What color is the bar of soap sitting on your bathroom counter? What is the pattern on your socks? Floral? Plaid? Solid?
To many people, these questions are irrelevant. They purchase their preferred brand of soap (or the cheapest one on the store’s shelf) regardless of its color. And in the morning they don the first pair of socks they fish out of the drawer.
But to others, those with an eye for design, the choice isn’t so simple. Their lavatory has a motif, and every item displayed there has to match the unique décor. And socks aren’t just to keep feet warm or shoes sweat-free; they complete the thematic ensemble, complementing the wardrobe du jour. No part stands on its own; every component is just one piece of a large picture.
Every Jewish holiday is comprised of many components: How does the dreidel embody the Chanukah message?its history, laws, customs, traditional foods, etc. Each component was put in place by the Master Designer, or individuals whom He inspired, in accordance with the particular holiday’s singular message. Some of the components are obvious expressions of the holiday’s motif, while others require thought to uncover their profound relation to the holiday’s unique message.
So, where does that leave the traditional dreidel game? How does the dreidel embody the Chanukah message?
(For those readers unfamiliar with this delightful Chanukah pastime, check out this short Dreidel Wizard.)
What’s striking about the dreidel is that its “religious” aspect isn’t always apparent. In other words, the four Hebrew letters that form the acronym for the phrase “A great miracle happened there” are not discernible while it’s spinning. At that point it looks entirely letter-less, no different than any other spinning top available at your local dollar store.
Life is eerily reminiscent of a dreidel game. In the course of our dizzyingly hectic day-to-day existence we are often too preoccupied to notice the “letters,” the small and big miracles that accompany us every day.
Every once in a while we have to give the spinning dreidel a break and reflect on its message: “A big miracle transpired there.”
And that’s precisely what Chanukah is all about. Some 2,100 years ago our nation’s collective dreidel came to an abrupt halt, and the divine letters that animate and direct all of creation came into plain view. For eight days, the glow of the Temple’s menorah illuminated a reality that the Greeks had attempted to obscure: there is a hand that controls every event and occurrence.
Two millennia later, the message of Chanukah remains the same. As we sit by the menorah, or even while we indulge in the game that is our national Chanukah pastime, it is time for us to find the miracle letters in our own lives.
One more point:
When the dreidel comes to a rest, When the letters come into focus, it is time to react: there’s little time to sit with your mouth openthere isn’t too much time to ponder; the game has got to continue. You have to give or take, depending on the letter the dreidel is now displaying. Only if you are (un)lucky enough to have landed a nun do you get to meditate a bit longer. . . . When the letters come into focus, it is time to react: there’s little time to sit with your mouth open.
Give: G‑d gave you miracles; it’s time now to contribute back to the cause. Now it’s your turn to make a miracle in someone else’s life
Take: Take upon yourself to introduce an added dose of spirituality in your life—a Torah class or an additional mitzvah.
Or, you can think a bit longer. But not too long. The Maccabees didn’t accomplish their feat through prolonged meditation sessions . . .