The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bamidbar: Counting the Twelve Tribes

The Book of Numbers is thus called because it begins and ends with a census. God commands Moses to count the members of the Twelve Tribes after the construction of the Tabernacle, and again before crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In this first census, there is a separate census for the Levites, who are technically no longer a tribe. Instead, the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, are each given a tribe to make a dozen.

Those of you in the Royal Arch will note how much the symbolism of the Twelve Tribes appears in Masonry. Much of the symbolism comes from Jacob's deathbed blessings to his sons (and two of his grandsons), and the rest comes from a description of their banners and where they were placed around the Tabernacle, from this Torah portion. These banners are part of the layout of a Royal Arch Chapter (like the tracing board above). In the East is the banner of Judah [Numbers 2: 3], in the West is the banner of Ephraim [Numbers 2: 18], in the South is the banner of Reuben [Numbers 2: 10], and in the North is the banner of Dan [Numbers 2: 25]. The Twelve Tribes also correlate to the twelve signs of the Zodiac in Astrology, with the four cardinal points in the Encampment representing the four Fixed Signs of the Zodiac.

About Judah, Jacob says, "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk." [Genesis 49: 8-12].

Jacob gave the firstborn blessing to Ephraim over Manasseh, even though Manasseh was the older son of Joseph and Ephraim the younger. Just as Jacob usurped the primogeniture from Esau, he also ensured that the younger would be blessed over the older two generations later.

About Reuben, Jacob says, "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch." [Genesis 49: 3-4].

About Dan, Jacob says, "Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." [Genesis 49: 16-17].

Judah's banner is that of a Lion, from Jacob's prophecy. Albert Mackey insisted, from the Talmud, that it should be white in color, and borne by the Royal Arch Captain. Ephraim's banner is that of an Ox. Mackey insisted that it be scarlet in color, and borne by the Master of the Third Veil. Reuben's banner is that of a Man, and Mackey insisted that it be purple in color, and borne by the Master of the Second Veil. Dan's banner is that of an Eagle, and Mackey insisted that it be blue in color, and borne by the Master of the First Veil. The color pattern will make sense to any Royal Arch Mason who has Passed the Veils.

The animals come from the Vision of Ezekiel, and are reiterated in the Book of Revelations, and are as symbols of the Four Gospels: Matthew is a Man, Mark is a Lion, Luke is an Ox, and John is an Eagle. In an English Holy Royal Arch Chapter, there are banners for all Twelve Tribes, but in the American Rite, there are just the four. They also represent the four Fixed Signs of the Zodiac. The Lion is Leo, the Ox is Taurus, the Man is Aquarius, and the Eagle is Scorpio, representing Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. Scorpio, one might think, is represented by a Scorpion, but this sign is also often represented by a fish, a serpent, or an eagle. Why is the eagle the symbol of water? Because it is Scorpio, which is a water sign. Why is Aquarius an air sign? Because it is a symbol of the man who brings water, and not the water itself. The man is rational, and air is the element of rational thought.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bechukotai: Sugar for Sugar and Salt for Salt

Let's imagine for a moment that God is an anthropomorphic being that lives in the sky, watches us from above from his throne in the sky, and judges us according to whether we obey the least arbitrary rule, or rebel against his yoke. This God makes rules, and these rules are ethical only because they are His rules, rather than being ethical by human standards. Imagine that He gave Moses these rules, and they all have to be obeyed; that there is no real difference between eating rabbit and murdering a human being, between incest and wearing a garment spun of wool and linen, between homosexual relations and allowing a disobedient son to live. This God of our thought exercise is going to punish us for disobedience, in essence, the only possible crime. This God is going to reward us for obeying all the rules all of the time, without error, without equivocation, and without circumspection.

In this thought exercise, we move between two poles: God's wrath, and God's material blessings upon us. We express our devotion to our Sky King by obeying all the rules, and we are showered with bounty: our crops grow superabundantly, our animals are astonishingly fecund and robust, our enemies collapse before our might, and the whole world envies us. We waver in our devotion by deviating from the rules, and our crops fail, our animals and our children die, some of whom we are forced to eat in our famine, our enemies easily mow us down, rape our women, slaughter our babies, and enslave us while our Sky King watches our agonies in indifference bordering on disgust.

That is this, the final Torah portion of Leviticus, interpreted in the most literal possible manner. Why worship this God? Out of fear of punishment, and out of hope for reward. In the scheme, the entire purpose of consciousness is mindfulness about obedience to a system that has nothing to do with each individual will. Humans do what God tells them to do, or they enter a world of hurt. God's love is absolutely conditional on Israel's compliance.

I've never liked this version of religion. No Jew likes this this version of religion, with the possible exception of the most fanatical but least mystical of the ultra-Orthodox. Oddly, many Christians think that's what Judaism is, this bargain. That being the presupposition about Judaism, of course the sane ones clamored to Jesus' revelation, if only to get out of such an awful bargain. What kind of an idiot would stay in such a dysfunctional relationship?

Now, let's try another thought exercise. Imagine that we notice that:
The everlasting universe of things Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves, Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom— Now lending splendour, where from secret springs The source of human thought its tribute brings Of waters...[Percy Shelley, Mont Blanc, opening lines]. 
 Let us imagine that we try to find these secret springs, and we notice how consciousness and nature seem both to lead to the same source. We still our inner monologue, and find a stillness behind it. We notice that the stillness is pregnant with the potentialities of things, and we notice that in that stillness is an intelligence greater than our waking minds, an emotion more powerful than the hungry ghost that chases after memes that we think is our emotional center (but isn't).

We find a flow, a direction, a purpose, a center, and everything seems to point to it, align with it, and resonate its vibrations. And we are gobsmacked when we first perceive that it loves us.

It loves us with an intensity we cannot possibly be capable of. It loves us even though we seem helpless and crude and banal and cruel and thoughtless compared to It. Does It have a personality? Compared to It, do we?

Whether or not we call this Presence God is less important than to understand that the authors of the Torah did. These authors, these primitive men, were writhing in their crudeness and antiquity, and looking up from the chaos, the violence and savagery, the heedlessness of idolatry and butchery and ignorance and superstition to see if there wasn't a Power that could pull them out of the nightmare. And what they found, they called God. What they found, they immediately lost and scrounged and searched for. They spent much more time lost than found. And yet they found. They saw. Each stood before the Presence before losing that link forever, and died in darkness, only to have others learn from their discoveries and find the Presence again and lose it.

Abraham found what he called God, and used the force of his faith to be the progenitor of the loftiest dreams seeded in spiritual condition of billions today. And yet in his madness he bound his son Isaac to sacrifice him carnally before the Presence intervened. And Jacob found what he called God and wrestled with His angel from midnight to dawn, dislocating his hip in his struggle. And Joseph found God in a prison in a world of slavery and bondage, surrounded by enemy aliens, and God freed him and set him at Pharaoh's right hand. And yet he made sport of his treacherous brothers until they groveled before him.

And Moses, the fugitive murderer who had been the apple of the old Pharaoh's eye, who was tending his sheep near Mount Sinai, carrying a lost lamb who had strayed from the flock, saw a burning bush and had the presence of mind to notice that the bush was not consumed by the flame, and he beheld God. He spoke with I WAS, AM, AND SHALL BE WHO I WAS, AM, AND SHALL BE, and armed with that consciousness, he led his people from bondage to liberation. That Presence stayed with them, as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It dwelt in the Tabernacle. It fed them food from heaven. In the Presence, their clothes did not wear out on their bodies, not for forty years of wandering. And yet, as we will see in the Book of Numbers, the Israelites retreated into their familiar crudity and petulance and idiocy. Sometimes Moses joined them in their cruelty, and sometimes Moses held firm and shared the light of God with the people.

What does it mean to walk in the Presence? What does it mean to find the Force, the Tao, the meaning and purpose of life? It means that you will plant crops in the way that will heal the land, give the maximal yield, and flow with such bounty that there will be plenty left over for the hungry, the stranger and the destitute. It means that those who oppose you as you walk in the Presence cannot possibly succeed. Those who create a bulwark against the Force will have that bulwark collapse on them. "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people." [Leviticus 26: 12].

What happens if we join the forces of ignorance, superstition and brutality, and give up on our search for the Lost Word? If we embrace ignorance, we lose the gift of intelligence. We suffer all that ignorance brings, and make all the mistakes that burden us. We plant our crops in the wrong place and have no yield. We breed our animals at the wrong time and they grow infertile, skinny and rangy. We become bickersome and petty. With superstition, we begin to worship something less than the One. We walk for too long far away from the Presence, and loss ever having missed it. We lose all compassion and become cruel. We are so disorganized, dispirited and foolish that those who oppose us can easily scatter us, enslave us and destroy us. "And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you." [Leviticus 26: 17].

Eventually, our decisions will harm our children. We will allow our world to become polluted, and our children to sicken in a polluted world. We will exploit the wealth of the next seven generations, seizing and consuming it ourselves, robbing our children of their future livelihoods, trying to feed the hungry ghosts inside us that are never, ever satisfied. As we hunger for the Presence we have forsaken, and as long as we are too proud to return to the Source, we continue the devastation of our own crazy, soulless stupidity. The Presence, the Force itself, speaks:

And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD. [Leviticus 26: 27-45].
Forget the Sky King metaphor for a moment. This is what it is like to live outside of the Tao. Imagine that the Presence is addressing us directly. What happens if we pervert nature in our greed and boredom? What happens if we feed the hungry ghosts instead of noticing, as Jacob did, that "Surely the LORD is in this place"? [Genesis 28: 16]. As we fight the flow of all purpose, we find that the Universe itself resists us.  Nature will reclaim what we have spoiled. Devastation and suffering will lead us to look for the Lost Word again, to again seek the Presence.

This is the deterioration that led to the destruction of the Temple, the Exile, the scattering and the Lost Tribes. And the passage back, the return, the teshuvah, the Passing of the Veils, the Crossing of the River in the 15th Degree, is the work we have to do to rebuild what we have lost.

It is customary in Torah study, when a student or group of students finishes studying a book of Torah, to say: chazak chazak v'nitchazek. This could be translated as "Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened."
חזק חזק ונתחזק

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Behar: Thou Shalt Relieve Him

This Torah portion is BeHar, or "On the Mountain", because it begins with words God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. To the Jews, this means that these commandments are part of the Revelation, and are thus as sacred as the Ten Commandments.

God commands the Israelites to look after their fallen brethren: "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee." [Leviticus 25: 35]. A Mason understands how a man can be his brother and yet be a stranger, as we profess to be linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections.

In the Midrash for this passage, Rabbi Pinchas, in the name of Rabbi Reuven, said: "Whoever gives a single coin to a poor person, the Holy One, Blessed be He will give that person life. For indeed, is he really giving only a single coin? No, he gives the poor person life! How can we explain this? If a loaf of bread costs 10 coins and a poor person standing in the marketplace has only nine, then if someone comes and gives a single coin so that he is able to buy a loaf of bread and, having eaten it, feels refreshed, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says to the donor, 'In your case too, when your soul presses to break loose from your body, I shall return it to you."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Response to 2B1ASK1

There seems to be a yet another advertising pitch that tells the potential candidate for the privileges of Masonry: "All you have to do is ask." Last night, a friend from the UK had a banner posted on Facebook with such a sentiment. I gently pointed out that asking is necessary but not sufficient. A clear ballot and suitable proficiency in the degrees carries one into sufficiency. A profane friend of his snarkily pointed out that I had burst my friend and brother's bubble, and shown the Mason's "true colors", that while my friend had a vague, friendly and encouraging sentiment, I showed that we were actually something less friendly. My friend's response was to remove the banner and all comments from his page before I could post the first paragraph below as a response. I decided to post it here, along with some further observations.

In Masonry, all worthy men are welcome. This worthiness is not based on class, race, particular religion, political inclination, profession, or any other extenuating factor, but on the quality of a man's character. We don't want evil men in the Craft. We also don't want good men who want to be in the Craft to sit around waiting for decades for someone to recruit them. Freemasonry was never intended to be for all men, regardless of how awful they are. Black cubes exist for a reason. Knaves are unwelcome. Intolerance of knavery shows our true colors. Accepting all good God-fearing men as Brothers under a common Father shows our true colors. Any advertising campaign in Masonry is predicated on the fact that good men want to find us, and in every age have found us, and found each other through us.

Evil men occasionally get in, and can cause a lot of damage before they are removed. That's why the application and the investigation and the ballot are crucial.

It is no criticism to call us exclusive or elitist or not welcoming of all men. The Craft of Freemasonry can do nothing for those souls too damaged to engage in decent social intercourse with other men. Our system only works on men who seek to be good, and have some measure of goodness already. It was not built to redeem the fallen, but to hone and sharpen the goodness of those good men who earnestly seek to improve. Dante populates Limbo with those souls who never did anything good or evil enough in life to merit paradise nor damnation. The Fraternity can do nothing with those souls destined for Limbo. And yet the Limbo-bound seem the most vocal about our exclusivity and perceived elitism.

Men who are Freemasons are quite capable of sin and error, and Freemasonry will not save us from our mistakes. The moral lessons of our Craft are useless if ignored, misapplied or forgotten, and not every Mason is capable of heeding the particular moral lesson he needs the most in a given moment. We make no claims towards salvation, but leave such questions to a man's individual faith. We do strive to present a peer group of men among whom each of us has to work hard to be worthy of being with, and yet each of us strives this way. It is reciprocal, and iron sharpens iron.

Anyone who thinks that every man should be a Master Mason would do well to notice, next time he attends lodge, the man standing outside the lodge door armed with a sword. He should run his hands through a ballot box and notice that the black cubes sit there with the white balls. He should ask himself why he was investigated before being balloted upon.

And the so-called Mason who is ashamed of the Tyler, who apologizes to the profane world for the Tyler and his crucial job, without which the lodge could not exist, is not a Mason in his heart. It will never be necessary for the profane world to understand why the Tyler stands outside the lodge room with a naked sword. He exists for us, not them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Emor: Leave Them Unto The Poor, And To The Stranger

In West Virginia, a man who petitions for the degrees of Masonry must have both arms and legs, and most of their fingers and toes. Why? Because in the Bible, the priests must be physically whole.
"Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; no man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God." [Leviticus 21: 17-21].
This restriction was present in Masonry in its earlier days, but has generally been dropped as unfair and wrong. There are a few holdouts, but the idea of rejecting an otherwise worthwhile man because he left a leg in Iraq after his humvee hit an IED is too distasteful for most Masons to contemplate.

Later in the Torah portion, God gives the rules for holidays. After Passover, when the Jews traditionally offered the temple sacrifice of the new barley (or omer), people are to count out fifty days until the next Pilgrimage Festival, Shavuot. [Leviticus 23: 15-16]. That counting has become a ritual practice, called the Counting of the Omer, and has taken on a Kabbalistic meaning.

49 is seven times seven. The seven lowest s'firot are Chesed, G'vurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchut. The three higher s'firot are Keter, Chokhmah, and Binah, which are so rare and subtle that they are in the highest of the four worlds, Atzilut, which is beyond the comprehension of most of us. Each of the s'firot has its own Tree of Life inside it, making 100 in all. By limiting ourselves to the lower seven, we get seven times seven states of consciousness to meditate upon. On the second night of Passover, we get to reflect on the Chesed aspect of Chesed. The next night, we get to reflect on the G'vurah aspect of Chesed, and so on, until the night before Shavuot, we reflect upon the Malchut aspect of Malchut. Tonight, for example, is the Netzach aspect of Hod. Each night, there is a prayer, and then you count how many days since Passover that you have counted. A person who remembers to count the Omer each night for all 49 nights is considered to be especially blessed. If someone forgets to count the Omer on a given night, he can count it the next day before sundown, but he is not permitted to say the blessing.

This Torah portion also includes the commandment not to reap all the way to the edge of one's field, so that the poor have some harvest that they can glean for their own subsistence. [Leviticus 23: 22]. I love this idea. It balances the idea that we have to provide for the poor with the idea that a man should earn his bread. This provides the poor with work to do that will sustain them. We are not permitted to snatch up all the wealth, all the opportunity, but have to leave wealth and opportunity for those less fortunate, so that with their own labor they can provide for themselves.