Why are there 9 candles for Hanukkah?

Answered by Michael Wilson

The tradition of lighting nine candles during Hanukkah is deeply rooted in the historical significance of the holiday. The number nine represents the eight days that the Temple lantern miraculously burned, and the additional candle, known as the shamash, serves as a helper candle to light the others.

To delve further into the symbolism and meaning behind the nine candles, it is important to understand the historical context of Hanukkah. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the Seleucid Empire in the second century BCE. The Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebels, successfully fought against the oppressive regime and reclaimed the Temple.

Upon reclaiming the Temple, the Maccabees sought to relight the menorah, a seven-branched candelabra that symbolized the divine presence in the Temple. However, they found only a single jug of pure olive oil, enough to keep the menorah burning for just one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days until new oil could be prepared. This event is known as the miracle of the oil and is at the heart of the Hanukkah celebration.

To commemorate this miraculous event, Jews around the world light the hanukkiah or menorah for eight nights during Hanukkah. Each night, an additional candle is lit, starting with one candle on the first night and progressing to all eight candles on the final night. The candles are placed from right to left but are lit from left to right to symbolize the increasing miracle of the oil.

The ninth candle, known as the shamash or “helper” candle, holds a special role in the Hanukkah observance. It is used to light the other candles, as Jewish law prohibits using the Hanukkah lights for any practical purpose. The shamash is typically placed either above or below the other eight candles, symbolizing its distinct purpose.

The lighting of the hanukkiah carries deep symbolism beyond the historical miracle. It serves as a reminder of the triumph of light over darkness, freedom over oppression, and hope over despair. Each candle represents the power of faith, courage, and perseverance.

In addition to the lighting of the candles, Hanukkah is also celebrated through various traditions and customs. Families gather to sing songs, play dreidel (a spinning top game), exchange gifts, and enjoy traditional foods, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts).

Personally, I have fond memories of celebrating Hanukkah with my family. As a child, I eagerly awaited the lighting of the hanukkiah each night, watching as the flames illuminated the room and filled it with warmth. The glowing candles served as a reminder of the miracles that occurred long ago and the resilience of the Jewish people throughout history.

The presence of nine candles during Hanukkah is steeped in symbolism and represents the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. The hanukkiah serves as a powerful reminder of the triumph of light and freedom, and the shamash plays a crucial role in lighting the other candles. Hanukkah is a time of celebration, reflection, and gratitude for the miracles that have shaped Jewish history.