THE MAGICAL DREIDEL
An incredibly interesting question was asked by R’ Zacharia Wallerstien. The letters on the Dreidel, on the סביבון, are the letters נ’ ג’ ה’ ש’ , that are an acronym of נס גדול היה שם, a great miracle happened there. Now, the legend goes, that at the time of the Greek oppression, the Greeks outlawed Torah learning. The Torah students went into hiding to learn Torah. And when the Greek soldiers discovered them in the caves or other hiding places, the students hid their Holy books and started playing dreidel, so that they would not be caught learning Torah.
Asks R’ Zacharia, what in the world was written on the dreidel that they played with? It can’t be just a dreidel without letters, for then it is not a game, it is just a spinning device. And the meaning of the letters נ ג ה ש, a great miracle happened there, had not yet happened! They were still under Greek oppression!
The answer R’ Zacharia brings from the Seforim Hakedoshim is even better than the question. The letters on the Dreidel were the same then as they are today. The letters stood for גשנה. Goshen was the town where Yehuda and Yosef built the Yeshiva for the Jews to learn in in the dark times of the Egyptian exile.
Some Jews believed that in this dark time of the Greek oppression, if it is forbidden to learn Torah, then the Yeshivot will have to close, and Torah learning will be only by individuals, without a structure of people getting together. But then, there were those who believed that in order for Torah to be learnt properly, especially in Exile, we would need Yeshivot; we would need another Goshen. We would need to follow in the way of Yosef and Yehuda! The people in the Egyptian oppression survived spiritually in the merit of Goshen. So, they invented the Goshen game, or the dreidel that we know. And then, the most amazing thing happened. G-d spun this dreidel, and turned the letters from ג ש נ ה , Goshna, to נס גדול היה שם , A great miracle happened there! The merit of the Torah spun for us the miracle that we call Hanukah.
When we hear of terrorist attacks in Israel, we tend to miss the miracles that happen at the attack. A onetime attack in France, in California, a plane of Russians that was blown up – and the numbers are terribly tragic. But in Israel, for some reason, the attacks have far less casualties, if any. Ask the people that were in the upstairs shul at the Har Nof Massacre; they will tell you. As sad and tragic as it was, it could have been much worse. We see miracles in the dark. And as important as the IDF is, as important as the police force is, there are just some things they cannot control. Even the Iron Dome can stop only certain types of missiles. So, what do we have to rely on? We can rely only on Miracles. On נס גדול היה שם . And the way we get G-d to spin those miracles for us is by havingגשנה .
This is not just a nice little Dvar Torah. This is life. If you want to learn, go to the Beit Midrash. Stay in Yeshiva. Join a learning program. Get a study partner that you won’t miss for anything, even if you have to pay him. This is the secret for staying in learning. Structure, Goshen. One student told me that his goal for learning in Israel for the year is to be able to learn on his own, to be self-motivated when he goes back to America and starts “real life”. He wants to develop self-discipline; he wants to be able to read Gemara, on his own. “Rabbi, teach me how!”
The answer is structure. Goshna. Get a Beit Midrash you can fall in love with. Get a learning program you can fall in love with. You are in Yeshiva, not to become a Rosh Yeshiva, but because being in Yeshiva gives you the structure that makes it easier to learn, here, than not to learn. You are not learning in Yeshiva so that you can get ready to learn for life. That is just a side gain. Yeshiva is where the real, genuine, authentic learning is.
Yeshiva students’ parents often get disappointed at the Yeshiva their son is in, when the student does not end up learning in his Bein Hazmanim time at home. They feel as if he wasted his time in Yeshiva, and they wasted their hard-earned money. As if he did not “grow”. What is so shocking? No structure, no chance! At home, it is easier for you not to learn than it is to learn, whereas in Yeshiva it is easier to learn than not to learn. Distractions at home are dumbfounding, literally.
Yeshiva’s structure keeps the Torah pumping through us. And every minute that we learn, there is nothing, nothing in the whole wide world that is more precious. Over Chanukah, My father taught me a beautiful concept. Torah learning is what keeps the world spinning. How so? Our Rabbis teach that if there would ever be a time without Torah learning, the world would have nothing to stand on. This is why the world was created round, so that when Yeshivot in Israel are sleeping, the Yeshivot in America are learning. And when America is asleep, you have Torah learning in Israel. From his small cave, R’ Shimon Bar Yochai knew that the world was round, and he wrote this in the Zohar(זוהר כרך ג (ויקרא) פרשת ויקרא דף י עמוד א,) way before Columbus discovered America! It had to be so; otherwise, the world would not have merit to exist for 24 hour periods! There has to be a place that is light when it is dark in Israel! R’ Shimon knew that there would be Yeshivot in those dark places in the future. So, there is nothing more appropriate to write Goshen on than on a toy that spins! For that is what keeps the world spinning!!
Greek wisdom taught that anything that could not be seen or measured, anything that was not a science, did not exist. So all spirituality, they claimed, was nonexistent. They believed that if one cannot see that Shabbat is holier than Sunday, if one cannot prove that a circumcised child is holier than one who is not circumcised, if the calendar needs Rabbis to decide what day of the month it is, then it was all a hoax! Aristotle, also, knew the world was round. His deduction was made from the way the moon reflects the suns light when the moon is not full. But, all the science in the world cannot reveal what is the force that is making the world revolve! Ask any kid who learnt in Yeshiva! He knows! We all know that the world, like the dreidel, spins on Yeshiva learning!