Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

19 November 2006

Feast of Tishri

The Scottish Rite Council of Princes of Jerusalem in Portland hosted a dinner called the "Feast of Tishri" to honor the late Illustrious Walter E. Webber. The dinner was well attended by many Scottish Rite members and their ladies, who enjoyed a fine dinner with seven toasts an entertainment. My part was to deliver the invocation and a short presentation of the history of the feast itself. The Sovereign Prince, Jeffry Simonton, published a standard history in the program itself, so I skipped over that and came up with something lighter on history and heavier on injuctions. It went well with the memory of Bro. Webber who could be best described as a Brother of Citron (see the speech for the meaning). Both seemed to go well and a few foolish people asked for copies, so I suppose I should just publish them here.


Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu, Melech ha Olam

Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation. We thank you for the bountiful harvests which provide sustenance for us this day. We are grateful for the bonds of love and brotherhood which brought us here. And, Lord, as the year ends help us to remember the gifts you have given us, in the service and gifts which we render to others. With praise and thanksgiving we pray. Amen.

History of the Feast of Tishri

The Scottish Rite Feast of Tishri is a celebration of the festival called Sukkot which was ordained by God to occur in the seventh month of the Jewish liturgical calendar, the month called Tishri. It is chiefly a harvest festival which celebrates the bountiful gifts the Lord has given to Israel. Families gather in huts or lean-tos erected along side their homes or the local Temple. These huts are called sukkah in Hebrew and the many translations of that term have lead to the various of names for the festival including the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles or here in the Scottish Rite: the Feast of Tishri. The festival recalls the wandering of the Hebrews in Sinai, during which they often erected temporary housing the in the form of small huts of wood covered over with branches. In Leviticus God commanded the Hebrews for all generations to observe an seven day harvest festival during which they should eat all of their meals outside in their sukkah. The festival was a happy celebration of harvest, but also a serious reminder of when God brought their ancestor’s out of bondage and to the promised land.

The feast has more to teach us than just a mere remembrance of times gone past. In Deuteronomy God also commanded that in observing Sukkot “You shall make merry at your feast, together with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and also the Levite, the alien, the orphan and the widow who belong to your community…[giving] each of you with as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the Lord, your God, has bestowed upon you.” Those words are enough to give all of us pause. Who here among us is not profoundly blessed? I cannot speak for all those assembled, but I have the blessings of God in a bounty impossible to earn. I have the love of family, friends and brothers. I find all of my material needs provided for so that I can always care for my family, friends and brothers and never fear for my next meal.

To remind us of this very question, the Lord further commanded the Israelites saying, “On the first day, you will take for yourselves the fruit of the citron tree, the branches of the palm, and boughs of myrtle trees, and the willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before your Lord your God for seven days ”. In observing this command, they gathered citron, myrtle, palm and willow, binding them together and rejoicing to the Lord waving them in all directions with earnest prayer of thanksgiving. The meaning of these four species of plants has long been discussed by the wise and is well summarized by a Scottish Rite Mason, Rabbi Julius Nodel 32°, who wrote:

Among the symbols of Succoth are four species of plants—the citron, the branch of the palm tree, the myrtle leaves, and the willow leaves. The citron plant produces both fruit and fragrance. The palm produces fruit but no fragrance. The myrtle produces fragrance but no fruit, and the willow produces neither fruit nor fragrance. This teaches us that there are also four kinds of people. There are those that have knowledge and good deeds—they correspond to the citron. There are those who live a life of good deeds, but have no knowledge—they are like the palm. There are those who have knowledge, but perform no good deeds—they are like the myrtle, and there are those who have neither knowledge nor good deeds—they are like the willow. Yet, on Succoth, all of these different species of plants are placed together and bound as one, thus teaching us that though there are different kinds of people on Earth, with their own interests and desires, accomplishments and failures, they must still be bound together in one universal brotherhood.

For my own self, I liken this to Freemasonry itself. We too are made up by men typified by each of those four species. I consider myself a man of myrtle, rich in knowledge but with too few good deeds to be in proportion to the blessings bestowed upon me. Yet, Freemasonry takes what I have to offer and gives me much in return. Like the Sukkot celebrant the Scottish Rite gathers up and binds the four species of its members, and it works tirelessly to make us all into citron. Wanting each of us to have knowledge and producing the fruit of good deeds. It teaches the myrtle among us, who produce fragrance but no fruit, to do service for others and to feel the cries of the afflicted. It teaches the palm among us, who produce fruit but no fragrance, to learn and memorize its ritual, enticing us to seek the meaning of these words. It submerges the willow among us, who produce neither fruit nor fragrance, into the presence of good men and true and the ritual written by them. It reminds us again and again of our obligations to do good connecting us with Brethren of palm who will lead us to good deeds and Brethren of myrtle who will teach us the truth.

This brings to mind another story often related at the Feast of Tishri. Though it describes the experiences of a young man and his Rabbi it could just as well apply to anyone here:

A wise and learned Rabbi, noting that his most promising student seemed saddened and preoccupied, asked the young man, “What’s troubling you, my son?”

The student replied, “Rabbi, as I observe the injustice in the world and man’s inhumanity to man everywhere, I have come to the conclusion that when God created the world, He didn’t do a very good job.”

In response, the Rabbi asked, “Do you think you could have done better?”

The student quietly answered, “Rabbi, I honestly think I could have.”

To which the wise man responded, “THEN BEGIN!”

Let us then celebrate the bounty the Lord has given us and never neglect an opportunity to render service and aid in proportion to those blessings.

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