Do you know the rules of Dreidel? You spin a top with four Hebrew letters on it. A Gimmel wins the whole kitty, a Hei gets you half, Nun gets nothing and for a Shin you must pay in. Aside from the inherent Kabbalistic meaning behind this method, there is the practical Yiddishe origin. 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.
These are four basic modes of being, depending upon the person, his or her period in life, or the particular day. We all have our Gimmel days.
This is when we feel that everything is going great and turning out in a
sensational way. (It's been a while, eh?) We have our Hei days, when things are
going quite well. The Nun and Shin need no explanation.
But each of these letters represents only one face of the Dreidel -- only a single angle or perspective of
the whole. What do the letters spell out? What is the "whole" of the Dreidel?
Ness Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there." This refers to the
great miracle of Chanukah that occurred in the Holy Land. The situation there
seemed dire and beyond hope. They were definitely having a Shin day.
The commitment of a few people turned the situation around (like a Dreidel) and
brought out the miracle and G‑d's salvation.
The Macabees 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 create a vehicle for a
It is vital to remember that 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 upon our faith in G‑d’s plan, and
our commitment to create a vehicle for the miracle.
The Dreidel in the Bible?
Based on this theme we find a phenomenal "coincidence" with
these four letters of the Dreidel. The first place where these letters occur as a word in
the Torah is in the Parshah (Torah Reading) of Vayigash (Genesis 44-47,
always in proximity to Chanukah), where they
spell the word Goshnah, meaning "to Goshen."
The Patriarch Jacob was sending his son, Judah, to the Egyptian city of
Goshen to set up a house of study, in advance of Jacob's, and his entire family's,
relocation to that land. Our patriarch was aware that this was a
dreadful descent into exile. But he looked at all of the letters of the Dreidel,
and realized that hidden in the exile are the seeds of redemption. Study must
continue, especially in exile. As long as we are able to retain the vital Divine
information, the exile cannot hold sway over us. And our study and performance
become the vehicle for the ultimate redemption.
This is similar to the origin of the Dreidel. According to
tradition, during the times of Greek oppression Torah study was forbidden. When
the children were studying, they would keep a Dreidel nearby to pull out and
play in case they were discovered. (A bit opposite from our Hebrew school
experience, perhaps.) At the time, the students may have thought that the game
was a distraction from their true purpose in life. But in truth, G‑d conceals
His countenance to draw out our commitment and connection to Him. It's all about
revealing the Divine in the least likely places. That's what a miracle is.
The Dreidel was the formula to elicit the underlying truth of
the Jewish soul.
The Dreidel and Moshiach
And one more idea. If you add up the Gimatria (the Hebrew
numerical value) of the letters of the Dreidel, you get 358
(Nun (50) + Gimmel (3) + Hei (5) + Shin (300) = 358). This is
the same value as Moshiach (Mem (40) + Shin (300) + Yud (10) + Chet (8) = 358),
the Messiah. When the Moshiach comes, he will teach
each individual how to see the Divine purpose in every facet of life. Even the
time of exile and darkness will be illuminated.
We may have been focusing on one particular letter. Moshiach will teach us to see that all of life is a tapestry
of Divine wonder.