7. A Time for Action
I have not written merely to confess my sins. . . and to criticize modern paganism . . . but to appeal to the pious Jew. It is true, I have said nothing new that would lead away from the path of Judaism; but I want the community of the pious to shoulder the burden thus far thrown upon the individual; I want deeds where there have so far been ideals; and I want to point out ways that have not been pointed out so far.
YOU wait every day that G-d, in His great mercy, send you His messiah. Why do you wait for him, rather hasten his coming by mending your ways?
You mourn about the age and its apostates. Why do you not mourn about yourselves, you, who have failed to overcome the age and build a generation steeled against the impurity of our time, willing to bring about better times?
You know the teachings of the Torah, and its ways that lead man onward to the heights of holiness; why have you not walked them?
You have not risen towards the holiness imparted by the understanding of G-d's ways. Is that not because there is no understanding without intensity and concentration; and because these require isolation from the confusions of the world?
You have not risen towards the holiness attained by the imitation of G-d's mercy. Is that not because G-d wants you to immerse yourselves ever more in your duties towards your fellowman; and because you only love your own comfort?
You have not risen towards the holiness attained by sharing in G-d's glory. Is that not because you have not remembered the dignity of your ancestors, the purity, grace and beauty of their tents; because your desire for comfort did not let you reflect in your sphere of life the harmony and order of G-d's universe?
We cannot rise towards holiness unless we utterly give ourselves over to the Divine Word . . . moved by the longing for the coming of the messiah.
Let us, then, unite to labor towards this end. Let us call our brethren and sisters that they may come and work and ascend with us.
OUR teachings know a threefold holiness.
There is the holiness of the understanding of G-d . . . when we come to know of Him, to be inspired by Him, to bend our knees before Him.
There can be no understanding without humility and fervor; these spring from true understanding, and are its marks. He who bows before G-d must feel at one with those who do likewise and must be willing to stand up against those who do not: the men of mockery, cruelty and evil.
There is the holiness of divine mercy . . . when we come to immerse ourselves in it and spread it among the creatures.
Mercy requires deeds as well as omissions; it must respond to physical as well as spiritual pain; it must protect from suffering as well as alleviate it; it must be given to the community as well as to the individual.
There is, finally, the holiness of divine splendor . . . when we assume a share in it, in which to clothe ourselves.
We cannot make this splendor our own, for we only reflect the glory of the divine universe. And we can only assume a mere share of it: for it should not encroach upon man's supreme duties, mercy and understanding.
HOW can this threefold holiness be attained?
To rise in the understanding of G-d, in fervor and humility, let us turn our minds to them. Let us strengthen them by the study of the Divine Word, by prayer, sacred hymn, and by purposeful labor. Let us keep away from the confusions of our world: drunken pleasure, in place of divine joy; the craving for money, in place of quiet satisfaction; intellectual confusion, in place of a wise heart.
To rise in mercy, let us extend our help to our fellow-man; let us go beyond the Law to help the poor and sick and lonely ones; let us stay away from the spirit of evil as well as from its letter.
To rise in splendor, let us strive for beauty, purity and harmony in our sphere of life . . . within the bounds of morality, wisdom, and mercy; let us reflect the splendor of the divine world on our bodies, in our habits, and in our possessions and pursuits.
THESE are not words; we call for deeds . . . ready to offer our lives, and calling for those of all Israel . . . until there comes the end of days when the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established at the top of the hills and all the nations will stream to it (Isaiah 2:2).
A complete bibliography of Nathan Birnbaum's writings can be found in the volume of essays published on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday:
A. E. Kaplan and M. Landau (editors), Vom Sinn des Judentums (Frankfurt am Main, 1925).
Recent translations obtainable include :
In Bondage to Our Fellow-Jews, Agudist Tracts .No.2 (London. 1944) ; in English.
Selected Writings, Netzach publications No.5 (Jerusalem. 1943) ; in Hebrew.