There are many events for which 2011 will be remembered. For some it will be the killing of Osama Bin Laden, for others it will be the fall of dictatorships in Egypt and Libya, and in England it may be remembered as the year when Wills wed Kate. The royal wedding was one of the real feel good stories of the last year. People seemed to be genuinely excited about the event and very happy for the young couple.
In England, the day of the wedding was a national holiday, with businesses and schools closed so that everyone could be a part of the celebration. The Government appeared to be saying that everyone should be able to share in a day of national pride and joy. In many ways it was an attempt to make a statement about the unity of Britain through the symbol of the Royal family.
Different groups come together around different events; although today in our ever more fractious society it is harder to find the events, institutions and people who can unite us all. For the Israelites in the wilderness the Priesthood appears to have had that function. This week we read about the installation of Aaron as High Priest, and God instructed Moses: ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, the anointing oil, the sin offering bull, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread, and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting’ (Leviticus 8:2-3).
The installation of the High Priest was to be a public affair for all of the community to see. The Hebrew emphasizes this as it reads assemble kol haedah, hakahal; kol haedah means ‘all of the congregation’ (with a double emphasis) and then hakahal literally means ‘the community’. There is no uncertainty about who should be present for the ceremony; every single Israelite must be there. This is further emphasized in the next verse as it says: vetakahel haedah – ‘assemble the congregation’, using the same root words as before.
We may wonder why everyone being present was so important. In one way perhaps it allowed them to make a statement about the centrality of the priesthood and the fact that he represented all of the Israelites. Or maybe it was a chance for all of the people to bear witness (implied by the Hebrew edah) to God’s supremacy. However, I think it was a reminder (just like the Royal wedding) that it is good for a community to share in times of joy and celebration.
All too often we come together in support of one another when times are hard, at funerals or after national tragedies. But it is also important that we find opportunities to celebrate together. The installation of the High Priest was a joyous occasion, and it was important that every Israelite could share in the simcha. Today, without a Priesthood, we need to find new opportunities for communal joy and celebration.