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I always understood the purpose of the shamash to be to light the other, mitzva candles with; and that it used to be used as the candle that could be benefitted from. Seeing as the first purpose is completed after lighting, and the second is no longer applicable (because of electricity), I tend to put out my shamash after using it to light my candles, so I can reuse it the next day.

Recently I was told that it's 'good' to leave the shamash lit, and that the fact that I won't need it for its light is irrelevant. Is there a source for this claim? (Beyond the claim that "the lights might of out, and then you'll need the light of the shamash". Let's pretend I won't even be in the room with the candles until they go out.)

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    Someone could argue leaving it lit could constitute a venerated minhag which should be kept for its own value. You could also argue it was entirely a practical thing; that seems to be the position of the shulchan aruch וצריך נר אחר להשתמש לאורו. ואם יש מדורה, אין צריך נר אחר
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 23:02
  • ואם תמצא לומר it's an important minhag regardless, I wonder if each menorah needs its own, or if it's sufficient to light one shamash for multiple menorahs in close proximity.
    – shmosel
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 23:10
  • @shmosel the minhag is seemingly one per, so if we care about it as a minhag that's clearly what we'd do.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 0:53
  • I think the Shamash is also a reminder not to use the mitzva lights for personal use, which you would need the whole time.
    – ElonMusk
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 3:59

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The Peninei Halacha says that in a place which has electric light, one need not light a shamash. Even so, he says (similar to ElonMusk's comment on the question):

ואע"פ כן נהגו רבים להדליק שמש, כדי להבליט את ההבדל שבין נרות המצווה שאסור לנו להשתמש לאורם לנר השמש שמותר לנו להשתמש לאורו.

And even so, many have the custom of lighting a shamash, in order to emphasize the difference between the mitzva candles, whose light is prohibited for use, and the shamash whose light is permitted for use.

He brings the Bi'ur halacha (Orach Chaim 671:5 "vetzarich") as proof that even when not needed for light, there is importance to the differentiation between a mitzva candle and other light:

וצריך נר אחר להשתמש לאורה: פי' רש"י משום היכרא ר"ל אפילו אם לא ירצה כלל להשתמש לאורה מ"מ צריך נר אחר שיהיה היכולת בידו להשתמש לאורה ועי"ז מינכר שהנר הראשון הוא לשם מצווה דאל"ה כיון שעומד על השולחן יאמרו שלצרכו הדליקה. ונראה דווקא במניחה על שולחנו אבל כל שמניחה סמוך לפתח א"צ לנר אחרת אע"פ שעומד לו לשם הואיל ואינו בא להשתמש לאורה לאיזה תשמיש. אכן מנהג העולם וכן מנהג רבותינו דבכל נר חנוכה המודלקת בתוך הבית צריך נר אחרת אפילו לא היה צריך לתשמיש שלא יאמרו לצרכו הדליקה וכן אני נוהג למעשה כ"כ המאירי עי"ש ועיין בפר"מ שכן משמע ג"כ מתשובת הרמ"א.

And he needs another candle to use as light: Rashi explained this to be as a recognition, meaning, even if he has no intent to use the candles' light, he still must have another candle so that he could use it for light, and through this it becomes obvious that the first candle is for the mitzva. Because otherwise, since it's standing on the table, people will say he lit it for his own need. But this is seemingly only when it's on his table, but when it's near the entrance, he need not light another candle even though the candle is standing there [for his theoretical use], because he will not come to use this light for his own purposes. Indeed, the common practice, as well as our Rabbis' practice is that any Chanuka candle lit inside the house needs another candle, even if he won't need to use it, lest people say he lit it for his own needs, and this is my custom. Thus wrote the Meiri. And see the P'ri Megadim, that this is also seen in the ReM"A's t'shuvos.

TL;DR: We see from this Bi'ur halacha that even when one won't use the light, there is a reason to light a shamash - to create a recognisable sign that this candle is for the mitzva. So we see, that although there is no obligation to light a shamash when there is another source of light (which is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch (671:5)), there is still a reason to, hence me being told that it's 'good to leave the shamash lit'.


That was all what the peninei halacha said. However, if you ask me, nowadays there are already good enough signs that this candle is for the mitzva: 1. We're lighting a candle, even though we have electricity. 2. We're lighting it in a special candelabra. So it seems to me that even without a shamash, what the Bi'ur halacha said is no longer a concern. This is my own s'vara though, so I don't know how much it makes sense.

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