The korban tamid was offered up every morning and every afternoon, including Shabbat. The korbanot tamid served as the bookends for all the other korbanot that were brought during the day. No other offering could be brought before the korban tamid of the morning or after the korban tamid of the afternoon.
Each family unit of kohanim, numbering 168 kohanim in all, was allotted only two days a year in which to participate in korban activities. There were not that many jobs to hand out. So there were a lot of bench kohanim.
The first job in the pre-dawn hours of the morning was the removal of some of the previous day’s ashes from the outside altar, the mizbeach hachitzon, located in the kohanim’s courtyard, ezrat kohanim. This procedure, known as terumat hadeshen, involved the removal from the altar, with a silver shovel, of an amount of ashes equal to a fistful, kometz, and the placing of these ashes on the ground on the northern side, in front of the altar.
It had once been the practice that when the kohen hamemuneh arrived, the kohanim would turn and race up the slope of the altar. The first to the top would win the privilege of performing the terumat hadeshen service. After these races led to accidents, they were banned and replaced by a lottery system.
The kohen hamemuneh administered the lottery in the Beit Hamoked. The lottery winner was honored, not only with performing the terumat hadeshen, but also with arranging on top of the altar the three wood pyres, the ma’arachot, which were later lit to fuel the sacrificial fires.
The lottery winner, accompanied by the other kohanim, would then leave the Beit Hamoked through the door leading into the azarah and with torches in hand they would walk around the azarah to inspect the various utensils, klei mikdash, soon to be used in the korban tamid service. The lottery winner would then break away from the group and step westward into the darkness of the ezrat kohanim, walking beyond the altar toward the Sanctuary until he reached the kiyor, the washbasin in which he would wash his hands and feet. Then he would pick up the silver shovel, ascend the altar and remove, with the shovel, a fistful of ashes from the wood pyre and complete the terumat hadeshen ceremony.
Seeing him descend, the group of kohanim would leave their post at the lishkat osei hachavitin, rush toward the kiyor to purify themselves, and then ascend the altar with rakes and shovels. There they would clear to the edges of the altar any parts of the previous day’s sacrifice which had not been consumed by the fires. They would then pile any remaining ashes onto a mound on top of the altar known as the tapuach.
The lottery winner would then ascend the altar again to arrange the wood pyres on which the pieces of the korban tamid and the incense would later be burned. The other kohanim would replace the parts of the previous day’s sacrifice on the first pyre and then light the pyres.
With this work complete, all of the kohanim repaired to the liskat hagazit chamber, the seat of the Sanhedrin, located to the east of the Beit Hamoked. There they would participate in a second lottery to determine which of the bench kohanim would perform the other tasks of the korban tamid.
Since the act of shechita could not be performed at night, one of the kohanim was sent up onto the roof to see whether dawn had broken. If he could see all the way to Hebron, it was light enough to perform the shechita.
Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah), is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.