Address by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory, at Lodge Mark Owen, Sydney, 3 April, 1985.
Three “freedom” events coalesce tonight – a Freemasons’ meeting, the eve of Passover, and the approach of Anzac Day. Freedom unites all three occasions. It would be easy to turn this address into a paean of praise of freedom and its blessings, but my theme will not be the joys of freedom but the opposite – its dangers. For freedom is hard to handle.
It can make us bored. Rousseau wrote of the Utopia of the picnic, of people who gained freedom but wondered what to do with themselves. Our own age offers increasing leisure, earlier retirement and a longer life span, but leaves us unable to be stimulated.
It can lead to mischief. We know so much about leaders who get their people to finally throw off their restraints and then impose even worse repression. The Yiddish author Sholem Asch wrote in an essay, “Who Hasn’t Exploited Freedom?” of what we might call the unfreedom that often comes once freedom is gained. Asch sadly remarks, “It seems to me that in our own generation, before our own eyes, the beast Freedom has slain, gassed, tormented and enslaved more men, women and children than all the tyrants have. The files of the Inquisition are child’s play against the methods of torture, the disappearance of human beings without a trace left of them used by all the different liberators who came to us in the name of an ideal, to bring us freedom…”
Freedom can make us lonely. Freedom is a joy but after the battle we may well feel we have been cast adrift. How do we cope? We can of course give away our freedom and become cogs in a wheel. We can surrender it and accept a new dictator. We don’t always advance to full realisation of how privileged we are to be alive, how special is every other human being, and how good it is to have friends and be a friend.
The rabbinic sages said, “No man is free without the Torah”: in other words, no-one is really free without values and an agenda. Sholem Asch wrote, “Moses, the great liberator, freed the Jews from Egypt, to make them servants to the Lord. Servants to His Law. For without God, and without His Law, without righteousness, there is no Freedom”. The Masonic teachers understood. They told every recruit that a Freemason must be free, but then they brought him a difficult discipline. The Australian observing Anzac Day discovers the same lesson. Like Noah in the Bible, who emerged from the Flood and immediately became drunk, he is tempted to walk away from the Anzac marches straight into the pub, but Anzac Day is not there to make better drinkers but better citizens.
Freedom is wonderful, but it is a danger if, in the words of the philosopher Ahad HaAm, one is a slave (even to alcohol) in the midst of freedom. The blessing of freedom is when we invert Ahad HaAm’s words and speak of being free even in the midst of slavery. In his book, “The Will to Meaning”, Victor Frankl says: “What matters is the stand one takes towards his predicament, the attitude he chooses towards his suffering”. To decide freely even in the midst of unfreedom that one’s standards will not lapse, that is true freedom. However thick his walls are, a person can still soar free.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.