Posts Tagged ‘shammes’

Helper: Hebrew: Shammes

The Hebrew words shamash שמש or the Yiddish shammes שמש (spelled identically but with a different vowels) mean ‘helper’ and is used to describe the person who looks after the synagogue.

Hebrew Word Pictures

ש  shin is a picture of a ‘tooth’ and means to ‘destroy’ or also corresponds to the Shekinah or glory of Elohim

 מ Mem is a picture of ‘water’ and means ‘chaos’

ש  shin is a picture of a ‘tooth’ and means to ‘destroy’ or also corresponds to the Shekinah or glory of Elohim

The word pictures can mean ‘destroying the chaos with the glory of Elohim’

The shamash or shammes is the ‘set apart’ candle on a Hanukkiah that is used to light the rest of the candles.

Some suggest that because the word shamash has ties to the Babylonian/Assyrian god known for truth and justice, that Hanukkah is rooted in a pagan festival and should not be celebrated. It is interesting when looking at the god Shamash: he was responsible for maintaining the order of the universe, nothing could be hidden from his bright light which banished darkness and revealed lies. It was said that his ‘eye’ could see everything.

The Jewish people had by the time of the Feast of Dedication been sent to live in foreign cultures. They had been dispersed 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, they used the term ‘shamash’ in order to just stay alive. I don’t know; I wasn’t there. What I do understand is the struggle to find ways to express dearly held beliefs in order to fit into an intolerant culture.

From a different perspective, perhaps the multi-god cultures of Babylon and Assyria saw the power of the God of Israel in the Jewish people around them. Perhaps they saw how He helped His chosen people, remained a light in their midst, and lived lives based on Truth. Perhaps they chose the Hebrew word shamash for their god. Remember that Sha’ul saw in Athens idols with names for all manner of gods, but there was one unnamed that they worshipped in ignorance. Of course, he revealed the name of that God, the yod hey vav hey.

In either scenario, one word that means ‘helper’ in Hebrew does not a pagan practice make. With its Hebrew word pictures possibly depicting the ‘destruction of chaos by the glory of Elohim’ presents an extraordinary view of Hanukkah that fits the description found in Maccabees. There was great chaos caused by the Syrians (Assyrians) who murdered the Jewish people for their faith and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple and its altar had to be rededicated back to Elohim and according to the commands in Torah, that dedication must last eight days. For these reasons alone should Hanukkah be commemorated in support of the people and nation of Israel.

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