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 dreidel teaches us its lesson when we are facing times of hardship and tragedy. And that lesson? 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 it all; if we are prepared to fight to remain Jews regardless of what history throws at us, then who knows – we might just see a miracle and be reassured that there is a Hidden Hand guiding the destiny of the Jewish people.
Isn’t that the lesson of our modern state of Israel?
Some sixty years ago, for the first time since the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, the Jewish people were on the verge of reclaiming sovereignty in their homeland. Who in the world believed this new state would be born at all? And even if it should be born, went the logical thinking, it would quickly be extinguished by the much larger and far better equipped Arab armies.
In those early days, the Jews of Palestine built up an image of strength for political reasons. They had to convince a doubting world that they were capable of surviving the birth pangs of nationhood.
How different the reality was from the image.
The fledgling Jewish army could barely arm a quarter of its men. It possessed a few thousand rifles, less than a thousand machine guns, and sufficient ammunition for only three days fighting.
There were no heavy armaments of any kind – no heavy machine guns, no artillery, no anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, no real armored cars.
No air force.
That was the good news. On December 5, 1947, the United States government announced a total embargo on arms sales to the Middle East. By that time, the Arabs had already purchased tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S. arms surplus. The Jews had nothing but their anemic supplies and a dream.
They didn’t have a chance.
The rest, as they say in another well-worn quote, is history.
We Jews are a people of history, of time. God, whose name defines His nature as being outside of time, has entered time to save us, to establish and to reestablish His relationship with us.
That is the true miracle of our lives – that in the thicket of history we can be lost for so long and then found again.
That is the miracle of the dreidel.
It is our story.
It is our history told on the sides of a modest little top, spun around in a child’s delightful game to celebrate the holiday of lights.