In Parshas Pinchas, we are told about the Korban Tamid, the twice-daily public offering that was offered every single day in the Beis Hamikdash. When I say public, I mean that it was offered by the Cohanim on behalf of the Jewish Nation as a whole.
When the Torah phrases this command, it uses a rather flowery expression
“Tishmeru L’Hakriv Li B’Moado”, you (plural) shall be careful to offer it to me at its proper time. What is the nature of this “shemira”, this caring? Rashi cites the Talmud’s opinion that this is the basis for something called Maamados.
תשמרו – שיהיו כהנים ולוים וישראלים עומדין על גביו מכאן למדו ותקנו מעמדות:
“Tishmeru”, this means that Cohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim “stand over” [the daily Tamid]. From here they learned and instituted the practice of Maamados.
What were the Maamados? It refers to the practice of having Jews come from communities all over Israel and stand and watch as the offering was brought on their behalf. The Cohanim were doing the work, but the non-Cohanim who attended were watching, acting as spectators as this atonement was offered on their behalf.
We know that Cohanim worked in rotations of twenty-four one week shifts. They were acting on behalf of the whole Nation. It would be unseemly for the people they were working for to not even show up to appreciate the work they did. But it would not be possible for the entire Klal Yisrael to show up in Jerusalem every morning and afternoon. So the Holy Land was divided into regions, and regular Jews from communities all over the country would represent their fellow Jews in the Beis Hamikdash.
Now they didn’t only watch. There was a form of prayer service and Torah reading they did as well. However, it seems that this was done to supplement and use words to explain the meaning of their presence.
Just watching is meaningful. And we should appreciate that far more. Because without that awareness, it can be hard to understand why the Torah limits Serving Hashem for the Cohanim only, leaving the vast majority with nothing to do in that regard. These Maamados are the response to that; they were doing something; watching!
We all intuitively understand this in other areas of public life; the entire nature of sporting and entertainment events in our era points to this. Everyone who goes to a stadium or arena to watch a game knows that they could see the game more clearly on a screen. Why do they go to the stadium or arena? Because there is meaning, such as it is, in being part of the crowd. The crowd of spectators gives power to an event. Why attend a concert when you can listen to the music more clearly in your own home? Because an audience is a very real participant.
People spend hours and hours on Yom Kippur in an effort to receive a clean slate. The Machzor has hundreds of pages of prayers asking for forgiveness. Yet somehow all of this was done with one Cohen Gadol doing all the work, with the people just watching and praying silently that he do a good job. They weren’t doing nothing. They were standing and watching.