Finding Yourself in Chanukah

Being closed-minded has its advantages; it allows you to keep true to who you are. Rabbi Nachman says that other people can be great deterrents to ones’ personal growth, and without these deterrents, people would be on the path of Torah and Mitzvot throughout most of their lives without any interference. The Jewish people during the time of the Greek oppression were pretty closed-minded. They kept to their traditions and followed the way of Hashem, although their lives were put in danger for doing so. When learning Torah, the Midrash says that children would keep a dreidel nearby in case a Greek official appeared. This can sound insignificant at first, it is a mere toy, what is so special about a dreidel? I would like to argue the fact that dreidels are the formula to induce the truth within our souls. It is something they kept with them when their lives were in danger and these children used a dreidel as a sign of tranquility.

A dreidel is made up of four parts: the Nun, the Gimel, the Hay, and the Shin. When playing the game, spinning a Gimel will have you win the entire pot. The Hay will win you half. Nun gets nothing, and Shin has to pay in for the next round. These rules are based on the Yiddish interpretations of the letters. They also correlate to the four basic emotions and situations in life. Everyone has days where they feel like they are on top of the world – everything is going right and nothing can bring them down – like a Gimel. Unfortunately not every day can be a Gimel. Sometimes we have Hay days, where things are just okay. They are not good nor are they bad, they just are. Then we have Nun days, where nothing seems to be going right. It’s just bland and maybe you tripped a few times or flunked a test. Nothing a little damage control can’t fix, but it does not feel great. Last but not last, we also have our Shin days. Life’s really a rollercoaster with good and bad days. The Shin days are the ones where everything is off track and life laughs in our face for trying to even plan on having a decent day. The physical sides of the dreidel are truly representative of all aspects of life. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, there is an additional aspect we can learn from the dreidel.

The letters Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, a great miracle happened there. If the Jews were in need of a miracle, we can only but assume that these people were having Nun and Shin kind of days. Things were not going right. But what happened? They looked to Hashem, they kept their minds closed to other people’s comments, and they kept what was important close to their hearts. As a result, they got a Nes, a miracle. Everything turned around, as a dreidel does, and suddenly the Nun situation turned into a Gimel. We can learn so much from that. If you do not dwell on bad situations, your personal Nun, you can spin it into a Gimel. The Macabees had every reason to give up and go home. But they did not. They fought for our nation and they succeeded. Ironically, the Nun they were stuck on was on the exact opposite side of the Gimel. Once they realized this idea, they spun it around and found their salvation. It is important to remember that in every part of our lives not to focus on the letter on the dreidel, but to look at the bigger picture and realize that things will turn around, and that Hashem knows what he is doing, and everything is for our best, even when it does not appear to be so. The children who played with dreidels while learning knew that. They knew that although right now things were at a Shin, if they continued to learn and be optimistic, their lives would turn back into Gimels before they knew it.

Student Studying in Midreshet Torat Chessed