A Chanukah menorah, or Chanukiah, holds nine candles — eight candles that mark the eight nights of Chanukah, and the ninth is the “shamash” or “helper.” Each night, we light the shamash first and then we use it to light the night’s other candles. On a traditional Chanukiah, the shamash’s position is higher than the other candles. For example, in the Chanukiah pictured above, which we lit last Thursday, the shamash is in the middle position above the Star of David.
One evening last week, as we prepared to light Chanukah candles, my six-year-old son, Evan, said, “This morning as I ate breakfast, I decided the shamash is my Gd.”
The rest of us looked at one another quizzically, and then I calmly asked, “What do you mean by that, buddy?”
Evan replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Well, it’s bigger, and it lights up everything else, like Gd does inside us.”
Astonished by his insight, we all quickly told Evan that he was right, that Gd really is the spark inside people, and that his observation that the shamash was like Gd was a beautiful analogy.
Then, today, as I was consulting the Internet to make sure I had the proper spelling of shamash so that I could share this story, I found this information in the online Encyclopedia Brittanica:
Shamash, (Akkadian), Sumerian Utu, in Mesopotamian religion, the god of the sun . . . . Shamash, as the solar deity, exercised the power of light over darkness and evil.
. . . which means Evan brought us full-circle, back to the beginning:
The ancient Middle-Eastern Sun-god Shamash most probably gave us the Hebrew word “shemesh” for sun…
The same set of three hebrew letters was used to name the “shamash” candle that helps us kindle light…
The shamash is like Gd, who kindles all light, including the light that shines from our souls…
I may be missing a couple of steps in the circle, but that’s okay because, really, the point is just that this is another example of the infinite web of meaning that connects the past to the future, various cultures to one another, and each of us to the Eternal my Gd!
with blessings, jen