In this week's parasha (Pinchas) we have the description of the daily offering - the תמיד tamid (Bamidbar 28:2). This week, on the 17th of Tammuz, we commemorate the discontinuation of the tamid offering. What does the word tamid mean?
In modern Hebrew tamid is generally translated as "always". And in fact, most of the translations translate the term as a "continuous offering." However, Jacob Milgrom in the JPS Numbers translates it as "regular burnt offering" and writes "Tamid means 'regular,' not 'perpetual, eternal'." In a footnote he continues:
Just as aruhat tamid (2 Kings 25:29-30) refers to food regularly served on the king's table, 'anshei tamid (Ezek 39:14) means "men in regular employment" (N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers) and ner tamid (Exod. 27:20) refers to the regular lighting of the menorah each evening.
However, Milgrom's colleague in the JPS series, Nahum Sarna, is a little more flexible in his commentary on ner tamid in the JPS Exodus. He translates להעלות נר תמיד as "for kindling lamps regularly", and in his commentary writes:
Hebrew tamid may mean "with unfailing regularity" or "uninterruptedly." Thus, the olat tamid refers to the burnt offering brought twice daily, while esh tamid is the fire that burns perpetually on the altar and is never extinguished. Regarding the present case, verse 21 and Leviticus 24:3 explicitly state that the lamps are to burn from evening until morning. Further I Samuel 3:3 mentions that "the lamp of God had not yet gone out" in the sanctuary at Shiloh. Accordingly, as Rashi and Ibn Ezra recognize, ner tamid means a lamp kindled on a regular basis each evening. However, Josephus, referring to the Second Temple, records that on the lampstand "there is a light which is never extinguished by day or night". Ramban is of the opinion that the ner tamid is indeed a perpetually lit lamp from which light was taken at dusk each day to kindle the menorah.
Cassuto also agrees with Rashi. On Shmot 27:20 he writes:
The word tamidh is intrinsically capable of two interpretations: it can mean 'continuously, without interruption' - that is, the lamps would never be extinguished, either by day or by night; or it can signify 'regularly' - that is the lamps would burn every night; on no night would its light be wanting - as in the expression עלת תמיד olath tamidh ['continual burnt offering']. According to the plain meaning of the text, the second sense is more probable, for in v. 21 it is stated: 'from evening to morning'; so, too, in Leviticus 24:3; compare, further, Exodus 30:7-8, and also I Samuel 3:3 'And the lamp of the Lord had not yet gone out.' During the day there was no need for the light of the candelabrum, since sufficient light from without entered through the screen; moreover, the priests could lift up the screen and illumine the interior
of the holy place.
Just as there is disagreement as to the meaning of tamid, there are a number of opinions as to its etymology. Klein lists several:
Probably derived from base מוד, which is related to Arab. madda (= he stretched, extended; he prolonged, made to continue), lit.: "he measured" (= Heb. מדד 'he measured'). According to Hommel, תמיד is related to Arab. ta'mid (=fixing, establishment), inf. of 'ammada (= he fixed, established). Geiger and Perles see in תמיד a contraction of תעמיד, from עמד (=to stand.) Driver derives it from base מוד appearing in Arab. mada (=he increased).