The Ninth Candle: Servant to the Light
Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa all have a focus on lights or candles this time of year. The lights symbolize different things in each tradition, and in Judaism in particular, the Hannukah lights represent the eight days that the oil burned in the temple when there was only enough oil for one night. That is the miracle of Hannukah. The Jews had just won a battle that destroyed their temple and there was only one night's worth of oil to burn. The eight candles on a Menorah represent the eight-day miracle. So that begs the question:
"Why are there nine candles in a Menorah?"
Ah, yes. The ninth candle. That candle is called the Shamash, which in Hebrew means "attendant" or "servant." The Shamash is the servant to the other lights. The menorah can only be lit by the Shamash. It is not OK to light the other lights with any other candle other than the ninth one. As the attendant to the light, the Shamash is responsible for lighting all the others.
Each of us is a light. We have the choice as to whether we live from that lit-up place or ignore our light. During the holiday season, most people feel their light more acutely. It's a time of giving, sharing, remembering those less fortunate and wishing strangers on the street a good holiday. What I suggest this year is that not only are we all "lights" but we are also Shamashim. We are both light and the servant to the light because in every moment we have the choice to light other lights as we go about our day. Hold that image for a moment.
If you were the attendant of other lights, is there anything you would change? If you were to hold other humans in your mind eye as a light to keep lit, would you change how you address them or think of them?
I am the servant to the light in my children, my spouse, my family, my clients, by neighbors and I've chosen it as my work. Do I succeed all the time? Oh, God, no! But I am reminded as we light the menorah every night of the power we have to celebrate the light -- the light in every single being. The light in you.
Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate and enjoy the festivities of the season.