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#3: Be the Shamash

Chanukah Candle #3. Shalosh, tres, three. Happy Third Night of Chanukah (a special one for me because it is also my birthday!)

Blog Tzedakah:
The nine of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $27 of my money to the Brandon Kaplan Special Needs program which ensures that kids with special needs and their families receive the support they need within the Jewish community. Learn more about the program here and here. If you want, donate yourself there.
It’s my birthday today (1963 I’m 45). In honor of that birthday, I invite you to help shine the light of my special community Congregation Or Ami. There are three ways of honoring my birthday:

  1. Now leave a comment (below) today and I make a tzedakah donation to the Or Ami Matching Grant program, which ensures that the light of this special community – my congregation – shine brightly for those in need. Or Ami reaches out to people dealing with cancer and other illnesses, struggling to recover from drug and alcohol abuse, finding joy in the face of disabilities, living in foster families, seeking the light of spiritual wholeness and more. Through the generosity of two families, all donations to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund will double in value. So if you leave a comment, my tzedakah donations are doubled.
  2. If you want, you can donate yourself. If you donate $18, it is worth $36. If you donate $100, it is worth $100. We have until December 31st to raise $61,000 to receive the full matching grants. We are over $43,541.00 toward that goal. If you want to donate, click here.
  3. Do both. Leave a comment AND make your own Matching Grant tzedakah donation. Remember, though, for every comment made today, I’ll make my own tzedakah donation to help shine the light of Or Ami. So just make a comment below.

Chanukah Blog Thots:

Ever wonder why we had to have that ninth candle, the Shamash? Couldn’t we just use a match or use the newest candle to light the others? Actually, the Shamash (Hebrew for “helper” or “server”) is a role model for us all.

The Purpose of the Shamash
Since these lights commemorate a holy miraculous event, they are not to be used for normal household needs. Obviously keeping this restriction was more of a challenge before the availability of electric light. Since not one of the eight chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) lights may be used for the pedestrian task of lighting another candle, how do the Chanukah candles get lit? That’s where the shamash comes in. It is lit to do the lighting work. To prevent onlookers from assuming the shamash is part of the chanukiyah candle count, the shamash is set apart from the others on the chanukiyah. It is placed either higher or lower than the rest.

Another Shamash Role
Another shamash role Should the chanukiah light accidentally come to be used to read the fine-print directions on a newly acquired battery-operated toy, for example, don’t feel bad. One might excuse the mistake with the thought that the shamash’s light, not the rest of the chanukiah flames, was utilized.

A Chassidic Lesson
Chassidim found inspiration by looking at the shamash’s usual placement above the rest of the Chanukah candles. The shamash is the candle that serves the others. In a chasidic court, the shamash was the person who attended to the personal needs of the rebbe. A glance at the chanukiah’s configuration tells of the rewards that doing for others brings. Because the shamash lowers itself to serve the others it ends up with an exalted position on the chanukiah.

This Chanukah, be the Shamash
We just came back from watching the movie, Seven Pounds. It inspired me and may inspire you, although there are better ways of dealing with pain and other ways to drink l’chaim.

Let’s all strive to find a way to rise above the commercialization of this American holiday season. Find a way to become the one who serves other, who lifts them up, and who helps them. Not just the twice a year, Thanksgiving-time and Christmas-time, do a good deed. Not just the “random acts of kindness” model of helping others. Rather, systematically transform your way of living so you become the one who helps others. Spend time each day planning on how you can transform the lives of other people.

We are taught that the world is sustained by three things: Torah, Avodah (worship or serving the Divine) and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). Be the Shamash and you are doing all three: using your wisdom to imitate the Divine by doing goodness.

So this Chanukah, commit yourself to Be the Shamash. Like any flame that kindles the light of others, your flame will not be diminished. You will continue to throw off the same amount of light. But I promise you, you will feel warmer.

Happy Chanukah!


  1. Anonymous says:

    Happy Birthday Rabbi Kipnes! This year, we asked all of the kid cousins (ages 5 – 12) to figure out a charity they would like a portion of their Hanukkah present to be donated to. Each of them took seriously to the task and investigated their charity of choice and came up with terrific reasons for donating to each one. This will definitely be a Howell/Granick Hanukkah tradition going forward!!

  2. The Chambers says:

    Happy birthday and Chanukah Rabbi Paul! In particular we found the Chassidic lesson regarding the shamash, an inspiration. May we find within ourselves the integrity to both serve and shine as the shamash.

  3. The Wasserman Family says:

    Chappy Chanukah and Chappy Chirthday! We enjoy the blog as we watch the candles burn! Our third night was shared with family friends moving to Calabasas (and, one day, Or Ami!) and making them feel at home in the area.
    The Wasserman Family

  4. Julie Glaser says:

    Happy Birthday Rabbi Paul. I have enjoyed your Chanukah blog and agree with the lesson about the shamash. You are very inspirational. Happy Chanukah and best wishes to you and your family!

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