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Vayikra/Leviticus 8:3 Gather the whole assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
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HaShem has just indicated to Moshe that now is the moment to formally install Aharon and his sons as the priests in the newly built and erected Tabernacle. After reminding him of the people and the sacrifices he would need for the ceremony, HaShem tells Moshe to gather everyone together around the Tent of Meeting so that this can be a publicly witnessed and attested occasion; it was to be totally on the record! The language and grammar of the text is carefully chosen to amplify this point. The verse starts, not as is usual with the verb, but with the direct object - the whole assembly - to emphasise its importance. The word , 'assembly' is derived from the root verb , "to appoint or betroth" and in its Nif'al voice, "to meet at an appointed place and time, by appointment". Levine comments that "the Hebrew verb never connotes a random phenomenon." More, Levine adds, "the term conveys the sense that the group was unified as a community". The verb HaShem uses is significant as well: is the Hif'il imperative of the root , "to assemble or gather together", so here conveys the idea of causing the assembly to gather together - almost as if they did it themselves. Lastly, the name of the place of the gathering, the Tent of Meeting - - is also derived from the same root: a place of scheduled meetings or appointments, not a random or happenstance assembly.
How could 600,000 men, plus women and children, all gather or witness anything in the courtyard of the Tabernacle?Ibn Ezra says it was just "the elders and the heads of the tribes", representing the whole community, but Rashi - based on the Midrash - claims that this is one of the places in Scripture where the little held the many. "Rabbi Eleazar said: All the men of Israel numbered six hundred thousand, and the Torah says: Assemble them at the door of the Tent of Meeting? -- This is one of the instances of the lesser containing the greater. Similar to that is, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place' (B'resheet 1:9, ESV). It is, of course, usual for a person to empty a full vessel into an empty one; but a full vessel into a full vessel? The whole world was full of water, and the Torah says, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place!' This is one of the instances of the lesser containing the greater" (Vayikra Rabbah 10:9).
Another more important question is why the whole community was to be assembled for what was really a private ordination ceremony: Moshe ordaining his elder brother Aharon as Cohen Gadol - High Priest - and his four nephews to serve HaShem as priests; quite a family affair.Chizkuni suggests that it was "so that they should all treat the priesthood as a sacred institution". Nachmanides, on the other hand, says that "this was added to the instructions given in Shemot 29 so that everyone would know that the Holy One had chosen Aharon and his descendants." Although a further demonstration of Aharon's selection as High Priest was necessary after the affair of the spies and Korah's rebellion (see parasha Korah, B'Midbar chapter 17), the intention here is that Aharon's role and his selection for and installation into it are deliberately and extremely public so that no-one can deny or refute either the event or the correctness of the appointment.
Who is invited when a church or a congregation has a new minister or rabbi installed? Firstly, of course, the members of that congregation - those to and among whom the new leader will be ministering - and the congregations in which the leader used to serve; friends, family and well-wishers from both families of believers. Next will be the leaders and members of other connected congregations in the same network or denomination - this is a natural extension of the family of believers. Another group of invitees will be the ministers of other churches or congregations in the same town or city - other workers, from different streams or denominations working in the same part of the kingdom. When a new Church of England minister is inducted, particularly in larger towns or cities, the mayor will be invited, together with some or all of the local councillors. Members of the press may also be invited, to take notice of and to publish the setting-in of a new minister being authorised to work and minister in the community.
These events are celebrations: that the community has a new leader and teacher; that there are new gifts, talents and enthusiasm to share the work of the ministry in the community; if the minister is married, that there is a new family to help lead the community at different stages and ages; that there is a new voice of wisdom, experience and compassion to sit around the community table and help deal with concerns and issues that impact the community.
But how do we define the word 'community'. Are we talking just about an individual congregation, the members of a particular body of faith? Or are we talking about the wider community, including those of all faiths and none? In times gone by, the local vicar was one of the key figures in any community: marrying almost everyone, burying everyone and comforting the mourners, leading and sharing in the lifecycle events: blessing the plough and the seed in rural communities, blessing the nets in fishing communities. Although the community might not go to church on a regular basis or consider themselves to be Christians in the way that evangelicals might describe that today, the fishermen would not go out unless the nets had been blessed and harvest festivals were always attended by the whole community. These days, the importance of the church, any church, in the community has fallen dramatically away and is considered an optional extra - at best, at worst an interfering and outdated nuisance - by the majority of the community.
How can that ground be regained - not, of course, for the sake of the leaders, but for the sake of the kingdom of G-d - and that position of trust and unity be recovered? Perhaps by deliberately making our events more public and accessible. After a service of installation, why not have a ram-roast in the churchyard and invite the whole community to a free meal followed by music and dancing? Follow a harvest festival with a free ceilidh or barn dance, a family-friendly and safe evening of fun and laughter. Whenever an issue threatens the community, call a public meeting to allow people to talk and express their opinions about the issues, with free tea, coffee and cakes. Offer regular "drop-in" sessions during the day when mums, the elderly, the unemployed or disabled can come in for a cup of tea and a chat. Weddings too can be a wonderful way to include the wider community in celebrations. Years ago, when a couple was married, as they came out of the church they would throw a bag of small value coins into the air for everyone to pick up and keep; the children would scramble to gather the far-flung ones and the couple were sharing their blessing with all the members of the wider community. This can be reworked in a modern context for little cost and much gain. Use any and all available ideas to create community and develop relationship with the people in the local area. Not only will this build bridges into the local community, it will give the congregation numerous opportunities to share their lives and gifts with their neighbours.
This is being salt and light in the world; not being co-opted by the state into providing services but meeting people at their point of need and accepting them without pushing a tract in their hand or treating them as a "project". This is what Yeshua spoke about when He told His disciples, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14, ESV). We are not called to be hidden or to be a lamp hidden under the bed; to the contrary, we are called to be a visible witness in the world. When the woman found the coin that she had lost, "she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost'" (Luke 15:9, ESV); also the shepherd, when he finds his missing sheep: "he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost'" (Luke 15:6, ESV) - they throw a party and invite their friends and neighbours, their acquaintance, the members of their community, to celebrate with them. The private joy becomes a public witness and G-d is glorified.
Further Study: Psalm 22:23-31; Nehemiah 8:1-6; Matthew 25:37-40
Application: Could you be more public and less churchy in your celebrations? Why not pray about a street party, a book club, a supper club or something that you could do - without any evangelistic content other than you being there - in your street or neighbourhood.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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