And so, the specific miracles arrived and we emerged victorious; we re-dedicated the grand Temple and lit a miraculously burning oil.
On Chanukah we spin dreidels upon which are inscribed the first letters of the words “nes gadol ha’yah sham” – a great miracle happened there. (In Israel the letters on the dreidels spell out “nes gadol ha’yah po” – a great miracle happened here.) We rejoice with our dreidels, but we spin them specifically from their top part to constantly remind ourselves that Chanukah was a time when miracles came undeserved from God, when the Almighty bestowed His infinite compassion upon His people and things began to spin down to us in the form of undeniable miracles.
How surprising that the dreidel, silly top, should carry such weight – not only a theological truth and a statement about the role of the Jewish people in the miracle of Chanukah but also insight and knowledge into powerful historical dynamics. Kabbalah teaches us another aspect of the dreidel. In this understanding, the four letters do not represent a statement about God’s presence in the world – a great miracle happened there/here – but rather they each represent one of four different historical empires – Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman – that tried to destroy the Jewish people.
These were four empires the likes of which the world had never seen. And the Jewish people? A relatively puny gathering of people dedicated to study and the performance of God’s command. Is it any wonder that, when given the opportunity, we seek to assimilate and become part of these “great” cultures and empires? But something always holds us back. Internally and externally, we are different. We are “like” but not the same.
So, against this backdrop of world history, are we simply spinning haphazardly from one tragedy to another? Or might there be some reason and meaning behind all the events that have punctuated our history?
The Jews’ miraculous Chanukah victory teaches us little about military strategy and everything about ourselves and the world – and about God as well.
Without God, there are no miracles.
Which brings me to our modest little dreidel. In its modesty, it teaches us a great deal about God. Just as the dreidel spins around a central point and topples when it begins to lose its connection to that point, so too do we begin to “lose our footing” when we begin to lose our connection to our center, to God.
The dreidel teaches us about our own psychologies. We are only “whole” when all the aspects of our being – body, mind, soul – are balanced and blended. When the dreidel spins, who can distinguish between each of the individual sides? No one. As we spin in perfect balance, on our central point, we are balanced and whole.
When we face times of hardship and tragedy, the dreidel teaches us first and foremost that God is our God and we are His people. And if we believe in that ultimate meaning of the Jewish people; if we know that despite the dizzying blur of events in our history there is some purpose to the challenges we face and if we are prepared to fight to remain Jews regardless of what history throws at us, then who knows – we might just experience a miracle and be reassured that there is a hidden hand guiding the destiny of the Jewish people.
And yet and yet this sense of miracle is so mighty as to cause us to overlook the small miracles, the delightful miracles, that occur each and every day. Which brings us, once again, to the simple and fun little dreidel.
Self-improvement coach Amy Twain writes that, just like our little dreidel, miracles ” come in different and various sizes, some large and some small, but they are still miracles. Consequently, a miracle is not only some unexplained, supernatural circumstance. They could actually originate from you and me. Don’t you think that any miracle can happen when you decide to finally volunteer your time to the local library? Be kinder or nicer to your spouse? Give some money to the beggar and spend some more quality time with your beloved children? Visit an elderly and lonely neighbor? How about giving a warm smile to a stranger? A miracle can also occur whenever a person hears his call of her or his life, pays attention to and acts on it.”