The dreidel has evolved from the humble clay or
wood version to a "hi-tech," multi-media version, replete with lights and
musical accompaniment, which can now be found on shop shelves and in many
homes. But even today's ultra-modern dreidels still sport those ancient
Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin. What's the significance of these
letters, and why do they appear on the dreidel?
We will see that the dreidel tells the story of both the history
of the world and its ultimate purpose.
...a person is
comprised of three elements: Body, Soul and Intellect.
Kabalistic teachings explain that a person is
comprised of three elements: Body, Soul and Intellect. In Hebrew these are
Guf, Nefesh and Seichel. These teachings further explain that the
history of the world's empires can be roughly divided into four: Babylon,
Persia, Greece and Rome. Each of these empires attacked the Jewish people in a
uniquely different way - and each time the Jewish people prevailed.
The Babylonian Empire attacked the Jewish body (Guf),
massacring as they destroyed the First Temple and took the Jews as captives to
The Persian Empire, known for its promiscuity and
licentiousness, attacked the Jewish People in soul (Nefesh).
The Greek Empire, which produced some of the world's
greatest philosophers, attempted to demonstrate (falsely) the incompatibility of
Torah with Science and Intellect (Seichel).
Finally, the Roman Empire utilized all the above three
methods - attacks on the body, the soul and the intellect - in an attempt to
discredit and delegitimize the Torah and Judaism. The Hebrew word for "all" is "Hakol."
These then are what the letters of the dreidel
Gimmel stands for the Jewish body - Guf
(Babylon); Nun stands for the Jewish soul - Nefesh (Persia);
Shin stands for the Jewish intellect - Seichel (Greece);
Hei stands for all the above - HaKol
Furthermore, in Hebrew each letter is associated with
a numerical value, known as gematria. The gematria [sum of the numerical values] of the letters Gimmel,
Nun, Shin, Hei is 358, the same as that of "Nachash" - the serpent
that seduced Adam and Eve at the beginning of time. It is also the same
gematria as "Moshiach" - the Redeemer of the Jewish People whom we wait and expect, may he come speedily in our time.
And so the dreidel represents the history of
the world from its inception until the end of the reign of impurity. History began with the
attempt by the Nachash to seduce Adam and Eve. The serpent then continued
its seduction throughout history - in the guise of the Babylonians, Persians,
Greeks and Romans. At the end, however, the Nachash will be vanquished by
It's important to note that Nachash and
Moshiach have the same gematria, signifying that the victory of
Moshiach is not one which precludes the use of the body, soul and intellect.
On the contrary, each of these has its place in the service of G‑d. We need to
serve G‑d with a healthy body. Our emotions and our desires can and should be
used for the greatest acts of holiness. And of course, intellect - especially
the advances of science, technology and communication - empower us as
individuals and enable the masses to reach spiritual knowledge that was until
of the Nachash...must be transformed into tools to better serve G‑d.
As the time of Moshiach approaches, the tools
of the Nachash - body, soul and intellect, each of which might seem to be
in opposition to holiness - must be transformed into tools to better serve G‑d.
Chanuka means "rededication." Chanuka is a time to
find new ways to use all the powers that make us human to achieve our ultimate
fulfillment as human beings and bring us closer to G‑d and the Redemption of
What a powerful lesson from the humble dreidel!