A Spin on the Dreidel



The dreidel, the spinning top used to distract the Greek soldiers during the Chanukah era, symbolizes much more than merely a toy from the pages of a history book. It is related to the many round objects that are allegorical to the lives of the Jewish nation, both as a whole and as individuals. There are the round challos during the Rosh Hashanah season, the phases of the moon, and the circles that are formed when dancing at simchos or hakafos (circuits). The symbolism of cycles, the spinning of the orbits, and the world is “galgal shechozer ba’olam.

The story of Chanukah and the saga of the Jewish people throughout the generations is one of rabbim b’yad me’atim, of “the many defeated by the few.” B’chol dor vador omdim aleinu — “In every generation we have been confronted” by those who were at the peak of their power and popularity: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Romans, the Greeks and the Nazis, to name a few. Every one of those thought to annihilate our nation, but we are here to tell the tale of Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam — Hashem saves us from their murderous hands.

The spinning of the galgal (wheel) is, in fact, chizuk for us in that what seems to be a tragedy may in fact be a triumph for our nation as a whole and each of us as individuals. The dreidel took a spin, and events and history changed.

My aunt and uncle were on one of the first tours traveling through Europe after the war to visit mekomos hakedoshim and the recently decimated cities that had been thriving Jewish metropolises not so many years before.

Auschwitz was one of the destinations on the tour, but my aunt and uncle decided it was too much for them to handle at the time. One woman in the group was adamant about going. She insisted she wanted to state verbally in that particular place, specifically designated for making the world Judenrein, that Hitler did not succeed and the Jewish nation is thriving in every corner of the earth … “v’Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam.

Over the years we have heard many stories of people who were wealthy and then their goral rotated and they became destitute, and of course tales of the opposite as well.

Such was the tale of Yankel,* whose wealth and tzedakah were legendary. On Purim the line was out the door and up the block, with the needy and representatives of yeshivos and organizations waiting patiently for the generous donation Yankel would dispense graciously to all.

All year round Yankel’s home was open to guests of every stripe, and his smile and welcoming demeanor made everyone feel at home. His wife would cook and bake delicious meals and snacks and serve them with flair. She took personal pride in keeping the guest rooms fresh and clean and always ready for new company when the previous ones left.

Then the dreidel of life took a spin and Yankel lost his fortune on the stock market and various investments went sour. He and his kind wife were not disturbed by their own loss as much as by the way it would affect their ability to help others. They came to a decision that they would do without many of life’s amenities so that they could still provide for their fellow Jews in need.

They quietly sold all their personal assets — the art, jewelry, antique furniture pieces and the like — and put those funds into a special account for tzedakah use only. And while the amounts on the checks were not as large as previously, they were still distributed with a smile. Guests continued to occupy the bedrooms in their home, and the food was wholesome, though no longer served with sterling silver cutlery.

This went on for many years until the day when the galgal changed direction once more. An investment that had been previously overlooked rocketed skyward and the dividends poured in, making Yankel a rich man again. Even though the dreidel of life took many spins, they never lost sight of what was truly important, and they fulfilled the will of Hashem through it all.

The dreidel and galgal of life make us aware of the fact that nothing material in this lifetime is guaranteed, and therefore we ought to put our kochos into that which is eternal and important. It allows for focusing on the priorities because the tafel, the extras, are transient — now you see it, now you don’t.

On the flip side of the coin, it also gives us strength and shines a positive light on all that occurs to us, pointing in the direction of the probability that things will get better. The dreidel can spin at any moment, bringing along a brighter and superior experience.

This is true as well when people despair of their spirituality, claiming to be too far gone to improve and then make no attempt to do better. The Keren L’Dovid explains the passuk (Tehillim 103:12) Kirchok mizrach mimaariv hirchik mimenu es pesha’einu (literally, as the distance of east to west has He distanced from us our sins): “When one thinks there is no way out and a huge distance stretches ahead of him before he can achieve spiritual heights and be absolved from sin, one has only to turn around and he will be facing mizrach.” That means he’ll be pointed in the right direction. That is how easy it is, as easy as taking a spin to face the path of righteousness.

Becky went to the only Jewish day school in her city. She learned about Yamim Tovim, Shabbos, kashrus, and mastered the alef-beis, through Chumash, Navi, and bits of various meforshim and Chazal. When it came to making a decision about where to go for high school, Becky was torn. She was drawn to the beauty of Torah and Yiddishkeit, but her best friends were going on to the local public high school and she did not want to be the odd one out.

Peer pressure triumphed and Becky caved and followed them to the local den of iniquity called public school. Her life spiraled downward and she was sucked into the whirlpool of drugs, tattoos and delinquency.

In rare moments of clarity Becky tried to find her way out of the confusion but without much success. After four years of darkness, Becky decided to go to Israel to find herself. It was in Eretz Yisrael that she realized how her life had spun out of control. She made a decision about the direction in which she desired to go. She made her way to seminary where she rediscovered her love of Torah and the warmth of Judaism.

Becky “did a 180” and put her life back on track, knowing that Hashem was there to accept her with love and forgiveness.

Rivky is currently married to a ben Torah and has six beautiful kinderlach, whose shining innocent faces are testimony to the fact that “mizrach” is not the other end of the earth. It is just about giving “zich a drei” in the opposite direction.

The words on the dreidel are nes gadol hayah sham — a great miracle happened there. In the Beis Hamikdash a great miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days instead of one. The miracle of the few over the many and the triumph of good over evil was true for that generation as it was for generations thereafter. Our hope and prayer each Chanukah is that with the spin of the dreidel we should be zocheh to a nes gadol… here and now!

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