Melville H. Nahin

The shofar calls to each person reminding us of our heritage and of our strength.

On the first day of the seventh month, the month of Tishri on the Jewish calendar, people of the Jewish faith observe the beginning of the new year, Rosh Hashana, literally translated as the Head of the Year. It is a time for introspection and reflection, for it is said that on that day the Creator of us all writes in the Book of Life the story of what shall take place in the coming year, who will wax rich and who will be poor, who will be healthy and who will be ill. And on the Day of Atonement which follows ten days later, the Book of Life for the forthcoming year will be sealed.

The period of ten days is often called the Days of Awe. They are the times for soul searching, for recognizing the sins which one has committed or omitted with respect to his relationship to his God. May I point out quickly that forgiveness which is sought during these Days of Awe is a forgiveness from the Creator for the sins which we, as humans, have done to Him and in our dealings with Him. We do not believe that He will cleanse the sins we have committed against our fellowmen. But in turn we must realize and rededicate ourselves to atoning for the sins of man to man by making retribution and dealing fairly with our own fellowmen by being true brothers to them.

Our own Masonic vows were given only after being assured that they would not interfere with the duty we owe to God, our country, our neighbor, or our ourselves. It is not easy to examine oneself, admit one’s errors, and pray for forgiveness. Yet in the Judaic tradition, the privilege is given to us to strip ourselves of what we know is injurious and harmful to ourselves, our families and our fellowmen, and to return to a course of positive action.

During the ceremonies of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the latter of which is a fast day for the Jewish people, a ram’s horn known as a shofar is blown pursuant to specific notes that our readers recite. It is the oldest, most primitive wind instrument. It reminds us of the biblical story of Isaac being placed on the altar by Abraham and his place as part of the sacrifice being taken by the ram furnished by the angel of God. It reminds us of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai which was punctuated by blasts of the ram’s horn. The walls of Jerico tumbled, we are told, as the shofar waxed, and we in our Jewish tradition believe that the same holy notes will herald the final coming of the Messiah. The shofar calls to each and every one of us reminding us of our heritage and our strength.

Primarily the shofar sounding is a call to spiritual awakening and renewal. In this season of the Holy Days, it will occur to some that strong shofar blasts are in order to sound the need for assistance, compassion, and rescue. Judaism takes for granted that all humans are prone to sin. Even Moses, the great prophet, was not perfect, and because of his imperfection, he never reached the Holy Land.

The shofar reminds us that when we fail to do right, we must make amends. And we can make amends by turning a new page and starting all over again without anxiety and guilt. In Hebrew there really is no word for sin. The word het which is utilized for the word "sin" translates as "distance." The word for repentance is tshuva which literally means "return."

So you made a mistake? Trespassed the will of God? You have created distance between yourself and God? God still loves you just as the parents still love the child who has committed errors in spite of the distance which he has created. And how does one bridge the gap? By simply "returning" to God by first realizing the error and then endeavoring to improve the harmonization of his deeds with God’s will. Erring is of course part and parcel of human spiritual and physical growth. We recognize this. We recognize also that God does not expect nearly as much from us as we do of ourselves. Having created us with strengths, He has also created us with weaknesses and has placed us in the cosmic gym designed to transform those weaknesses into strengths, fat into muscles; that is, if we make proper use of the facilities and its instructors.

If after all this, we still make the same mistakes, we commit the same sins, we recognize still that God among His other attributes is all patient, and He will wait for us if only we try, if only we attempt to make amends. If we do not, if we make no attempt to sincerely repent our atonement, then repentance is for naught.

The lesson of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is very simple. Man is human. Man commits error. Therefore, both God and his fellowman will forgive him if he seeks to make amends. But those amends must, indeed, be with a sincere effort to better oneself and to practice the law of his Creator.

Is this not also the teaching of Freemasonry? As we think of each other’s holidays and each other’s customs, we appreciate all the more how universal the philosophy of Freemasonry really is. And perhaps that’s why we’re all so very pleased and proud to be a part of it. We are indeed Brothers, the children of the ever-living Father. So may I say to you, as we of the Jewish faith say to one another at this holy season, "May you be inscribed for a happy new year." L’shana tova tekosaivu.

Melville H. Nahin
is an attorney in Los Angeles and is presently the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of California, Past Venerable Master of Los Angeles Valley, present Chairman of Los Angeles Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Clinic, Past Master Ionic Lodge No. 520 and Southern California Research Lodge, and Chairman of the Board of Governors Shriners Hospitals for Children–Los Angeles Unit.