Our parashah deals with a community’s responsibility to preserve public areas. This responsibility is ultimately the foundation for mutuality and covenant between people and their leaders.
Most of the book of Vayikra details the obligations of the kohanim, Aharon and his sons, as well as Moshe and other members of the tribe of Levi, to maintain the Holy service and be responsible for all of its implements. We would expect that the kohanim would continue to bear this responsibility, and be charged with the public areas as well.
However, our parashah clearly teaches that the responsibility for public areas devolves on everyone, not just those who are deemed to be public servants. There is in fact, a mutual dependence between the leadership, the people’s representatives, and the community, that is the people themselves, in maintaining the public domain and its character.
Chapter 24 of Vayikra describes two ceremonies that took place in the mishkan, lighting the ner tamid, the consistent light, and preparing the showbread. At first glance these procedures seem to fall under the exclusive domain of the kohanim, but closer inspection reveals that in both of these instances the pesukim emphasize the involvement of all of Israel. These areas are transformed into touch-points of communal involvement in the mishkan and in the Holy. This occurs in our parashah in the context of sacred time as well.
God spoke to Moses, saying: Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain of the Pact [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it is a law for all time throughout the ages. He shall set up the lamps on the pure lampstand before the Lord [to burn] regularly.
The verses describe the priestly service of lighting the menorah outside of the parokhet, the dividing curtain.  Interestingly though, in the verses quoted above, we see that the ones who are responsible are Israel, not Aharon: “Command the Israelite people.” Thus, this priestly service is presented as part of what is done and made possible only through the commandment to all of Israel. This passage is fundamentally directed to the entire community of Israel.
The connection between the people and priests in this mitzvah is expressed through the oil that comes from the people and is used by Aharon to light the consistent light.
Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain of the Pact [to burn] (from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it is a law for all time throughout the ages).
The oil is collected by Moshe and then used by Aharon to light the lamp. Moshe and Aharon’s dependence on the people to provide is expanded upon in the Talmud:
Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives.” R. Shmuel bar Nahmani said: ‘To you and not to me. I don’t need the light.’
What is being clarified here is that the one who needs the light is Moshe, not God. In so doing, the midrash makes the menorah an object of meaning first and foremost in the human realm, even though it is in the mishkan, the house of God. Moreover, the communal source of oil on the one hand, and Moshe’s need of the light on the other, turn the conversation around ner tamid to one that establishes and defines primarily human relations.
Thus, a mutual and cyclical connection between the Temple priests and the people is designed and established. By and large, when something is connected to the service in the mishkan and the mikdash, the relationship between the people and its leaders or representatives is uni-directional: the people depend on its leaders, the kohanim, for their service in the mishkan.
However, the demand for oil that comes from the people of Israel – “Command the Israelite people,” along with the Talmudic clarification that the light of the oil is for the sake of the human leadership, changes the relationship. Now there is a mutual dependence, because the leader requires the oil that the people supply. The leaders need the light that they can only get from the people. In this way, the service in the mishkan organizes the human relationships to be more mutual, maybe even a partnership.
We encounter something similar with regard to the bread of the holy which is discussed in the continuation of the chapter:
You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves….Every Sabbath day he shall arrange them before the Lord regularly from the Israelite people it is a covenant for all time. They shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who shall eat them in the sacred precinct; for they are his as most holy things from the Lord’s offerings by fire, a due for all time.
Here, too, all of Israel is included; the bread that is eaten entirely by the kohanim is contributed by the people of Israel. Once again, a mutual and cyclical connection between the Temple priests and the people is designed and established.
The showbread is also interesting, because although it is a type of holy bread, it is never brought as a sacrifice, not even in part. As a matter of fact, although the bread is placed before God, it is eaten entirely by the kohanim. Thus, it’s not a sacrifice; it’s a covenant. That its definition in the verses: “from the Israelite people it is a covenant for all time. [The loaves] shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who shall eat them.” It seems that the bread functions as an oath, a pact, between the people and their civil servants, between the people and the kohanim who serve in the mishkan. Once again, the people contribute to the establishment of the holy space, this time through the bread given “from the Israelite people….”
That is to say that toward the end of the book of Vayikra we find tasks wherein the primary responsibility belongs to the people as a whole, on the community in its entirety, as opposed to most of the tasks in the book which are the responsibility of Moshe, Aharon, and his descendants.
Placing responsibility on the people in their entirety turns the holy space into a more mutual and joint entity, and also helps to shape the human relationship between those working in the mishkan – the kohanim, and the people in a more mutual way.
The status of the bread as a covenant is strengthened by the timing of when the Kohen interacts with the bread. The bread is swapped out every week on Shabbat: “Every Sabbath day he shall arrange them before the Lord regularly from the Israelite people it is a covenant for all time.” Shabbat itself is a covenant: “The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time.” (Shemot 31:16) The bread thus becomes a covenant not only within the human realm, between the Israelites and those who serve in the mishkan, but also a covenant with God.
The interdependence that is constructed through certain ceremonies in the mishkan is not only effective between the representatives of the community and the community itself ,but also between the people and God. This interdependence isn’t limited to practical needs, items that the people need to supply, but it also applies to realms beyond the physical. For example, the entire people is responsible for the arrangement of time and for making distinctions between different times. Our parashah makes clear that just as the sacred light and the sacred bread come from the people, so too do the people set sacred time:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. You shall do no work; it shall be a Sabbath of the Lord throughout your settlements.
Even though the service of the kohanim is clearly central to the different holidays, this chapter emphasizes the role of the people, of the community, the individual components that make up the group. The chapter devotes its attention to the activities of the people who are not kohanim in the demarcation of sacred time, and thereby constructs the responsibility of the people who constitute the nation regarding the different holidays.
We see this in the discussion of Shabbat: “Speak to the Israelite people…You shall do no work.” (Vayikra 23:1-3) Shabbat is not formed through any specific sacrifice or ritual, but rather in its being kept by the people. It is through their action (or inaction, as the case may be) in regards to Shabbat which makes it Shabbat  , and it is similarly the behavior of the people which establishes the other holidays which are described in the chapter. For example, when it comes to Pesach, the verses specify:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Lord. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.
Maintaining the public realm, its practices and even the flow of time does not fall exclusively to the kohen. Rather, our parashah presents a model for constructing a public sphere in which responsibility rests not only with the kohanim or the people’s representatives but with the people as a whole. We envision a public sphere in which the leadership depends on the people-for nourishment, light, and even the organization and flow of time. In this way, God, the people, and their representatives construct, reflect, and preserve their joint covenant through their respective public roles and responsibilities.
May we merit strong partnership and covenant between us and our representatives in both religious and civil offices.
 In this context, “constant” doesn’t mean without interruption, rather it denotes regularity, that the candles are lit every day, regularly, without fail. Back
 Unlike the description offered in the Book of Numbers which focuses on the sacrifices: “On the Sabbath day: two yearling lambs without blemish, together with two-tenths of a measure of choice flour with oil mixed in as a meal offering, and with the proper libation-a burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its libation.” (Numbers 28:9-10) Back