The "Shamash"

  • Rav Yehuda Shaviv


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur



The "Shamash"

By Rav Yehuda Shaviv

Translated by David Silverberg




We meet the "shamash," the extra candle added to the Chanuka candles, twice in the Tur and Shulchan Arukh. The first instance is 671:5:


"The Chanuka candle is placed at the entrance near the public domain, outside…

In times of danger… one places it on his table, and this suffices.

One must have an additional candle to make use of its light. If there is a fire, one does not need a different candle. If he is a prominent person, who does not customarily use the light of a fire, he requires a different candle."

Secondly, we read in 673:1:

"It is forbidden to make use of the Chanuka candles… It is forbidden even to check or count money by their light… The custom is to light an additional candle so that if he makes use of its light, it will have been from the additional light, which was lit last. One places it somewhat distant from the other candles used for the mitzva."

Leaving aside for a moment the peculiarity in the dispersion of a single halakha in two different locations, a careful comparison between these two passages reveals several differences that demand an explanation. For example, the first passage establishes that "one must have an additional candle," whereas in the second, we are told merely that "the custom is to light an additional candle."

From the perspective of the laws of Chanuka, lighting an extra candle involves more than just the issue of obligation, either as an outright halakhic requirement or merely as a laudable practice. Rather, it may be inherently problematic. After all, the candles not only serve to publicize the miracle through the lighting itself, but are also intended to publicize the number of days of Chanuka that either have passed or remain. This function lies at the heart of the accepted "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" standard of lighting Chanuka candles:

"The 'mehadrin min he-mehadrin' [the highest standard of fulfilling the mitzva]: Beit Shammai says, on the first day one lights eight, and detracts incrementally from there on. Beit Hillel says, on the first day one lights one, and then increases incrementally from there on…

Beit Shammai's reason: to signify the days that remain; Beit Hillel's reason: to signify the days that have passed." (Shabbat 21b)

Tosefot (s.v. ve-ha-mehadrin min ha-mehadrin) write that those who observe the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" standard do not also follow the practice of the "mehadrin," who light one candle for every member of the household. If they did, every member of the household would light the number of candles corresponding to the days that either have passed or remain (as indeed emerges from the Rambam's ruling in Hilkhot Chanuka 4:1-2). Rather, only one lighting occurs in each household, and the number of candles lit corresponds to the number of days that remain or have passed. The Gemara refers to this practice as "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" to express the importance of demonstrating through lighting the number of days that remain or have transpired. Seemingly, then, adding an extra candle undermines the unique quality that characterizes the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" standard of candle lighting!

Indeed, the Rema, in his Darkei Moshe (673:4), writes regarding the shamash,

"He means that it is forbidden to do this, for he adds onto the candles that he is obligated to light, such that there is no indication of the number of days that passed."



The origin of the practice of adding a candle appears in Masekhet Shabbat (21b):

"The Rabbis taught: The Chanuka candle – the mitzva is to place it at the entrance of one's home, outside. If one lives on an upper level, he places it in the window adjacent to the public domain. During times of danger, one places it on his table, and this suffices.

Rava said: One requires another candle to use its light. If there is a fire, he does not need [the extra candle]; if he is a prominent person, then even though there is a fire, he needs another candle."

When reading this Gemara, one must ask whether Rava's comments stand independently, or whether they simply continue the beraita's halakha, and Rava speaks only of times of danger, when one lights inside on his table?

The text of the Gemara as it appears in our versions allows for both interpretations. By contrast, the text as it appears in the She'iltot, Rabbenu Chananel and Rif leaves no room for uncertainty. Their version of the Gemara adds the letter "vav," or "and," at the beginning of Rava's comment: "Rava said: And one requires another candle." Clearly, according to this version, Rava continues the halakha of the beraita and does not introduce an entirely new discussion.

Compelling proof to this effect is brought by the Rebbe of Dinov in his fascinating book on Chanuka. He observes that the sugya in the Gemara is arranged in the following manner: first the Gemara brings beraitot (statements of Tannaim), and thereafter it cites comments and halakhic rulings of the Amoraim. Rava's remark concerning this beraita, however, disrupts this sequence. Necessarily, then, it continues the aforementioned beraita, and does not begin a new discussion.

Perhaps this led Rashi to find it necessary to explain, "He needs another candle, for otherwise, it is not apparent [that this candle is lit for the mitzva of Chanuka]." Rava refers to someone who lights indoors, on his table, in the same place where he places candles all year round for light. There is no indication, therefore, that he lit the Chanuka candle specifically for the mitzva. He must therefore add a different candle to make it clear that he lights the other candle for Chanuka.

If, indeed, the additional candle serves as an indication that the Chanuka candle was lit for the mitzva, then seemingly, one would not fulfill the mitzva without it. For Rava teaches later (22b), "If one holds the Chanuka candle in his hand [and never puts it down until after it extinguishes] – he has accomplished nothing." The Gemara explains, "The onlooker will say that he holds it for his own needs," and Rashi adds, "and there is then no awareness of the miracle." If the mitzva requires publicizing the miracle, then lighting in a manner that fails to publicize the miracle does not satisfy the obligation.

Moreover, according to Rashi's explanation, Rava in this statement does not take a position concerning the debate among the Acharonim as to whether one may make use of the light of the Chanuka candles (see the beginning of the sugya, and 22a). For even according to the view that one may use the candles, it must nevertheless be apparent that they were lit in commemoration of the miracle.[1] This very well accommodates the Vilna Gaon's version of the text of Rava's halakha, which omits the words, "le-hishtamesh le-ora" ("to use its light"), for in truth no connection exists between the additional candle and the prohibition against making use of the light.[2]

From the commentary of Rabbenu Chananel, by contrast, it appears that there exists a strong connection between Rava's halakha and the prohibition against making use of the candlelight. For he formulates Rava's comment as follows: "One requires another candle for his personal use." This clearly implies that one requires an additional candle because he may not use the light of the Chanuka candle.[3] But if this is the case, then Rava's ruling pertains at all times, not merely when one must light indoors on his table. Why, then, does the Gemara cite Rava's halakha immediately following the beraita?

The answer perhaps emerges from the comments of the Ran to the Rif:

"It appears to me that although Rava agrees that one may not make use of its light, and thus one obviously needs another candle, this is what he means here: even though at times of danger he places it on his table and then has no choice but to use its light, he nevertheless needs another candle to make a clear indication of the matter."

Accordto the Ran, the obligation to light an extra candle is obvious whenever one will likely derive benefit from the Chanuka candles otherwise. However, the mitzva does not hinge upon this requirement to light an additional candle, and even without it, one has fulfilled the mitzva.



In light of what we have seen, we can explain the approach taken by the "miktzat rabbanim" ("a few rabbis") recorded by the Meiri in our sugya:

"One requires another candle… even if he does not need to use it, so that they [onlookers] do not think that he lit it for his needs… Nevertheless, it appears to me in light of the sugya, that they required another candle only when one places it on his table. But if he places it near his entrance, he does not need another candle, even though it stands there for him, since he will not come to use specifically its light for some purpose. Indeed, I have seen a few rabbis who had the practice of standing there and speaking to their colleagues without another candle."

Although we follow the opinion forbidding personal use of the candlelight, nevertheless, so long as one has no intention of using it, he does not need an additional candle. In terms of making an indication that the Chanuka candle was lit for the mitzva, this would be required only when one lights on his table.

By contrast, the author of the work "Tanya Rabbati" makes no connection between the additional candle and times of danger, when one places the candle indoors on his table. Rather, he says without qualification that one must light an extra candle: "One may not make use of its light; therefore, one requires another candle to make use of." Significantly, he did not write that if one wishes to make personal use of the Chanuka candle, he must add another candle. Rather, he establishes a general requirement to have an additional candle because of the prohibition against using the Chanuka candle. He perhaps understood Rava as introducing a generic halakha. Likewise, the Meiri himself testifies that he did not follow the practice of "a few rabbis" –


"In practice, I have the custom to light an additional candle even when I have no need to use it, and we observe the customs of our fathers and rabbis."

Rabbenu Yerucham (9:1) likewise implies that, even initially, the extra candle was a general requirement that applies regardless of whether one needs light for personal use. He adds, however, that if one lit in a place where he does not normally have light, he does not need another candle.



Now we can easily explain the comments of the Tur and Shulchan Arukh. For in truth, we have before us two halakhot, rather than just one. The first, in siman 671, refers only to those who light on their table. These people must add a candle, for otherwise, there is no indication that they lit specifically for the mitzva and will thus not fulfill their obligation.[4]

In siman 673, by contrast, we read of a general halakha resulting from the issue of the prohibition against making personal use of the candlelight. Therefore, "The custom is to light an additional candle."

In this regard, we find a difference between the Mechaber and the Rema. The Mechaber requires the addition of an actual candle, whereas the Rema writes:

"In these countries, the practice is not to add [another candle], but rather to place next to them the shamash from which one lights the candles, and this is preferable."

According to the Mechaber, one places next to the Chanuka candles not a "shamash," which comes from the Hebrew word for "use" (as in "shimush" or "lehishtamesh"), but rather just an ordinary, additional candle. According to the Rema, however, we correctly refer to this candle as the "shamash," for we had used it earlier for lighting the candles.

Why does the Rema consider this practice preferable? Since this candle had been used for lighting the Chanuka candles, it is perfectly clear that the shamash does not count towards the number of candles lit for the mitzva that night. The candles can then indicate the number of days of Chanuka that had passed.

The Rambam alludes to a different way of lighting an extra candle while ensuring to publicize the number of days that have passed:

"During times of danger, a person places the Chanuka candle indoors, inside his home, and even if he places it on his table, this suffices. But there must be another candle inside the house to use its light." (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:8)

The Rambam requires lighting an extra candle "inside the house," not near the Chanuka candles. That other candle is for one to use for his personal needs, whereas the Chanuka candles remain exclusively designated for the mitzva and publicizing of the miracle.



[1] According to Rashi, however, the prohibition against making use of the candles stems from the fact that it must be clear that one lit the candles to publicize the miracle. He writes at the beginning of this page, "One may not make use of its light – so that it is apparent that it is the candle of the mitzva."

[2] The Ma'or Ha-katan writes: "One must always have another candle with him in the home for every use, as Rava said… Even the one who allows using the light for any purpose agrees with Rava, that one requires another candle, so that the onlooker does not say that he lit it for his own purposes."

[3] Similarly, see the work "Tzeror Ha-chayim" by Rabbenu Chayim Ben Rabbi Shemuel, a disciple of the Rashba, who proves from this comment of Rava that Halakha follows the view forbidding use of the Chanuka candles.

[4] We, however, do not normally light candles on our table for illumination; therefore, if we light Chanuka candles on our tables, we have the same status as those who light by the entrance. Electric lights are certainly no less than fire, which the Gemara mentions absolves one from the requirement of adding another candle. 



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