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The lost word in the Jewish and Masonic traditions

In October 2022 I read a book with texts of Leo Schaya (1916-1986), a Traditionalist who wrote from a Jewish perspective. He had a few recurring points that got me thinking. One was about the lost word, a familiar element of both Jewish and Masonic lore.

Let us start with the most common Jewish prayer, the “Shema”.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD

(Deuteronomy 6:4)

In Hebrew, this looks like this:

This sounds something like: “Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad”.

“Adonai” is the translation for the characters in red above, but these characters do not spell “Adonai”! These four letters are the famous “Tetragrammaton” (“word of four characters) YHVH (from right to left in Jewish), Yod Heh Vau Heh. It is this Tetragrammaton that was forbidden to pronounce so over time, the pronunciation got lost. Sometimes it is written as “Jahwe”, but out of respect, Jews say “Adonai”, meaning “Lord”.

Schaya writes the following about the Shema:

The Judaic confession of divine unity, the scriptural formula of which—the Shema—combines several names of God, represents for the Jew one of the most important “means of union”; another central or direct means of attaining union with God lies in the invocation of a single one of His names. The Tetragrammaton YHVH—the “lost word”—was above all others the “saving” name in the tradition of Israel; it is known as Shem ha-Meforash, the “explicit name,” the one, that is, of which every consonant reveals and symbolizes one of the four aspects or fundamental degrees of divine All-Reality. It is also called the “complete name” and the “synthesis of syntheses,” because it includes all the other divine names, each of which, by itself, expresses only one or another particular aspect of the universal Principle

Since the word is lost, but at the same time contains several names of God, we can find various names of God in the Jewish tradition. This already shows in the Shema, since “Alohenu” refers to the Elohim, the famous God name in plural.

The Tetragrammaton is the word of four letters. Schaya writes that it unveils four aspects or fundamental degrees of divine All-reality. Even though he returns to this point a few times, he does not make it visual, like some books about Kabbalah do. So the next image is from another source.

Not the clearest picture, but here you can see the Tetragrammaton from top to bottom, being connected to receptively Olam-ha-Atziluth (‘world of Atziluth), Briah (or Beriah), Yetzirah and Assiah. Written like this, the Tetragrammaton is some sort of emanation out of the Divine towards the material world. These worlds are those of Emanation, creation, the heavens and the world of ‘facts’. A very special way to portray the world in a name of God.

You probably know about the tree of Sephiroth. This tree is to be found in the upper world of Atziluth. Some thinkers see a Sephirotic tree in all four worlds, so sometimes you find an image with four tree on top of each other.

Earlier we saw that Schaya describes the Tetragrammaton as the “saving name” and “synthesis of syntheses” and most of all “the lost word”. Also it is the “complete word” since it encompasses all other holy names which on their turn each represent an aspect of the Universal Principle. The name is “unique” because it was given to a “unique people” and moreover offers nothing less than the actualisation of Shekinah, the Divine Presence. The direct outpouring of Divinity that the name causes is exactly what makes it so dangerous that the use, or knowledge, of the name was restricted to priests. So for the common man and women, the Tetragrammaton is “unspeakable” and replaced with the word “Adonai”.

It may be somewhat unexpected, but the present subject easily brings us to another subject that is both of interest within the Jewish and the Masonic tradition: King Solomon’s Temple, and in the Jewish context, mostly the destruction of the second one.

Schaya says that the correct pronunciation of the name is restricted to people who are part of the “shalsheleth ha-Qabbalah”, an unbroken chain of tradition, a famous Traditionalistic concept.

As I mentioned, there have been replacements for the real pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, Jehova, Jahwe, Adonai, all Divine names, but they do not quite have the charge of the ‘lost word’. Interestingly, according to Schaya it was God himself who withdrew the knowledge of his name from the people of Israel. Jews and Freemasons are on a quest to rediscover the pronunciation. The question is, if that is a smart thing to do? Does it not go against the will of God? Would not the “direct outpouring of Divinity” be dangerous for the unprepared? Are Freemasons trying to become a part of the “shalsheleth ha-Qabbalah” through a side-route?

The Temple in Jerusalem has the same fundamental meaning as the Tabernacle, its movable prototype. It is God’s “dwelling” (mishkan) or the holy place of His “indwelling” (Shekinah) in the midst of Israel.

Just as the Temple of King Solomon, the tabernacle is a part of Masonic symbolism.

Moses erected the tabernacle for God’s “indwelling” (Shekinah) and Solomon erected the Temple for God’s “Name” (Shem). Thus their two works, were essentially one, just as God is truly present in His Name, this being precisely His “indwelling” or “habitation”.

The Masonic paradox is that if the Temple was built for God’s Name and this Temple is the centre of Masonic symbolism, the Name need not to be sought, since it is already there. Elsewhere Schaya writes that the destruction of the temple caused the loss of the second Heh of the Tetragrammaton. So not only the pronunciation got lost, but even a part of the Tetragammaton itself.

So it seems that as in the Jewish tradition, the Masonic tradition starts after the destruction of the temple and thus with a lost word. Then its symbolism seems to try to retrace the steps of that word, thus hoping to be able to find it again. Freemasonry so is sometimes ‘accused’ of being too Christian, but most of the symbolism is not Christian, but Jewish. In light of the above, the ‘goal’ of Freemasonry is extraordinarily high.

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