For the week of June 2, 2007 / 16 Sivan 5767
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 8:1 - 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"...The LORD said to Moses: "Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone." (Bemidbar / Numbers 11:4-6,16,17)
God's desire for people is to live in healthy community. Throughout the Scriptures, it is understood that God's people would live as family with God himself being our Father. Community as family is expressed in a variety of ways, from living with parents and siblings to being part of a clan, a tribe, and the nation. This reality is expanded in the New Covenant era as we become family with other followers of the Messiah.
Sadly it is too common that we profess love for the community, while we are disconnected from the individuals who make up that community. But this certainly was never God's intention when he designed humanity to be in community. Should we therefore accept our dysfunctional communities because they are the norm, or should we strive for the kind of healthy community that God wants for us?
This week's parsha (Torah portion) provides us with one of the things that is needed in the establishment of healthy community. A discontented group within the community of Israel expressed their discontent with their food situation. God miraculously provided a substance called "manna" which they collected daily. After eating manna for a couple of years they understandably got tired of it. I don't think that being bored with the same food day after day was the problem as much as it was their attitude and the expression of that attitude. The discontent of one group was contagious and affected the whole community.
That one discontented subgroup could so affect the whole, is a sign of communal dysfunctionality. This all became too much for Moses to bear. So like every other problem he faced, he went to God in prayer about it. God's answer was to broaden Moses' leadership to a group of 70 recognized elders, who would then be spiritually equipped by God to share Moses' burden.
It is interesting that in the New Covenant era inaugurated by Yeshua, the leadership model for congregations is teams of elders, that is men recognized as elders by the community and who have been spiritually equipped by God for leadership.
Qualified elders are key in the establishment of healthy community. To neglect God-ordained structure is to invite dysfunctionality. Too many New Covenant communities are suffering the ill effects of unhealthy community, but are unwilling to submit to God's structure. Instead of following God's directives, we look for ways to cope with our destructive behavior. It needn't be this way, however. Healthy community is possible, but only as we cooperate with God and his plan for us.
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