Helper – Hebrew: Shammes


The Hebrew word shamash or the Yiddish shammes שמש mean ‘helper’ and are used to describe the person who looks after the synagogue. The shamash or shammes also refers to the ‘set apart’ candle on the Hanukkiah that is used to light the candles on each night of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Hebrew Word Pictures

ש  Shin – A Tooth and means ‘consume.’

 מ Mem – Water and means ‘chaos’ or ‘mighty.’

ש  Shin – A Tooth and means ‘consume.’

The Hebrew Word Picture for shammes: consume chaos consume.

Some suggest the word shamash has ties to the Babylonian/Assyrian god known for truth and justice or the sun god. The Hebrew word shemesh does mean ‘sun,’ but doesn’t imply that the Jews worshiped the sun god or that Hanukkah is rooted in a pagan festival and should not be celebrated.

By the time of the Feast of Dedication, the Jewish people had been exiled to Babylon and Assyria and could very easily have incorporated ‘foreign’ words into their vocabulary just as we have with the days of the week: Thursday for Thor, Wednesday for Odin, even Saturday for Saturn. Perhaps even to worship the God of Israel in their exile, they used the term shamash in order to remain alive.

From a different perspective, perhaps the multi-god cultures of Babylon and Assyria saw the power of the God in the Jewish people. Perhaps they saw how He helped them remain a light and faithful to Torah. Perhaps they chose the Hebrew word shamash for their god.

One word that means ‘helper’ in Hebrew does not mean the Israelites were involved in a pagan practice. With its Hebrew word picture symbolism, it could possibly be depicting the ‘complete destruction of chaos’ in the days of the Maccabean Revolt.

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