The Shamash and COVID-19

December 13, 2020 by Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann
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When reflecting upon the miracles of Hannukah, the logical decision should be that the menorah should have eight candles as the miracle lasted for eight days and we light one candle for each day of the miracle of the light. However, each menorah has space for nine candles in total, eight in an equal row and one additional slot for one other candle, either elevated or a bit to the side of the other candles. What is the secret behind this extra candle called the “Shamash” and what is its message to us in our contemporary lives? 

The Shamash (literally translated as “attendant”) is the candle that is used to kindle all the other lights of the menorah. It goes about its role each night, standing tall and proud as it welcomes the new candles and lights them each dutifully. After its short mission, this lone candle stands in its post and guards its offshoots of light. Conscientiously and with purpose the Shamash attends to the needs of the other candles on the menorah.  

The Shamash does not enjoy a calm and relaxing stay on its place of honour on the menorah. Actually, if the need arises, the Shamash leaves its post to delicately rekindle a flame that has either vanished or been extinguished. 

Therefore its constant presence reminds us of a vital component to the meaning of Hannukah. The Shamash, through its position of leadership, puts the needs of the other candles first, working tirelessly to make sure that all other candles remain lit and in their proper place.  

We light the Shamash first before the rest of the candles to teach us that in order to inspire others we need to be inspired ourselves. The Shamash is not phased by what’s happening around the menorah..  

The role of the Shamash, in putting the other candles forward first reminds me of the important role that our healthcare workers have been taking these past few months.

The Ark Centre’s Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann

After such a difficult year, it is important to recognize that not only are we living in one of the luckiest countries on earth but that we would not be here without the dedication of our healthcare workers.  

When everyone else isolated and avoided contact with others, healthcare workers went forth to put themselves into danger to treat those that were experiencing COVID-19.

They led us from the front. They were a shining example to us all. They showed that leadership is honouring one’s principles and values. When everyone stood back, our healthcare workers stood up to the challenge.  

As we enter over 40 days of no COVID-19 cases in Victoria, we are reaping the benefits of this extraordinary leadership for which we are ever grateful.  

Although Hannukah is all about sharing the light, the Shamash reminds us that to inspire our families and help others we must find ways to inspire those around us with the skills that we have to give. Our healthcare workers embody this principle, and we are living a blessed existence with zero active community cases thanks to them.  

Take moment and reflect on how you can implement the ‘Shamash’ message in your life and help ignite the lights in the souls of those around you so that they too can share the light this Hannukah with people in their social circles. This ever-increasing halo of light creates a powerful beacon of hope and that illuminates even the greatest darkness. 


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