The 9 branch menorah is used only during the holiday of Hanukkah. It was created to commemorate the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greco/Syrians in 165 B.C.E. and the miraculous burning of a one day supply of oil for eight days. On the Hanukkah menorah, eight of the arms are for the candles which represent the 8 miracle days, and the ninth arm is for the candle used to light the others. That special ninth arm is called the “shamash,” and it is usually above the other arms.
Lighting the candles is central ritual of Hanukkah. One candle is added on each night of the eight-night holiday until it is ablaze with light on the eighth evening.
The Hanukkah Menorah is a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the holiday. On each night of Hanukkah we light a new candle. The ninth one, called the Shamash (“helper” or “servant”), is used to light all the other candles. To be kosher, the Shamash must be placed on a different level than the eight other candles.
Since Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated in the home, lighting the Menorah gives each family the ability to bring the holiness of the holiday, and of the ancient Temple re-dedicated by the Maccabees, into their own home. We like to have each child participate in creating the miracle of Hanukkah by lighting his or her own Menorah, or by having the chance to light a candle. With each succeeding night, we magnify the blessings of the holiday. Lighting the Menorah is truly a re-dedication of one’s commitment to faith and family.
The light of the Menorah can be seen to represent any and all of the following:
- Light represents goodness in the story of Genesis as God separated Light and Darkness on the first day of creation (Genesis: 1-1).
- Beginning with the ancient Israelites, the light of Torah has guided us throughout our history, including many dark times.
- As in the story of the underdog victory of the Maccabees, a small ray of light can overcome vast darkness.
- The Shamash: The light of the Shamash can be interpreted as God’s helping hand in partnership with human action.
- The Menorah light is supposed to be enjoyed and not used for study or work of any manner. Gazing at the Menorah reminds us of the miracles of daily life, including light itself.