The elephant in the room

 When we talk about the number of candles we light on Hannukah, we inevitably ignore the Shamash, after all, it isn't one of the actual candles of the mitzwah. It's a helper candle. Yet, for children, and even for our own eyes, it's a constant source of cognitive dissonance. On the first night we light one candle. ..in addition to the Shamash, so when we look and see a Hannukiah (aka. Hannukah Menorah) lit on the first night, there will be two candles there.

Yeah ok, we all can deal with a little cognitive dissonance, but since nowadays everyone lights the Shamash, and (almost) everyone lights according to Beit Hillel, we should delve into the deeper meaning of the Shamash as well.

One thing to learn from the Shamash, is that whenever we are involved in a mitzwah, HaShem is right there with us, involved too. The Shamash's light represents that, and helps us to properly perform the mitzwah, just as HaShem is always helping us to perform each mitzwah.

Normally HaShem's presence is implicit, why make it explicit on Hannukah? On Hannukah a unique and elevated light is revealed in the world, so high that we can't use it for any other purpose than simply to look at the candles. Also, on Hannukah, that light illuminates in the lowest places, even deeper than HaShem's light normally descends the rest of the year. So on Hannukah, the Shamash represents HaShem's participation in our mitzwot in a more visceral way than the rest of the year.

So when we look at it that way, there's no cognitive dissonance, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches, [see: helping us (all) along] HaShem always helps us do the mitzwoth.. He even does the lion's share of the work, we do the physical action and He reflects those actions in more radical changes throughout the upper worlds.


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