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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Re'eh: There Shall Be A Place

The Documentary Hypothesis suggests that the Deuteronomist wrote during the Babylonian Exile after the destruction of Solomon's Temple. If we accept this assumption, then Deuteronomy was written after the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had come and gone, the Temple created and destroyed, the Jewish national identity having been built up, sustained, and then facing the worst crisis of its existence thus far. Much of Deuteronomy takes on a sad irony when looked at from this perspective. Much of the Tanakh comes from a perspective straddled between Joshua's conquest of Canaan and the completion of the building of the Second Temple and the return from the Babylonian Exile. Similarly, much of Masonic mythical perspective is straddled between the death of Master Hiram Abiff and the triumph of Zerubbabel.

In this Torah portion, Moses reveals God's plan for a place (מָּקוֹם, or makom in Hebrew) that will be the Indwelling of God on the Earth. This will be a place where the Israelites can perform their sacrifices and focus their religious devotions.

Moses warns the Israelites that God has decided to utterly destroy the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and  the Israelites are to be the vehicle for that destruction. Moses points out that the Canaanites are being destroyed because of their own offenses, and that everything about their society is abhorrent. Their worship, their practices, their social structures, their moral values, their personalities; none of this is to be emulated. In contrast to this, the Israelites are to trust that God will provide them with their own central place of worship, where sacrifices and pilgrimages will take place:
"Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord: And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God." [Deuteronomy 12: 11-12].
From the perspective of the Babylonian Exile, it is clear that Moses is referring to the Temple at Jerusalem. By the Name (haShem in Hebrew) is meant the Presence of God, the Pillar of Cloud and Fire that followed the Israelites through all their journeys in the Wilderness, which dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, just as it dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. From that historical perspective, the Conquest of Canaan, the time of the Judges, the establishment of the monarchy under Saul, the founding of the line of King David, the conquest of Salem and the Jebusites, the establishment of the capital at Jerusalem, and the anointing of King Solomon were necessary before the Temple could be built. To a Jew well-versed in Messianic lore, these steps were necessary and successive, each inevitability building off the previous. But to the tribes massed along the bank of the Jordan in Moab, the vagueness of "a place" could mean anything.

To Jews today, that place is still sacred. The Western Wall still stands, and Jews are forbidden from ascending the Temple Mount. For Masons, the destruction of the Second Temple meant a transition from a physical edifice to a spiritual edifice. Those who have read Dante know that he regarded the Temple Mount as an Omphalos, a center point of the Earth, and placed the mountain island of Purgatory at its antipode.

This idea of a center point where God dwells appears in the Masonic point within the circle. The first step towards universality was to assign a single point of worship, common to Twelve Tribes. The second, which came with the stirrings towards Messianism, which predicted that at some future time, all religions would worship the same One, at the same Temple. In the prophecy of Zechariah, "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be One Lord, and His Name One." Zechariah, prophet of Zerubbabel, is important alike to Masons and Jews.

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