Oh dreidel dreidel dreidel

Monday, 29 November, 2021 - 9:37 pm

Every year, we send a Chanukah letter to alumni of Chabad of SIU. Here's this year's version:

Chanukah starts Sunday evening, November 28 and we light the last candle on December 5th.

It’s been a while since Hebrew school and you might be getting a little fuzzy on the how and why of Chanukah (hey, we won’t tell anyone!). The how is pretty easy:

1)    -  Light a menorah each night of Chanukah, following the instructions on the QR code     

2)     - Indulge in the customary oily foods, like donuts and potato latkes

3)      -Play a game of dreidel (sevivon, in Hebrew)

To get to the why, here’s a crash course in Jewish history. Over 2000 years ago, the Jewish people lived in Israel under the rule of the Syrian-Greeks, not to be confused with the modern-day Syrians or Greeks.

They were quite bossy rulers and insisted on everyone following their way. It was either ‘Go Syrian-Greek’ or….death. As you can imagine, it was not too pleasant to be living Jewishly in an open way. We’ll gloss over the gory details but suffice it to say, thousands of Jews were killed. Others opted to go for full blown assimilation, and yet others managed to practice their Judaism secretly, risking death upon discovery. So how do we get from such a tragic situation to the fun holiday of Chanukah?

Well, first things got even worse. The Syrian-Greeks decided to invade the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, desecrate it, sacrifice a pig to their idols and defile every jar of olive oil they could find, to prevent the Jews from lighting the Temple Menorah, which was lit every day. And that’s when the Jews had had enough. Under the leadership of a group of priestly brothers, the Maccabee’s started fighting back. Without any prior training in warfare, without sufficient weaponry but with a strong dose of faith in G-d, they set out to recapture the Holy Temple from the unholy invaders. And they were successful (reason 1 why we celebrate Chanukah).

Have you ever been told ‘Go clean up your room!’? And you feel like that task is way too daunting? Imagine what the Maccabee’s felt upon entering the Temple and seeing what awaited their cleanup crews! But they got to work right away (and no, that’s not why we celebrate nowadays. You don’t have to go clean your room now) and managed to get rid of a whole lot of the mess. One problem remained- they were only able to find one little jar of pure olive oil, exactly enough to light the Menorah for 1 day. And getting new oil would take 8 days… So they lit it, with that one little jar. And then that one little jar lasted for 8 days, until the new oil arrived (here we have reason 2 why we celebrate).

That explains why we light a menorah, and it also explains why we eat oily foods. But where does the dreidel come in?

During the times of Syrian- Greek oppression, Torah study was forbidden. When the children were studying, they would keep a dreidel nearby. Whenever a soldier was spotted coming too close for comfort, away went the study books, out came the dreidel. Nothing to see here, sir.

If we take a closer look at the dreidel, there’s actually plenty to see. First the obvious – it has 4 sides, each with a letter: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin.  That’s the game instructions in Yiddish right there. Gimmel stands for Gantz, meaning the whole thing. Hei is for Halb, meaning half. Nun stands for Nisht or nothing. And Shin is for Shtell arein or put in.

It also happens to be an instruction for the game of life. Sometimes we experience Gimmel days. Everything is going great, we feel like we have it all. We have our Hei days, when things are going quite well. The Nun and Shin days describe those days when we just want to ignore the alarm clock and hide under our blankets.

But each of these letters represents only one face of the Dreidel — only a single angle or perspective of the whole. Because really, the 4 letters are an acronym, they spell out a verse in Hebrew.

“Nes Gadol Hayah Sham - a great miracle happened there" This refers to the great miracle of Chanukah that occurred in the Holy Land. They were definitely having quite a few Shin days. But the Maccabees did not dwell on the fact that they were being oppressed and persecuted. They focused on the Gimmel that was on the other side of the Shin. And then they acted to turn the situation around, to bring out a Divine miracle and G-d’s salvation.

Whatever letter we seem to be getting at a particular point in life, it's all part of one Dreidel. And that Dreidel is telling us that miracles happen. We can transform the dark situations of life into the bright light of the Chanukah Menorah. This depends on our faith in Gds plan, and our commitment to spin down the path He sets out for us.

Wishing you a wonderful Chanukah!


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