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 the Great Synagogue, Sydney, 7 August 1988.
It is almost one hundred years to the day since the Great Hall of the University of Sydney witnessed the ceremonial inauguration of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales. Masonic activity itself had commenced nearly a hundred years before that, in the early convict period. The array of events organised for the next two weeks celebrates, therefore, not just a centenary but almost a bicentenary of Masonic brotherhood and service to society on Australian soil. The long, proud story of those years has been written, and every one of us looks forward to being able to read and be inspired by it.
It is fitting that the programme of celebrations contains a religious component, enabling us, in words well-loved by every Mason, with all reverence and humility to express our gratitude to the Great Architect of the Universe and to pray that He may in His goodness continue to support our Order by cementing its members in love and unity and adorning them with every moral and social virtue.
There was an article in the “NSW Freemason” not so long ago with the heading, “Why does Daddy go to Lodge?” The author ruefully informs us that being a father is not only one of one’s most interesting experiences but it taxes human ingenuity in finding answers to handle the penetrating questions of even the youngest child.
“Why does Daddy go to Lodge?” The answers might have a message, not only for our children and indeed our wives and friends, but also for the occasional detractor whose questions are not quite so good-humoured.
I go to Lodge, suggests the author, because I like the society of people, because at Lodge I meet a representative cross-section of my fellows, each my peer.
I go to Lodge because I learn of the problems of others; I aid them in solving those problems and they aid me to solve mine.
I go to Lodge because there it is merit alone that determines my standing.
I go to Lodge to come away a better man; not only do I become a better man, but a better husband and a better father.
It’s all very true and, because every Mason is an individual, there is none of us who would not have an idea or two of his own to add, arising out of and expressing his own experience and perception of Masonic membership.
For my part, accustomed as I am and we all are to calling each other “Brother”, I commend an interpretation of the story in the Bible in which Joseph, son and scion of patriarchs, is sent by his father on an errand. He meets a man who asks an obvious question – and gets an answer that reverberates through the ages.
“And the man asked him, saying, ‘What seekest thou?’ And he said, ‘I go seeking my brethren’ – Et achai anochi mevakkesh” (Gen. 37:15-16).
Who was Joseph? Why did his father send him on this particular errand? All we know suggests that from birth he was seen as an outstanding individual, a man who would rise, slowly but surely, to greatness. His father treated him with special favour. Those who met him showed, by admiration or envy, that they regarded him as above the ordinary. Even his dreams suggested a future of great achievement.
So Joseph, the man destined for noble deeds and historic achievements, must have been bitterly disappointed to have been summoned by his father to be a shammas, a messenger boy, and to carry out a simple, lowly, commonplace task. His brothers had gone off to tend the sheep; said Jacob to his son, “Go now and see whether it is well with the flock and bring me back word”.
Yet the young man neither complained nor hesitated. Hinneni – “Here I am”, was his response. Off he went to find his brothers and check out the sheep. “I go seeking my brethren” – that was how he explained himself to anyone who asked. Et achai anochi mevakkesh – that indeed became his lifetime’s task; that, not some distant, impossible dream, became the destiny to which his decades were dedicated.
Is not our century, as it nears its close after decades of dazzling achievements in every field of human endeavour, and of disasters that have devastated lands, lives and peoples, sorely in need of precisely the same lesson that ancient Joseph was taught by his father’s errand?
Think of the vision splendid that motivated the foundation of the United Nations: a magnificent monument to momentary altruism! Has it succeeded in guaranteeing justice, peace and truth upon earth wherever man dwell? You might say that things could have been much worse. But I want to know why they are not much better.
Justice, peace, truth and other fine and noble ideals do not seem to have made really significant headway in the many years since 1945. In some ways, indeed, they have become even more difficult of achievement, because they have been exploited and twisted by so many parties and pressure groups that one is not even certain what they mean any more.
The Joseph approach was never more pertinent. Dream the impossible dream, certainly; never let the vision fade. But learn that the way to fulfil the larger, grander ideals is to begin at grass-roots level. It has been well said that idealism, like charity, must begin at home.
If there is to be peace in the great big world, it must begin with peacefulness in the micro-world. Says the Hebrew liturgy, Oseh shalom bim’romav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu – “He who makes peace in His high places, may He make peace for us”. God Himself shows the way. To have peace in the high places there must be peace on the lowliest level, wherever human beings move and have their beings.
Australia is the pioneer of significant grass-roots level initiatives – the Conflict Resolution Network, the Million Minutes for Peace, and others. Each in its own way seeks to create cordiality between people and groups and to think well and peacefully of each other and to be schooled in the resolution of conflicts. Indeed, conflict resolution can be one of the most creative experiences there is; it enables you to understand yourself as well as the other person and to improve relationships instead of letting them be blown asunder.
Freemasonry has a unique contribution to make towards the realisation of the grand visions. It knows you cannot speak of brotherhood until you yourself have become a living example of being a brother, of feeling a brother’s pain and rejoicing in his success, of allowing no room for strife or dissension or the perpetuation of differences based on snobbery or status, of race or religion. The Mason says, Et achai anochi mevakkesh – “I go seeking my brethren”, and in an extended sense all human beings are his brothers.
Why does Daddy go to Lodge? Because the Lodge symbolises the possibility of building a society, a civilisation, composed of countless clusters of human beings who do not always agree but can disagree agreeably, who do not always like each other but can love even the less lovable, who do not live each other’s lives but respect the other person’s right to be himself as he respects mine.
The strange, magnificent fact is that just as Masonry, through its allegory, symbolism, and familiar phraseology, is dedicated to the Joseph principle of bringing great ideals down to earth, so are there so many other fine movements in society that exemplify humanity, understanding and ethical dealing. We tend to forget how much good there is in people, and how many people are quietly getting on with the errand of making the world a better place to live in. We tend to forget how many good causes and worthwhile groups there are that promote the ideals of love and service. We sometimes tend, too, to be over-zealous in promoting the interests of our own group or cause, allowing strife and suspicion to get in the way of working with one accord.
Can we afford the luxury of internecine warfare? I do not believe Masonry denigrates other movements, though there is occasional uninformed denigration of Masonry. There is so much we can do together to make the imminent turn of the century into a turning-point towards a secure future for all of mankind. Within Masonry there is so much we can do to strengthen our own attachment to its principles, our involvement in its activities, our living by its ideals wherever we go.
A cynical comment in the Jewish sources suggests that when you are a hundred it is as if you were already dead and had passed from the earth. Masonry in NSW has no intention of courting that fate as it celebrates a hundred years of its United Grand Lodge. May its second century continue to be dedicated to the grand visions and committed to their realisation. We invoke the blessing of God upon our Order; may it ever find grace and good favour in His eyes.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.