The weekly mishmarot were broken up into 4-9 subdivisions called “Beitai Avot” or “houses of the fathers” (2 Chr 35.12-“families”). In the morning service, the kohanim stayed in the Beit ha Moked and slept there. They got up early, went down to a mikvah and did an immersion. They then came up and waited before the three-fold cry of the Temple Crier, a memunay (official). As a side note, this three fold cry came before the service and it called for the Kohanim to go to their positions, for the Levi’im to go to their platforms and for the Ma’Amad to “stand up” in the Court of Israel. Now, at an unknown time, this official would come to the door of the Beit ha Moked and the kohanim that were ready (and not down immersing) participated in lots. If a kohan was ritually impure overnight, they immerse and go upstairs. They exited through a tunnel and went out a northern gate. The ritually clean kohanim would go to the Chamber of the Hewn Stones and it is there that the lots were performed to see who would do what in the services.
Not all the Mishmarot serve all week. Certain families would serve on certain days of the week. This explains why they could work so well together, they were family. Each one would make sure the other knew what he was doing. The memunay in the Chamber of the Hewn Stone performed the lots, and this has been explained in other areas, but we will touch on it briefly. The memunay picks a number, and the kohanim are in a circle. They hold out one or two fingers and the memunay counts the fingers till he gets to the number he has picked. There are four lots that will be done to see who gets to do what. When it came to burning the incense in the Holy Place, only kohanim that had never done it before are eligible. They could only burn incense one time in their life. If everyone had burned incense, then they could again, but that was rare.
Now, if there were fewer than seven Beitai Avot, then one of them served two days. Id there were more than seven, then they doubled up. The term “Beit Av” means “father of the house” and that was the eldest member eligible for the service (Mishnah Yoma 2.2-4). A “Rosh Beit Av” was the name of the person who was the head of the mishmar. Those that could not attend the services stayed behind and read daily prayers and the Torah readings. For instance, the story of Creation was read daily, as was Exodus 15 and Deut 32, the Ten Commandments, Shemah and the Amidah (Shemoneh Esrai or 18 Benedictions) or “Standing Prayer.” Can you see the relationship between the “Amidah” and the “Ma’Amad” (standing men) assemble and say the same things that were being said in the Temple.
There were restrictions placed on the Beit Av and the Mishmar during the week. They could not drink wine before they served that day, but they could at night. The Beit Av could not drink at all because he may be needed at any time. Members of the Mishmar and the Ma’Amad (standing men) were forbidden to cut their hair or wash clothes during the week, except on Thursday, to get ready for the Sabbath (Mishnah Ta’anit 2.7).
On communal fast days, the Mishmar and the Beit Av were permitted to eat, or partially fast, in order to have enough strength to carry out their duties (Ta’Anit 2.6). The Ma’Amad fasted Monday through Thursday. They did not fast on the eve of the Sabbath or the first day of the week (Ta’anit 4.2-3). Members of the Mishmar not on duty prayed that the korbanot of their officiating brothers would be acceptable to the Lord. The Ma’Amad who could not go to Jerusalem for some reason prayed in the local synagogues for the welfare of all those traveling, for sailors and pregnant women and the children.
Keep in mind that the Temple was seen as a miniature Garden of Eden. You see the re-establishment of Creation on a daily basis. Remember, Genesis 1 is read daily in the Temple. This is similar to what is read in the synagogues today. The importance of the Ma’Amad cannot be underestimated. The synagogue system began with them, and that is where the people gathered and prayed. The idea that all these people praying together at the same time and the same prayers gives us the concept that the Temple was the center, the hub, and all of this was spreading out all over the land. At certain times the volume of prayers “coming up” to God daily is astounding, and this happens today all over the world in synagogues and homes.