What is Hanukkah all about?
In short, Hanukkah is the “season of lights” and a celebration of the temple’s rededication. The holiday is remembered by eating fried desserts and playing dreidel. But what is its focus, what is the center of Hanukkah?
If you were raised in the church, the following passage of Scripture isn’t going to seem mind boggling. This is not a passage that will catch you off guard. It’s likely one that you’ve heard more times than you can count. But, as you read it this time, try to imagine yourself in the company of the disciples who heard it for the first time:
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your servant….” Matthew 20:25-27
Here is the message I think Yeshua was trying to communicate to His disciples as they were arguing about who was better among them: strive to out-serve everyone around you!
Being called by your rabbi to practically compete over who can be the greatest servant is a pretty tough pill to swallow.
The Festival of Light
The disciples probably didn’t expect to hear that this was how to become great. In the same way, I’m guessing, you aren’t expecting me to tell you that this passage points to the central focus of the Festival of Light.
But first, let’s talk about the unique candleholder called hanukiyah. It is a menorah designed especially for Hanukkah. It is a candleholder with nine branches — rather than the typical seven of a common menorah.
The nine branches of a hanukiyah represent the eight days of Hanukkah. The ninth, “extra” branch/candle is called the shamash. This additional branch is the key to understanding the center of Hanukkah.
The shamash, which means “servant” or “helper,” is often found in the very center of the hanukiyah. In that sense, it is literally its central focus.
Shamash – the Giver of Light
Shamash is the key candle of hanukiah, because it gives light to all other candles. There is a person that fulfilled this role in this world. Let’s take a look at a verse following the passage from Matthew that we quoted above:
“…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
The center of Hanukkah and the one represented by the shamash is the Son of Man – Yeshua himself. He performed the greatest act of service when He exchanged His righteousness for our sin.
During this holiday season, as you celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, pay close attention to the shamash. Note how the other candles are lit by it.
Just as each candle is set aflame by the shamash, so every Believer’s heart has been set aflame by Yeshua – the Light of the World.