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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lech Lecha: Mechizedek and Initiation

This week's torah portion, Lech L'cha, gives us the start of the story of Abraham, back when he was young, when his name was Abram. I wrote about this back in May. Bereshit Rabbah tells the story that Abram's father, Terach, made pagan idols for a living. One day, Terach went away and left Abram to mind the idol store.  A woman came to the shop with a plate of flour as a sacrifice for the idols. Abram took a stick and smashed all the idols in his father's shop, and put the stick in the largest idol's hand. When his father returned, he demanded that Abram explain what had happened. Abram explained that the idols had fought amongst each other over the plate of flour, and the largest idol smashed the others with the stick. His father said, "Do you take me for a fool? Are these idols sentient beings?" Abram responded, "Listen to what you just said. You deny they are sentient, and yet you worship them."

The rabbis considered Abram to be the first monotheist, but the story the version in the Torah is a bit more subtle than that. The early Hebrews were henotheists, worshipping one God but allowing for the existence of others. This will come into play later in this blog post.

When Abram was seventy-five years old, God spoke to him and told him to leave his father's house, and for doing so, God would make him a great man, and the progenitor of a mighty nation: "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." [Genesis 12: 2-3].

He took his cousin Lot, his wife Sarai, and "and the souls that they had gotten in Haran" and left for Canaan, to the city of Shechem. The men who worked for Abram did not get along with the men who worked for Lot, and in the interests of peace, Lot agreed to leave Abram's household and moved to Sodom, on the cities of the plain. Left alone, Abram got caught up in a regional war after the combatants captured Lot in his new city. Defeating the captors, he put an end to the war, and rescued the king of Sodom. The Bible describes the celebration:
And Melchizedek king of Salem [Jerusalem] brought forth bread and wine: and he [was] the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed [be] Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. [Genesis 14: 18-20].
There is a tradition that Melchizedek (literally, righteous or saintly king) initiated Abram into the Mysteries, and converted him from a henotheist to a monotheist. He initiated the ceremony of blessing with bread and wine. There is a midrash that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Adam, who did not die as the Bible suggested, but lived on far longer, initiating selected people worthy of the highest Mysteries.

The York Rite places great value in this legend (as does the Latter-Day Saints movement). In Psalm 110, David writes about the future Messiah: "The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: 'Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.'" Since then, Christians have used this as the basis for a legend that Melchizedek initiated Christ. Paul writes of Melchizedek: "First being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was." [Hebrews 7: 2-4].

I think a lot about Melchizedek, and what comprises the Melchizedek initiation. In the Jewish tradition, Melech (king) is one of the names of God. The word for saint in Hebrew is Tzaddik, and Deuteronomy 16: 20, which in English is "That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee," in Hebrew is "צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.". The first two words, "צֶדֶק צֶדֶק", are transliterated as "Tsedek, tsedek," and is often translated as "Justice, justice." When words are repeated in the Torah, it is used for emphasis, and the Kabbalists pay special attention to words that are repeated, believing them to hold special information to those who meditate on their significance.

Saintliness is attributed to the highest form of humanity, but both God and certain men are described as righteous. In a sense, the name Melchizedek is a formula that bridges the gap between God and man, through righteousness and justice. I interpret the Melchizedek initiation as the revelation that God and man collaborate in establishing justice in this world, and the revelation that that thread that connects each man to his Creator is always in place, and is tangible to those who reflect upon its existence.

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