy and worthy to enter again the presence of the Lord when our life on earth is ended.

"And you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy; for I am the Lord your God." Lev. xx. 7.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter