What Is a Shamash?

A Chanukah menorah has eight lights. The shamash – the "attendant" candle that is used to kindle the other lights – sits a bit higher or lower than the other candles, on the ninth branch of the menorah. Many Jews have a tradition to use a beeswax candle for the shamash.

Learn how to light the menorah

Though the shamash's primary function has been served once the candles have been lit, we don't extinguish the shamash. Instead, we set it in its place adjacent to the other lights, ready to "serve" in case a candle blows out. Another reason why we leave the shamash lit is because it is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any practical reason. This way, if a candle is needed, the shamash is available for use, preserving the sanctity of the mitzvah lights.

Learning From the Shamash

The shamash serves as a lesson to educators and leaders everywhere. The shamash is not a mitzvah candle. Yet, it is important because it is the instrument that enables all the other candles to form a mitzvah.

Each of us has the potential to be a shamash. We all have a responsibility to become teachers and impact the lives of others. Just as the shamash is usually placed above the other candles, a person who serves others, a teacher, becomes great because he or she is using a set of superior skills to make others great too.

Following the shamash, the path to elevation is not through pushing others down, but by sharing with them and coaxing out the flame they carry within.

Read a beautiful lesson from the shamash