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 Holiday Central > Chanukah > Menorah  > The Shamash
The Shamash: The Service Candle
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
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When a chanukiyah is full, nine lights will shine from it, lighting up the December nights. Eight of the lights stand in as a sort of counter, symbolizing which night of Chanukah is being celebrated. There is one extra candle lit first every night of Chanukah. This is the shamash, service candle, or in the old translation: the sexton.

  · The Purpose of the Shamash 
  · Another Shamash Role  
  · A Chassidic Lesson  

The Purpose of the Shamash
Since these lights commemorate a holy miraculous event, they are not to be used for normal household needs. Obviously keeping this restriction was more of a challenge before the availability of electric light. Since not one of the eight chanukiyah lights may be used for the pedestrian task of lighting another candle, how do the Chanukah candles get lit? That's where the shamash comes in. It is lit to do the lighting work. To prevent onlookers from assuming the shamash is part of the chanukiyah candle count, the shamash is set apart from the others on the chanukiyah. It is placed either higher or lower than the rest. 

Another Shamash Role

Another shamash role Should the chanukiyah light accidentally come to be used to read the fine-print directions on a newly acquired battery-operated toy, for example, don't feel bad. One might excuse the mistake with the thought that the shamash's light, not the rest of the chanukiyah flames, was utilized. 

A Chassidic Lesson
Chassidim found inspiration by looking at the shamash's usual placement above the rest of the Chanukah candles. The shamash is the candle that serves the others. In a hasidic court, the shamash was the person who attended to the personal needs of the rebbe. A glance at the chanukiyah's configuration tells of the rewards that doing for others brings. Because the shamash lowers itself to serve the others it ends up with an exalted position on the chanukiyah. 

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