"חנוכה געלט"
Chanukah Gelt money”

QUESTION: What is the reason for the universally popular accepted custom of giving children Chanukah gelt?

ANSWER: The struggle between the brothers Yaakov and Eisav was not an ordinary family rivalry. It is a metaphor for the Jews in Galut — exile — and the struggles they encounter at the hands of the Monarchies who subjugate them. Likewise, the entire story of Yosef in Egypt is a metaphor for the Jews’ going into exile, the persecutions they will suffer, and the ultimate redemption through Mashiach, when affluence will be bountiful, as the Rambam writes in his conclusion to Mishnah Torah, (Melachim 12:5).

When Eisav met Yaakov, he refused the gift that Yaakov had prepared for him, saying, “Achi yehi lecha asher lach” — “My brother, let yours be yours” (33:9). Why was the wicked Eisav suddenly so generous?

The Midrash (Rabbah, Bereishit 78:12) says that “All the gifts which Yaakov gave to Eisav, the nations will return them to King Mashiach.” Proof to this is in the verse “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall return tribute” (Psalms 72:10), it does not say, “shall bring,” but “shall return.” Hence, Eisav knew that this gift was something which would be his only temporarily and that it would have to be returned when Mashiach comes. Therefore, he said to Yaakov, “Since, in reality, this is destined to be yours, keep it and don’t cause me the hardship of having to care for it and pay it back at a later date.”

Likewise, when the brothers returned to Egypt and told the man in charge of Yosef’s household about their mysterious finding of their purchase money in their sacks. He said to them, “Do not worry... kaspechem bah eilai — your [payment] money reached me” [“Don’t worry, I received your money”] (Ibid. 43:23).

The man in charge was Menasheh (Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel, 43:16). Why did he lie?

Hashem told Avraham that the Jewish people would be slaves for 400 years in a strange land [Egypt], and afterwards they would go out with great wealth. According to the Midrash, the reason for the famine was to increase the wealth of Egypt, for the Jews were destined to eventually receive this wealth. (See Yalkut Reuveini, Lech Lecha)

Bearing this in mind, Menasheh told his uncles, “Whatever money I have taken in until now by selling grain to the entire world is in reality your money. Since all the money I receive from sales will ultimately be yours in the future, why should I bother now to take your money and later need to return it to you?”

In fact, immediately before the Jews left Egypt, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the Jews that they should borrow from their Egyptian neighbors “silver vessels and gold vessels” (Shemot 11:2). Afterwards, they also obtained the Egyptian’s wealth when they sank in the sea. All this was a part of the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Avraham, “And afterwards they will leave with great wealth” (Bereishit 15:14).

According to the Gemara (Pesachim 119a) the wealth the Jews amassed changed hands a few times. “It remained in Israel until the reign of Tzidkiyahu. Then the Chaldeans came and took it from Tzidkiyahu (when Nevuchadnetzar of Babylon exiled the Jewish people — II King, ch. 25). The Persians then came and took it from the Chaldeans (when they conquered Babylon — Daniel 5:27-6:1). The Greeks came and took it from the Persians (Alexander the Great conquered Persia — Josephus ch. 9). Ultimately, the Romans came and took the wealth from the hands of the Greeks and it still remains in Rome until today.” When King Mashiach comes, all this wealth plus treasures which Yosef buried in Egypt (see Tosafot ibid.) will come back to the Jewish people.

Chanukah is a period of preparation for the days of Mashiach when we will enjoy the Ohr haganuz — the revelation of the hidden light (see p. 17). At that time Hashem will make His beloved children — the Jewish people — the beneficiaries of the world’s wealth. Thus, to demonstrate our eager anticipation for the glorious period when Hashem will give His children gelt — money — we have the custom of giving our children and other Jewish children Chanukah gelt.

(עי' בית יעקב, בראשית - מסלתון, אוהל יעקב - המגיד מדובנא)

"נוהגין הנערים העניים לסבב בחנוכה על הפתחים"
“It is the custom of the poor young boys to go around to the doors on Chanukah [for tzedakah].” (Magen Avraham 670:1)

QUESTION: What is the reason for giving tzedakah on Chanukah?

ANSWER: The Syrian-Greeks wanted to detach the Jews from Torah study. In addition, according to a Beraita (see Tur Orach Chaim 670, Bach), because the Jews were lax in Avodah — serving Hashem — they were subject to a decree by the Syrian-Greeks to abolish the karban Tamid — daily sacrifice. When they repented and sacrificed their lives for the Beit Hamikdash, — which was the citadel of Avodah, their salvation came through the Kohanim — Hashem’s servants in the Beit Hamikdash.

In commemoration, an eight-day festival was established with Hallel and Hoda’ah — reciting the Hallel and thanksgiving, which is basically prayer and which is considered Avodah, as the Gemara (Ta’anit 2a) says in regard to the Scriptural phrase “Ule’avdo bechol levavechem” — “And serve Him with all your heart” (Devarim 11:13) — that avodah shebalev — service performed in the heart — is prayer.

It is stated in Pirkei Avot (1:2) that the world stands on three pillars, Torah, avodah and gemilut chassadim — Torah study, service of Hashem and acts of kindness (charity). After their salvation, the Jews increased their study of Torah to counter the vile attempts of lehashkicham Toratecha — to make the Jews forget Your Torah — and added extra avodah-prayer (Hallel vehoda’ah) because of the Syrians’ attempt to nullify the service of the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, in keeping with the wisdom of King Shlomo that “a three ply cord is not easily severed” (Kohelet 4:12), it is also customary to increase in tzedakah which represents the third pillar on which the world stands — gemilut chassadim — charity.

(פרי מגדים)

"נוהגין הנערים העניים לסבב בחנוכה על הפתחים"
“It is the custom of the poor young boys to go around to the doors on Chanukah [for tzedakah].” (Magen Avraham 670:1)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis to go around to the doors?

ANSWER: There is a discussion in the Gemara (Shabbat 22a) concerning whether the Chanukah Menorah should be placed on the right or the left side of the doorway. The conclusion is that it should be placed on the left side so that it shall be “Chanukah misemol” — “the Chanukah light on the left side” — and mezuzah mimin” — “the mezuzah on the right.”

The first letters of the words “mezuzah yemin Chanukah semol” (מזוזה ימין חנוכה שמאל) — “mezuzah on the right, Chanukah on the left” — spell the word “Mashiach” (משיח).

Now, there is a distance between the letters mem-yud and the letters chet-shin because they are the two extreme sides of the doorway. Therefore, the way to bring them close to each other and thus have Mashiach is through tzedakah, as the Gemara says (Bava Batra 10a), “Charity is great because it brings the redemption closer.”

Hence, when the young boys go to the doorways for Tzedakah and the master of the house receives them generously, the merit of the Tzedakah unites the distanced mem-yud and chet-shin, leading to the speedy revelation of Mashiach.

(אור לשמים – ליקוטים, מר' מאיר הלוי זצ"ל מסטאבנייץ ואפטא)

"מרבים בצדקה בימי חנוכה"
“Charity should be dispensed liberally on Chanukah.” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:1)

QUESTION: What is the connection between giving charity on Chanukah and the miracle of the pach — flask — of oil?

ANSWER: When the angel who was Eisav’s representative fought with Yaakov, the Torah relates that when he realized that he could not overcome him, “vayiga bechaf yereicho” — “he struck the hollow of his thighbone.” The Midrash (Rabbah, Bereishit 77:4) says that this is a reference to the generations that emanate from the thigh of Yaakov.

The Shelah explains that the angel was referring to Yaakov’s offspring — the tribes — whose iniquity is alluded to in the letters of the word chaf (כף), and the Hasmoneans ultimately corrected their iniquity by converting the chaf (כף) to pach — (פך).

This means the following: In the word “chaf” (כף) and also in the word “pach” (פך) there is the letter chaf (כ) and the letter pei (ף). The chaf stands for the chaf [hayad] — palm [of the hand] — which should be open to give tzedakah, and the pei is for the peh — mouth — which should be closed and not speak lashon hara — slander.

In the episode with Yaakov and the angel the chaf (כ) is closed from three sides and the [final] pei (ף) is open. The angel was alluding to the children of Yaakov, who engaged in lashon hara — slander — and who were greedy to have money for themselves, which is the opposite of opening the hand and giving away money to tzedakah. Of Yosef the Torah (Bereishit 37:2) writes, “And Yosef would bring evil reports of them to their father”; he slandered his brothers with his mouth to his father that they were violating Torah rules (see Rashi). The brothers were eager to have money in their hands, and thus “they sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver” (37:28).

The Hasmoneans, who found a pach [of oil], converted the order of the letters in the word “chaf” (כף) to “pach” (פך) in order to correct the iniquity of their predecessors. In the word “pach” the pei (פ) is closed and the chaf (ך) is open to allude that the righteous Hasmoneans under the leadership of Yehudah HaMacabee closed the mouths, i.e. killed the Hellenized Jews who joined the Syrian-Greeks and used their mouths to malign the Jews. These Jews also blasphemed Hashem and would inform the enemy about their Jewish brethren. The Hasmoneans also opened their hands and distributed much of the wealth they seized from the enemy to the poor and needy (see Josephus).

Hence, we commemorate the tzedakah of the Hasmoneans every Chanukah by intensifying this good trait and giving tzedakah with an open hand.

(של"ה פ' וישב דף ש"א ע"ב)

* * *

Incidentally, the numerical value of the words “neis Chanukah” (נס חנוכה) is 199, the same as the word tzedakah (צדקה). This indicates that when the miracle of Chanukah is celebrated, tzedakah should be given.

(ר' שלמה זצ"ל מבאבוב)

The numerical value of the word tzedakah (199) implies the following message:

The Mishnah (Pei’ah 8:8) says that one who has two hundred zuz (Talmudiccurrency) should not take any charity. However, one with only one hundred and ninety-ninezuz who is given one thousand zuz at one time may take it.

The word “tzedakah” (צדקה) has the numerical value of one hundred and ninety-nine, which teaches us that as long as a person has no more than one hundred and ninety-nine, he may be a recipient.


"סביבון - דריידל"

QUESTION: Sharp rebuke has been written against those who play various card games during Chanukah (see Kedushat Levi); nevertheless, the playing of dreidel is accepted in all circles. Why did it receive such acceptance?

ANSWER: The dreidel teaches us an eternal verity about the Jewish people, Hashem’s chosen people, and it depicts their past, present and future.

When Hashem gave Avraham His blessing for children, He told him that they would be like the stars in heaven (Bereishit 16:5). And indeed, the Jewish people is like the heavenly stars. Just as the stars turn under Hashem’s momentum, so has the Jewish people been “turning” for thousands of years. What a wonder it is to behold: More than once it has seemed that the feeble Jewish dreidel is about to fall. Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Spain, Russia, Poland, Germany all came and blew mightily on this pitifully small dreidel in an attempt to fell it, but Hashem always gave it another spin and the Jewish people leaped back to life, with renewed vigor and courage, virtually dancing, spinning more proudly, more energetically, than ever.

The dreidel has only one foot — one axis. It cannot stand at all; it can only spin. This has always been the situation of the Jews among the nations of the world. Throughout our exile we have spun on one foot; it was practically impossible for us to remain standing in one spot. We were without a foundation, without a soil, to stand on. Very often we even had no choice but to spin on our “heads,” as a dreidel can be made to do — but we kept spinning away in what was virtually a feat of perpetual motion.

It even came into the language as an idiom. Asked how they were managing with respect to livelihood, Jews often answer: “men dreit zich” — “Oh, one keeps spinning.”

It is different with the nations of the world. There have been great nations that have ruled mighty empires — but for how long? One after the other they have disappeared without a living trace. The nations of the world have been like dreidels spun by human hands — the hands of autocrats, despots, dictators and tyrants who made their countries great but only for a short while. A twist, a spin, and they faltered and fell.

The dreidel of the Jewish people is eternal because that is the way G‑d created us and chose us to be. Weak, somewhat fragile, but we go on spinning forever — for so long as the world and the stars of the heavens go on spinning, so do the Jews on earth also continue to spin. It is Hashem who controls our spinning, and He makes sure that it be never-ending.

The Jewish dreidel has one of the Hebrew letter, nun, gimmel, hei and shin on each of its four sides. This stands for neis gadol hayah sham (נס גדול היה שם) — a great miracle took place there. Yes, throughout our history, wherever we sojourned our existence was a great miracle.

These letters — נ' ג' ה' ש' — add up to 358 which is also the numerical equivalent of the word “Mashiach.” The significance of this is that the Final Redemption, the Messianic Redemption, will also be brought about by a twist of G‑d’s hand.

(הרב יצחק חיים שי' אביגדור – From Prison to Pulpit, 1975)

"סביבון - דריידל"

QUESTION: What is the significance of the letters ג,ש,נ,ה, on the dreidel?

ANSWER: The four letters ג,ש,נ,ה represent the four Monarchies of the secular world who exiled the Jewish people and caused us anguish. The Gimmel is for Greece-Syria — who are headed by Gog (גוג). Yavan — Greece — was a descendant of Yafet son of Noach (Bereishit 10:2). Gog was from the land of Magog (a Yafet descendant) and was a king over families of Yafet (see Ezekiel ch. 38). The “shin” is for Sei’ir (שעיר), which represents Rome-Edom, as is stated (Bereishit 36:8-9) “Eisav settled on Mount Sei’ir — Eisav, he is Edom. And these are the descendants of Eisav, ancestor of Edom, on Mount Sei’ir.” The “nun” is for Nevuchadnetzar (נבוכדנצר) the ruler of Babylon and the hei is for Haman (המן) of Media-Persia.

(ספר נרות שמונה)

* * *

The dreidel consists of a core — a central piece of wood — and each of the four pieces attached to it bears a letter representing one of the four Monarchies. It revolves on the central point that unites them all. The central point on which the entire world revolves is the Jewish nation. Ultimately, each side will fall and become nullified to the central point, which is the Jews. This will occur when גשנה — which has the numerical value of 358 (as does Mashiach [משיח]) will be revealed. At that time the prophecy will be fulfilled that “For then I will change the nations [to speak] a pure language [they will no longer speak of idols] so that they will proclaim the Name of Hashem, to worship Him with a united resolve” (Zephaniah 3:9).

When the revelation of Mashiach (358) will occur, the glory of Hashem will be in its fullest measure and all will recognize and declare that "י-ה-ו-ה מלך, י-ה-ו-ה מלך, י-ה-ו-ה- ימלך" — “Hashem is the King, Hashem was the King and Hashem will be the King.” This statement, too, has the numerical value of 358.

Thus, on the festival of Chanukah, which is a chinuch — preparation — to the coming redemption, the dreidel has a special significance. It emphasizes that the great miracle we are anticipating is the coming of Mashiach, who will ultimately unite the entire world to serve Hashem.

(בני יששכר מאמרי חודש כסלו טבת מאמר ב)

"סביבון - דריידל"

QUESTION: Why on Chanukah when the dreidel is spun the handle is on top and on Purim when the gragger is used the handle is on the bottom?

ANSWER: The miracle of Chanukah was above the laws of nature. The Jewish people were the minority and the Greeks were the majority; we were the weak and they were the strong. Nevertheless, thanks to heavenly intervention, the miracle took place and the Jews were the victors.

On Purim, the miracle was clothed entirely within the laws of nature. The Jewish people gathered in prayer and fasting. Esther pleaded their case before the king. Out of love for his Queen, he killed Haman — her arch enemy.

Since the miracle of Chanukah came down from above(אתערותא דלעילא) , we spin the dreidel with the handle on top. The miracle of Purim was through an awakening from below (אתערותא דלתתא) — consequently, we turn the gragger with the handle below.

(קרבן העני)

"סביבון - דריידל"

QUESTION: Where is there a hint in the Torah for playing dreidel on Chanukah?

ANSWER: Chanukah always falls out in the week of Parshat Mikeitz. When the brothers were brought to Yosef’s home and they did not know that it was for a meal, they were frightened and they said “Because of the money replaced in our saddlebags earlier are we being brought lehitgoleil aleinu — to bring a charge against us — and to cast [libel] down upon us” (Bereishit 43:18). Rashi explains the word “lehitgoleil” literally: “to be rolled.” Thus, they were saying “We are being brought, ‘for the false charge about the money to be rolled upon us.’ ”

The expression containing the word “lehigoleil” — “to be rolled” — is superfluous since they also said “and to cast [libel] down upon us.” Perhaps they expressed themselves this way to allude that during this week there will be much “rolling” of the dreidel.

"יש אומרים שיש לאכול גבינה בחנוכה לפי שהנס נעשה בחלב שהאכילה יהודית את האויב"
“Some say that cheese should be eaten on Chanukah because the miracle occurred thanks to the dairy that Yehudit fed the enemy.” (Orach Chaim, 670:2)

QUESTION: The oppressors had decreed that a maiden before her marriage must first cohabit with the Governor, but the daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol outwitted him. She was a very beautiful woman, and she reluctantly pretended to accede to the request of the head oppressor. She prepared dishes of cheese for him, which made him thirsty. He then drank wine, became intoxicated, and fell asleep — whereupon she cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem. Finding that their commander was dead, the armies became panicky and fled (Mishnah Berurah).

Since nothing is accidental and everything is a part of Divine Providence, why is the miracle of the Chanukah victory connected particularly with milk?

ANSWER: On the first day of Shavuot it is customary to eat a dairy meal. One of the explanations given for this custom is based on a Midrash (Shochar Tov, Psalm 8) that when Moshe came up to heaven to receive the Torah, the angels objected, claiming “keep your glory in heaven.” They wanted the Torah for themselves and opposed its being given away to humans. Hashem told them, “How can you request the Torah if you violated it when you visited the house of Avraham to inform him of the forthcoming birth of Yitzchak? The Torah forbids the eating of meat with milk, and the Torah says ‘He took cream and milk and the calf that he prepared, and placed these before them, and they ate’ ” (Bereishit 18:8).

Consequently, we received the Torah and not the angles because of the milk they ate together with the meat. Therefore, on the first day of Shavuot, which commemorates our receiving the Torah, we eat a dairy meal.

The Greek-Syrians intended to stop the Jews from studying Torah so that it would be forgotten, and their plan was nullified with the victory of the Hasmoneans. Thus, in a sense, Chanukah is the day when Torah was again given to the Jewish people. Hence, there is a parallel between Chanukah and Shavuot: on both occasions we received the Torah thanks to milk, and on both holidays we commemorate this by eating cheese and dairy products.

(בני יששכר, ועי' סדר הדורות ג"א תרכ"ב)