What is Hanukkah all about?
It’s the “season of lights” and a celebration of the temple’s rededication. It’s remembered by eating fried desserts and playing dreidel, but what’s the central focus?
If you were raised in the church, the following passage of Scripture isn’t going to seem mind boggling. It isn’t 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 as they 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’s 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 fight to see who can be the greatest servant is a pretty tough pill to swallow.
In the same way that the disciples probably didn’t expect to hear that this was how to become great, I’m guessing that you aren’t expecting me to tell you that this passage points to the central focus of Hanukkah.
Let’s talk about the Hanukiah, or the Hanukkah Menorah. The Hanukiah is a special menorah used during Hanukkah. It’s a candlestick with nine branches on it — rather than the typical seven found on the common menorah.
The Hanukiah has nine branches to represent the eight days of Hanukkah. The “extra” branch/candle is called the shamash. It is the key to understanding the central focus of Hanukkah.
The shamash, which means “servant or helper,” is found in the very center of the Hanukiah. It’s literally the central focus. What’s more is “who” it represents.
Coming full circle, the person that the shamash represents is found in the next verse of the passage in Matthew that we looked at earlier.
“…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 to each of us as He exchanged His righteousness for our sin.
So, during this holiday season, if you celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, pay close attention to the shamash as the other candles are lit by it. Just as each one is set aflame by the shamash, so every Believer’s heart has been set aflame by Yeshua – the Light of the World.