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 North Shore Synagogue, Sydney, 24 June 1990.It is a privilege for me to address this impressive gathering. In a sense, I am wearing two hats. As a rabbi, I welcome the representatives of the Masonic craft, for some of whom this is the first time they have been in a Synagogue. As a Mason, I offer the congratulations of Masonic brethren throughout New South Wales to the North Shore Synagogue, which is celebrating its golden jubilee in such evident health and strength.
Many Jews are Masons, many Masons are Jews. The two loyalties go well together. Others may argue, largely on the basis of hearsay and misinformation, that Masonry is incompatible with religion or even a threat to it because it borrows Biblical terminology, cites Scriptural episodes and personages, requires a belief in God, and invokes Divine blessing upon its members and their proceedings.
We find all this more than a little strange. Since when was it reprehensible to carry the Bible and its teachings into every avenue of life? Since when was it forbidden to think of God and call upon His Name wherever we might find ourselves?
Jews find much point in a story about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who loved his fellow with a surpassing love. Once, Levi Yitzchak’s attention was drawn to a fellow Jew greasing the axles of his wagon whilst wearing his tallit, his prayer shawl. “What a disgrace that fellow is,” said the informant; “Fancy soiling your tallit and profaning the Name of God whilst putting grease on your axles!” Levi Yitzchak gently disagreed. “Lord of the Universe,” he said, “What a wonderful man of piety this is. Not even for a moment, not even when he is mending his wagon, will be forget You and turn his mind away from sacred thoughts!”
Masonry is not a religion, though some of its rituals and routines are religious. It encourages every one of its members to be active in the religious denomination of their birth or affiliation. It stands for an overall belief in God, but directs its members to their own church, synagogue or other place of worship to discover how God may be understood and worshipped in line with one’s own religious tradition.
Religion, and Masonry, both confront a major array of challenges in the environment of 1990. It is hard for those who believe in old-time ethics to come to terms with the many sordid things that are part of today’s daily scene.
Injustice, victimisation, exploitation, dishonesty, corruption, arrogance, self-seeking, callousness – the list is endless. For details, see your daily newspaper. Alas for a world in which people are afraid or unwilling to try the decent way, the way of humility, honesty and helpfulness!
An allegory in Midrash tells that before creating man, God was in two minds. He called the angels together and asked their opinion: “Should I create man, or should I not?”
“Create him not!” said the Angel of Justice. “He will be unjust towards his brother man; he will injure the weak and exploit the vulnerable!”
“Create him not!” said the Angel of Peace. “He will stain the earth with the blood of his brother; he will spread mischief and discord everywhere!”
“Create him not!” said the Angel of Truth. “Though You create Him in Your image and impress the stamp of truth on his brow, yet will he desecrate Your creation with falsehood and dishonesty!”
They would have said more, but Mercy, the youngest and dearest angel-child of the Eternal Father, stepped up to the Divine Throne and said, “Father, create him! Make him in Your image, as the crowning glory of creation. When others doubt or forsake him, I will be with him still. I will touch his heart with pity and make him kind to others weaker than himself. When he goes astray, turning from the ways of justice, peace and truth, I will gently direct him back to the right path again, and turn his errors to his own good!”
The Father of Mercy, says the Midrash, listened to Mercy’s voice, and with Mercy’s support He created man.
Not that He was not tempted a million times to regret His decision. Not that Mercy was not tempted a million times to rue her optimistic view of human nature and its potential for good.
But those who have eyes to see what miracles of the human mind have enriched the Divine creation, not least the scientific, technological and cultural wonders of the twentieth century, must never lose faith in man’s capacity to achieve miracles of morality and mercy with his heart, spirit and conscience; miracles at least as impressive as the miracles of man’s mind.
Three miracles in particular, represented by the angels who opposed our creation: Justice, Peace and Truth.
The first is justice. In the expressive Australian phrase, a fair go: The courage to be fair and just despite the pressures of blackmail and bribery and expediency: The capacity to give everyone his due without distinction as to race, colour, creed or sex.
The second is peace. Someone said that it is not peace which is the dream; hatred and war are the nightmares from which mankind will one day awake. Peace is not just the absence of war. It is concern for each other, rejoicing in each other, generosity of thought and word and deed.
The third miracle is truth. The world is full of broken promises, ambiguous half-truths, hypocritical double-talk. Says the Midrash: “The truth is heavy; therefore its bearers are few”. The miracle is to be able to persist till you are reasonably sure of the truth, and to keep your mouth shut tight rather than peddle a falsehood or a misleading half-truth.
The Angel of Mercy recognised a fundamental decency in human beings which would at last rouse itself. The task of religion, of Masonry, of all movements that stand for an ethical approach to life, is to build up a climate of opinion in which it is good to be good, and doing the right thing will become second nature.
Forty-five years after the end of the Holocaust, it is pertinent to recall Leo Baeck, a leader of German Jewry, who was imprisoned in Theresienstadt. He refused to abandon his dignity or his morale. He said on his release: “Some of us were determined to demonstrate that the goodness in man can be victorious over brutality and bestiality.”
As we look back on an almost completed twentieth century, we see what brutality and bestiality can do. Because man can be worse than a beast, how can anyone believe in man? But if you look you can also find wondrous deeds of love, loyalty and compassion. Because man can be almost an angel, how can anyone not believe in man?
Let this service unite us in the prayer that man can be truly man, and earn the approbation of God, the Great Architect of the Universe.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.