|Vol. VII, No. 7
Tishry 5610, October 1849
Founded On Facts.
By Marian Hartog.
I love old customs, if they are not quite absurd; and there is a beautiful one among my own people that I cling to, with a such reverence, that it would pain me much to hear it ridiculed. It is a remnant of the poetry and tenderness of feeling that existed among our fathers, when they dwelt in their own sunny eastern land, the land of the olive and vine, of the date and fig-tree, the land of blue skies and running streams, to which we belong, but which no longer belongs to us. The custom I allude to, is that of blessing the sick and giving them another name, which name, if they recover, they bear during the remainder of their lives. Surely no harm can arise from the observance of this custom; whereas the good is obvious, as it frequently rouses the sinking spirits of the sufferer to renewed exertion; for, if we may believe what is emphatically termed the faculty the imagination exercises so powerful an influence over the human frame, that some casual circumstance acting upon this wonderful machine, produces such strange effects, that a patient considered at the point of death may rally, and against all calculations recover, or on the contrary, it may entail the most fatal consequences.
The ceremony is thus performed. When a Hebrew is dangerously ill, a congregation (ten men) repair to the Synagogue, and offer up solemn prayers for his recovery. At such times offerings are made for the poor, and, after the prayers, the reader of <<367>>the congregation opens a Bible, and the first name, male or female, as the case may be, which he happens to read, is bestowed upon the sick person, accompanied by a blessing.
There is a sad tale, for the truth of which I can vouch, connected with this custom, which, perhaps, has invested it with a charm over my imagination it might not otherwise have possessed.
Many years ago, long before I was born, though within the memory of many on whose truth I may rely, there dwelt in my native town a fair sylph-like girl, called Miriam, who was the belle of the congregation. Her soft dove-like eyes, and the sweet smile that wreathed her ruby lips, were the outward symbols of a gentle and loving spirit, and within her bosom throbbed as warm a heart, as ever beat in a woman's breast.
She was the only child of a widow; and never were mother and daughter more fondly attached than they were to each other; and it was beautiful to see that fair young girl, with her light step and blooming face, supporting her decrepit mother to and from the Synagogue, on the Sabbath and holy days; and many paused, on their way, to admire and bless the gentle and affectionate Miriam.
She had been early betrothed to one whom she loved with a deep but quiet affection. The young man had been long absent from his native land; for he was not wealthy, and the British West Indies, in those days, presented such an ample field for the speculations of enterprising men, that Moses Samuel left his home, in the hopes of realizing his golden visions of wealth.
Ere he left England, he entreated Miriam to become his wife and accompany him; but, though the heart of the beautiful maiden was with her lover, she resisted its fond whisperings, for she would not leave her aged mother, who was partly dependent on her for support, and wholly for the gentle offices of love to poverty, and the means of Samuel were not adequate for the maintenance of the widow.
“No, no, Moses,” she replied in answer to his entreaties, and her voice was firm, though her eyes were streaming with tears, “I cannot leave my mother. If we could provide for the comforts of her declining years, though it would grieve me much to forsake her even then, I should not be so averse; but as <<368>>we cannot, we must wait patiently, and pray God to bless and prosper your undertakings.” The lovers interchanged vows of mutual faith, and parted; and God heard and blessed the orphan’s prayer, by prospering the enterprises of her lover.
Four years elapsed, during which they had constantly corresponded together; but, within the last twelve months Samuel wrote less frequently, and Miriam’s last two letters remained unanswered. Weeks sped along, packet after packet arrived, and yet they brought no intelligence of him; and the cheek of the anxious maiden waxed pale, and her soft eyes grew dim, and were often blinded by tears as she bent over her work. She told not her mother of the sorrow that was preying on her heart; for age and decrepitude had rendered her unfit to be the confidant of the young heart’s sorrows.
Day by day the widow grew weaker and more helpless, and it required all Miriam’s gentle care to make life supportable to her. Day and night the fair girl toiled and watched for her mother; and even the Sabbath was not a day of rest and joy to her; for, unable longer to attend the Synagogue, she required her daughter’s constant attendance.
With uncomplaining cheerfulness Miriam fulfilled her daily duties; and though she sang not at her work as she had formerly done, she took care that her mother should not see her weep. So she bent over her needle more constantly than ever; for the increased infirmities of her aged parent demanded increased comforts.
It was a lovely summer morning, and Miriam, who had just refused to join some young companions in a walk, sat beside her mother, reading from the book of prayer a portion of the beautiful service for the Sabbath; and while she read the law, the soft tones of her sweet voice sank deeply into her listener’s soul, as she bent her dulled ear to catch the sounds.
“Miriam, my dear child,” said the widow, laying her shriveled hand on the youthful head of her daughter as she closed the sacred volume, “those are blessed words which thou hast read; but, I would speak with thee of other things. Thou hast ever been good and dutiful, and the God of Israel will shower his blessings on thee. Thou hast strewed flowers on the thorny path of my old age, and I would not pain thee willingly. But age <<369>>and disease have done their work upon me. My years are full, and we must soon be parted. I would I had seen thee a wedded wife; but God has willed it otherwise, and His will be done. Do not weep so bitterly, my dear child; it is necessary thou shouldst be prepared for a stroke, to which all in turn must bow.”
“Oh mother, mother,” cried Miriam, wildly throwing herself on her mother's neck, “do not speak to me of parting; I will work for you! beg for you! starve for you! but speak not of leaving me alone, in this desolate world, without friend or comforter. What should I do without you? My heart would break and I too, should surely die.”
“My own Miriam,” replied the widow solemnly, “I too thought my heart would break at that long parting which knoweth no meeting on this side of the tomb; yet I have seen father, mother, husband, and children laid in the narrow house of death, and survived them all, till the lamp of life is burnt out, and years and infirmity have left me nothing to live for, but to burden thee.”
“Burden me! mother; would to God you had left those words unsaid. You have known many trials, and lost many of your dearest ones, and yet God spared you one. He did not leave you lonely, as I shall be when you are gone from me,” exclaimed Miriam in a voice of heart-broken misery, that touched her mother to the soul; but kissing away her tears, she gently said,
“Thou wilt not be quite alone, Miriam, when I am low; remember, my child, thou art a betrothed bride. Thou wilt be wedded to Moses Samuel, and he will supply my place to thee. I must not deceive thee, my dear child; I may linger a day or two, it may be three; but the fingers of death are twined about my heart, and I feel that when the next Sabbath sun rises, it will be on thy mother's grave.”
Miriam had no voice to reply; but the tears streamed down her face, and her slight frame was shaken by her convulsive sobs. Moses Samuels, whom her mother spoke of as a friend, when she was gone, had already ceased to love, even if he had not quite forgotten her. But she did not say this; for, though her heart was deeply wrung, she would not pain her mother.
That night, when midnight slept in peace on the tranquil waves <<370>>of the summer sea, a young girl, robed in a thin night-dress, might be seen rushing through the deserted streets, and beseeching the Hebrew matrons, whom she roused from their slumbers, to arise and pray by the side of her dying mother.
Then followed the anxious watching, the heart-wrung prayers, the vain lectures on fortitude, the parting blessing, the fearful separation of widow and orphan, and then— When the next Sabbath sun arose, Miriam was motherless.
Weeks elapsed ere any one presumed to speak of hope again to the bereaved orphan. Hers was that silent grief which, betrayed by signs alone, awes the voice of common-place consolation to silence. She neither sobbed nor screamed when they rent her robe and kindled the death-lamp; but there was that in the large tearless eyes, and on the hueless face, which told how deeply the soul was stricken, and the gentle spirit crushed and bowed by its weight of suffering.
When the week of the seven days of mourning were over, Mrs. Samuel removed her from her desolate home, and strove to win her from her sorrows.
“There are letters from the West Indies, Miriam,” said Rebecca Samuel, about five weeks after her mother’s death, as she entered the chamber in which the unhappy girl was left to the indulgence of her sorrow; “letters from Moses, and here is one for you, dearest,” and kissing Miriam’s burning brow, she placed it in her eager hand.
With trembling haste, Miriam broke the seal of the long-expected missive and read its contents. “Oh, he was not false; she had wronged him who remembered and loved her yet.” And then, for the first time since her mother’s death, she laid her head on Rebecca’s bosom and wept profusely. The gentle soothings of Rebecca at length succeeded in calming her emotion, and, wiping her dimmed eyes, she read his letter through again.
“Forgive me, dear Miriam,” he wrote, “forgive me for my seeming neglect; I have been absent from home, dearest, on business which has prospered beyond my most sanguine expectations, and they knew not where to send your letters, so that I have only just received them. It was very sweet to read the lines your hand had traced, and how much sweeter will it be to <<371>>clasp that hand in mine, and feel united to you by a tie which only death can sever. The obstacles to our union are removed. Miriam, I am no longer poor; the prayer offered by you at parting has been granted; I am wealthy; wealthier than I had ever hoped to be. Come to me, then, and bring your aged mother as the companion of your voyage. We will make the remnant of her days, days of sunshine and happiness; for she will have her sweet Miriam still, and Miriam’s husband will be as a son to her. The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, bless you, my beloved, and that He may shield and guard you from every evil is the unceasing prayer of
The mention of her mother’s name made the tears gush afresh to the eyes of Miriam, and the affectionate girl threw herself once more into Rebecca’s arms and gave free vent to her sorrows; but from that day she gradually recovered health and beauty. Perhaps her recovery was greatly facilitated by the kindness with which Mrs. Samuel expedited the preparations for her departure.