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What is the purpose of the Shamash (ninth) candle on my menorah?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Holidays » Chanukah » The Laws | Subscribe | What is RSS?


On every Chanukah Menorah there are nine branches. Eight for the eight nights of Chanukah, and the ninth branch holds the Shamash candle. The word Shamash literally means "the attendant." [The beadle in the synagogue is also called a Shamash, because he is the synagogue attendant.]

We need an extra candle in order to light the actual Chanukah candles. We can't just light one candle from the next, because it is forbidden to make use of the actual Chanukah-candles because that would be demeaning to the Mitzvah. Therefore we have an "attending" candle. Even after lighting the menorah we don't extinguish the Shamash; instead we place it in close proximity of the other candles. This way if one of the candles blows out - or if a candle is needed for any other task - we will use the Shamash instead of one of the mitzvah-candles.

We need an extra candle in order to light the actual Chanukah candles... Therefore we have an "attending" candle.
In order to differentiate between the mitzvah-candles and the Shamash, we make sure that they are at different heights. In other words, the Shamash is placed either above or below the other candles. Thus, the pedestrian on the street will be able to tell which candles are the mitzvah-candles, and will quickly be able to determine what night of Chanukah is being observed. Many Chassidim use a beeswax candle for the Shamash. This is because beeswax emits a very soft, calm flame.1


  • 1. Sources: Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim, 673:1
TAGS: Shamash


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
An eight day mid-winter holiday marking: 1) The miraculous defeat of the mighty Syrian-Greek armies by the undermanned Maccabis in the year 140 BCE. 2) Upon their victory, the oil in the Menorah, sufficient fuel for one night only, burned for eight days and nights.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) Following the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.