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Why doesn't the shamash count?


As every child knows, if you want to know which night of Chanukah it is, just count the lights in the menorah.

"But there are four flames in your menorah, Daddy," says my child, "not three."

"Four flames? Oh, the one up on top is the shamash. He doesn't count."

"Why doesn't he count?"

Why, indeed, doesn't the shamash count? It is he, after all, who kindled the other flames. It is he who stands watch over them, should one of them falter and require a fresh boost of light.

But isn't it always that way? The one who cooks and serves the meal is never really part of the party, even after he removes his apron and joins the others at the table. The tour guide isn't in any of the pictures (she took the pictures). The shadchan is the most unwanted guest at the wedding.

Only the Chanukah menorah seems to appreciate the significance of the "servant candle," placing it high, high above all the others.

"Why doesn't the shamash count, Daddy?" my child asks again.

I look at the shamash as he burns at his post, alone, forgotten, ignored. Somehow I get the feeling that he wouldn't want to be anyplace else.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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shloim April 8, 2015

perhaps? perhaps the shamash has a much more prosaic, and important role. when we recite the "haneirot halalu", we declare that we cannot use the hannukah candles for ordinary purposes, like lighting the room. by setting aside the shamash from the rest of the candles, we fulfill this requirement by letting the shamash be the one that lights the room, and keeps us from tripping over the furniture. Reply

Anonymous November 27, 2013

The shamash Kabbalistically,the Shamash is essential. Consider that the eight lights represent the eight sefirot from Malcuth to Binah. The number eight is also connected to shemini atseret. The Shamash diverts the Evil Eye, the yetser hara to affect the First Light, the seed of the Light. The Zohar provides commentaries about the Revealed Light and the Unrevealed Light. The same reason extends to the question of why we light the candles opposite to the Mezuzah... Does it make sense? Reply

Anonymous Seattle December 13, 2012

Beautiful article, but maybe incomplete? Even though the Shamash may stand alone at a different height than the other candles, it is meant to stand above the other candles, not below them. Maybe this could be symbolic of the role of a mother? A mother of a young child is essentially the child's servant, taking care of all their needs and when the child is extremely young, running at their every call. Yet they are not inferior to the child, because in "serving" the child they are creating them. Not quite sure where this could go, maybe someone could take this to home base? Reply

Rachel memphis, Tennessee December 9, 2011

the Shamash i was waiting for the insight, but instead just felt saddened. i'm sure there is a Hassidic approach to why the shamash is not counted. Does anyone know? Reply

Mr. Dean Levit December 7, 2010

Talking about a candle, guys.... No need to get worked up and paint yourselves into an o-so-gray corner, here. The article was meant to be cute. Were you two? Happy Chanuka. Reply

Todd Tulsa, Oklahoma December 14, 2009

We are absolutely everything! Shemen I disagree..."We" (Jews/Judaism) isn't "absolutely nothing", "We" are absolutely everything! I agree with you that we are all shamash, to shine the light of G-d to the world. To ignite the raw material in everyone with the light of The Almighty. "We" should be proud to be the ones that serve as the helper candle, to light the world with the true light. So just like the Maccabees, we are in a fight too, to start a fire in everyone with the infinite light of G-d! And "we" have been given the credit everyday...just listen to the news, not a day goes by that Israel and "we" are not mentioned. Good, bad or indifferent..."we" are everything! Reply

Shemen December 21, 2006

We are absolutely nothing Aren't we all a shamash one way or another? WE are the ones to light this world. Are we the ones to get credit? No, we don't count. We're just around because youre the beauty of what actually has to be lit can't be lit on its own. But the shamash is just this shmo that happens to be there. Other then that were nothing.... Reply

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