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golden dreidel

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, healing Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, illness playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen… So, ampoule let’s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a “festival” at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing?there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (??? ?????????) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era?a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of “the Jewish spirit.”

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games… There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah?the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: “Here you will understand how our fathers’ traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (???”?) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]”

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest’s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, “My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, “If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!” and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, “I am he” and he too laughed, and they both laughed together…

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let’s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God “initiated His desire” to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah?also a primordial creation, “Torah preceded the world” [7]?rose and spread before God. This is how God “looked into the Torah and created the world” [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah’s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God’s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as “the Delights of the King in Himself.” There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being “another.” Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are “literally a part of God above” [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally “converted.” We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn’t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel…)

So, let’s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean’s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, “There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,” [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is “square.”

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, “God doesn’t play dice.” [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God’s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God’s immanent light that “fills all worlds” and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that “surrounds all worlds.” This is God’s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean’s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play “dice”! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature’s mask?in the guise of historical or scientific events?we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel’s four sides are the initial letters of “A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].” These four letters spell out the word “To Goshen” (????????), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, “And Judah he sent before him… to Goshen.” Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (????????), explaining that Mashiach’s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (???”?), which are the initials of the phrase, “A great miracle happened here.” But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (???????) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (?????)?which literally means, “plant”?as the verse states, “A man, whose name is Tzemach” [13] and as we pray three times daily, “Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.”

For more on the Dreidel’s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba’omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah – “Yadua.”

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba’Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U’moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

golden dreidel

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, healing Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, illness playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen… So, ampoule let’s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a “festival” at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing?there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (??? ?????????) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era?a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of “the Jewish spirit.”

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games… There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah?the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: “Here you will understand how our fathers’ traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (???”?) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]”

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest’s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, “My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, “If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!” and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, “I am he” and he too laughed, and they both laughed together…

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let’s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God “initiated His desire” to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah?also a primordial creation, “Torah preceded the world” [7]?rose and spread before God. This is how God “looked into the Torah and created the world” [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah’s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God’s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as “the Delights of the King in Himself.” There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being “another.” Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are “literally a part of God above” [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally “converted.” We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn’t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel…)

So, let’s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean’s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, “There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,” [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is “square.”

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, “God doesn’t play dice.” [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God’s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God’s immanent light that “fills all worlds” and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that “surrounds all worlds.” This is God’s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean’s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play “dice”! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature’s mask?in the guise of historical or scientific events?we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel’s four sides are the initial letters of “A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].” These four letters spell out the word “To Goshen” (????????), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, “And Judah he sent before him… to Goshen.” Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (????????), explaining that Mashiach’s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (???”?), which are the initials of the phrase, “A great miracle happened here.” But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (???????) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (?????)?which literally means, “plant”?as the verse states, “A man, whose name is Tzemach” [13] and as we pray three times daily, “Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.”

For more on the Dreidel’s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba’omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah – “Yadua.”

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba’Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U’moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

gold dreidel 2x3

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, prostate Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, ampoule playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen… So, let’s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a “festival” at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing?there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (??? ?????????) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era?a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of “the Jewish spirit.”

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games… There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah?the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: “Here you will understand how our fathers’ traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (???”?) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]”

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest’s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, “My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, “If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!” and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, “I am he” and he too laughed, and they both laughed together…

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let’s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God “initiated His desire” to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah?also a primordial creation, “Torah preceded the world” [7]?rose and spread before God. This is how God “looked into the Torah and created the world” [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah’s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God’s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as “the Delights of the King in Himself.” There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being “another.” Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are “literally a part of God above” [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally “converted.” We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn’t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel…)

So, let’s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean’s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, “There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,” [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is “square.”

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, “God doesn’t play dice.” [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God’s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God’s immanent light that “fills all worlds” and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that “surrounds all worlds.” This is God’s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean’s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play “dice”! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature’s mask?in the guise of historical or scientific events?we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel’s four sides are the initial letters of “A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].” These four letters spell out the word “To Goshen” (????????), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, “And Judah he sent before him… to Goshen.” Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (????????), explaining that Mashiach’s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (???”?), which are the initials of the phrase, “A great miracle happened here.” But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (???????) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (?????)?which literally means, “plant”?as the verse states, “A man, whose name is Tzemach” [13] and as we pray three times daily, “Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.”

For more on the Dreidel’s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba’omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah – “Yadua.”

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba’Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U’moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

golden dreidel

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, healing Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, illness playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen… So, ampoule let’s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a “festival” at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing?there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (??? ?????????) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era?a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of “the Jewish spirit.”

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games… There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah?the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: “Here you will understand how our fathers’ traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (???”?) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]”

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest’s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, “My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, “If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!” and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, “I am he” and he too laughed, and they both laughed together…

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let’s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God “initiated His desire” to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah?also a primordial creation, “Torah preceded the world” [7]?rose and spread before God. This is how God “looked into the Torah and created the world” [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah’s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God’s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as “the Delights of the King in Himself.” There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being “another.” Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are “literally a part of God above” [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally “converted.” We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn’t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel…)

So, let’s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean’s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, “There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,” [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is “square.”

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, “God doesn’t play dice.” [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God’s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God’s immanent light that “fills all worlds” and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that “surrounds all worlds.” This is God’s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean’s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play “dice”! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature’s mask?in the guise of historical or scientific events?we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel’s four sides are the initial letters of “A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].” These four letters spell out the word “To Goshen” (????????), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, “And Judah he sent before him… to Goshen.” Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (????????), explaining that Mashiach’s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (???”?), which are the initials of the phrase, “A great miracle happened here.” But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (???????) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (?????)?which literally means, “plant”?as the verse states, “A man, whose name is Tzemach” [13] and as we pray three times daily, “Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.”

For more on the Dreidel’s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba’omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah – “Yadua.”

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba’Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U’moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

gold dreidel 2x3

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, prostate Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, ampoule playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen… So, let’s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a “festival” at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing?there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (??? ?????????) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era?a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of “the Jewish spirit.”

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games… There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah?the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: “Here you will understand how our fathers’ traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (???”?) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]”

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest’s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, “My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, “If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!” and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, “I am he” and he too laughed, and they both laughed together…

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let’s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God “initiated His desire” to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah?also a primordial creation, “Torah preceded the world” [7]?rose and spread before God. This is how God “looked into the Torah and created the world” [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah’s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God’s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as “the Delights of the King in Himself.” There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being “another.” Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are “literally a part of God above” [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally “converted.” We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn’t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel…)

So, let’s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean’s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, “There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,” [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is “square.”

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, “God doesn’t play dice.” [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God’s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God’s immanent light that “fills all worlds” and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that “surrounds all worlds.” This is God’s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean’s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play “dice”! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature’s mask?in the guise of historical or scientific events?we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel’s four sides are the initial letters of “A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].” These four letters spell out the word “To Goshen” (????????), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, “And Judah he sent before him… to Goshen.” Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (????????), explaining that Mashiach’s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (???”?), which are the initials of the phrase, “A great miracle happened here.” But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (???????) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (?????)?which literally means, “plant”?as the verse states, “A man, whose name is Tzemach” [13] and as we pray three times daily, “Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.”

For more on the Dreidel’s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba’omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah – “Yadua.”

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba’Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U’moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

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The Jewish year begins ceremoniously with the shofar blast of Rosh Hashanah (New Year), healing and continues to reach new climaxes with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), viagra Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). Despite a certain drop in energy during the month of Cheshvan, when there are no festivals, the scent of the festivals continues to accompany us until we move on to the third month of the year, Kislev. Kislev is illuminated by the Chanukah candles, which shine through the end of the month and include the beginning of the month of Tevet. The Chanukah candles symbolize the end of the light that shines from the festivals with which the year began. Then, we reach the month of Tevet and the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, the first of the fasts that commemorate the destruction of the Temple.[1]

The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem?then we begin to realize that there are dates in the Jewish calendar that are not such happy occasions…

The Lowest Descent

We might say that the Tenth of Tevet is the lowest descent. On Rosh Hashanah everything is pristine and clear, initial and pure, as if we stand on a mountain peak, breathing in deeply the fresh mountain air. Then, our prayers are at the highest possible level, as we pray to God, “Rule over the entire world with Your glory.”[2] But, it is difficult to stay at the summit of this spiritual mountain, and after the festivals we naturally begin to descend. The great lights gradually disappear, the feelings of holiness and spiritual uplifting wear away and it seems that we lose the spiritual energy that we acquired at the beginning of the year. The completion of this process is symbolized by the number ten, which always represents an end point. This is seen quite simply from our ten fingers, or in the decimal system where the number ten is the final number. In fact, the Tenth of Tevet is tenth from two directions: it is the tenth day of the tenth month (when we count the months from Nisan). Some years, as in this year 5774, the Tenth of Tevet actually falls on the one-hundredth day of the year and one-hundred is ten squared (102). So, we have descended all ten levels and reached rock-bottom. It seems appropriate then, that the Tenth of Tevet represents the entire process of destruction, since it was on this day that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, began a siege on Jerusalem?the beginning of the end of the first Temple.

Chassidut teaches us that every phenomenon on the national plane is also reflected on the personal plane. This is why the Tenth of Tevet should be explained not only with reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in their literal context, but also to the events that occur in our psyches. Once we have constructed the Temple in our souls, the physical Temple on Mt. Moriah will also be rebuilt. The same is also true from the opposite perspective: once the Temple is rebuilt, the light of the Divine Presence will illuminate our hearts, as the verse indicates, “And they shall make for Me a Temple and I shall dwell within them”? “within them” in the plural, meaning that God will dwell within the Jewish People. [3]Every one of us has an inner Jerusalem in our heart?an inner point of perfect fear of Heaven.[4] This point of Jerusalem within our hearts is aroused on Rosh Hashanah, but gradually disappears, until the lights are finally extinguished on the Tenth of Tevet. Parallel to this on the national scale, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple are the climax of the connection between the Jewish People and the Almighty. Yet, we see that immediately following the dedication of the first Temple by King Solomon, a process of spiritual descent began that ended with the siege and the Temple’s destruction. In recent years, it has also become the practice to mention the dreadful Holocaust, which we cannot imagine any night darker than its black shadow.

When Descent becomes Positive

So, what is the purpose of this descent? Why do we fast on the Tenth of Tevet? Is it to wallow in sadness and depression, just to shed tears over reaching a low point? Not at all! A fast day is a day that arouses us to rectify the situation from below, as Maimonides[5] writes:

There are certain days when all the Jewish people fast because of the troubles that took place on them. [This is] to arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance and this should remind us of our evil deeds and those of our ancestors, which were no better than our own deeds, so much so that that they brought upon them and upon us these troubles. Because, by remembering these things, we will return to do good…

Since every fast is intended “To arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance,” let’s note the type of arousal that is especially suited to fast of the Tenth of Tevet. We have already seen that the fast of the tenth month is a phase of descent and we can learn from this that we must find the particular path to repentance that we have access to on this day. The key is to transform the descent itself into something good. How can this be achieved?

Intermingled with any emotional state of arousal is something superficial and not completely authentic. When our heart beats with enthusiasm and strong feelings throb within us, there is always a sense of self that feels these emotions and often they are not one-hundred percent authentic. These emotions usually include a touch or more of wild imagination, or an attempt to reproduce something that is not genuinely our own. They may well be accompanied by self-excitement, to a certain extent, which produces an artificial experience of spiritual ecstasy. Within such a dream-like uplifting atmosphere, one floats somewhere above the ground and above one’s own character. Many of the lights that we reach in this state do not become our own personal acquisition. In order to make them our own, we need to descend with them to the lowest possible level, to surrender our spiritual ecstasy, put aside our imagination and remain somewhat “dry.” When we succeed in doing so, we reach the most profound level of our inner selves that is the essential “me” without any embellishments. A process of descent such as this is the true healing of a person’s soul, a sort of “psychological diet,” that disposes of all the excess fats and reveals our strong, healthy bones and essence. So, after the first one-hundred days of loving-kindness in the year we must complete our psychological diet by fasting on the Tenth of Tevet. Instead of a negative fall, we need to descend to a positive level at which we succeed in bringing down all the grand lights that we experienced previously to the ground-level of our souls. On the Tenth of Tevet we must return to God in a way that does not anticipate great lights. We just need to descend to mundane reality and to the essential level of the soul and simply begin to serve God from that level.

On the national level, Jerusalem was rebuilt and the Temple dedicated, with a magnificent beauty that has no counterpart. But retrospectively, it became clear that some of the great lights were not completely integrated by the nation’s inner essence. This is why it was necessary to go through a penetrating clarification process, as all the prophets cautioned. They were sent to return the Jewish People to the Almighty and they warned that the Temple should not be related to as a security certificate that is complete in itself and does not require any other service. In this context, the message of Tenth of Tevet is to work on the positive process of bringing the great spiritual lights into the world and realizing them in reality. Indeed, the sages describe the dwelling of the Divine Presence in the Temple as a positive descent: “When God created the world He desired that He have a dwelling place in the lower worlds.” [6] Sin banishes the Divine Presence from earth to heaven, while the good deeds of the righteous reconstruct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Temple, and succeed in bringing the Divine Presence down into the very lowest realms.

The exile of the Divine Presence from the Temple is described as the ten journeys that the Divine Presence traveled as it rose from the Holy of Holies in the Temple, until reaching its abode in the heavens. [7]The redemption is a renewed descent of the Divine Presence to the lowest reality; quite literally, as it is called, “A dwelling place in the lowest worlds.”

An Easy Fast

The Prophet Zachariah announced that all fast days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple will turn into joy and happiness, “The fast of the fourth month [17th Tamuz] and the fast of the fifth month [9th Av] and the fast of the seventh month [Tzom Gedaliah, 3rd of Tishrei] and the fast of the tenth month [10th Tevet] will be for the House of Judah joy and happiness and festive times.”[8] Even while we fast and mourn, we can already sense the future joy that is hidden in these days. In fact, these days were intended to be joyful from the beginning, “The end of the deed is in the original thought.”

In practice, the Tenth of Tevet is the easiest fast, because it falls during the shortest winter days. This is especially true this year (5774) when it falls on a Friday when we are busy preparing for Shabbat and hardly feel the fast at all. This indicates the simplicity with which we can transform this fast and sweeten it, by joining Friday to the Shabbat, which is “a taste of the World to Come.” By perceiving the destruction at its initial point, we can transform the negative descent into a positive descent, bringing the Divine Presence down into this lowest world.

Kingdom in Kingdom

According to Kabbalistic wisdom, we can easily perceive the abovementioned descent as a positive concept. In Kabbalah, the creation of the world is described as a long, complex, and complicated evolutionary process of descent from the infinite, spiritual Divine light down to depths of mundane reality in the world as we know it. The basic system that runs through this process is the fabric of the ten sefirot, of which the tenth and lowest is the sefirah of kingdom. Within the sefirah of kingdom exists an interinclusion of all ten sefirot, so all the sefirot are in fact finalized by “kingdom in kingdom,” which is the tenth of the tenth, exactly like the Tenth of Tevet, the tenth day of the tenth month.

Yet, although the system of the sefirot descends to the sefirah of kingdom, the lowest of them all, nonetheless, the descent is not one of negative decline and deterioration. On the contrary, it strives to fulfill God’s desire to reach the lowest point to which it is directed. The entire evolution of the spiritual worlds was intended to reach the lowest point, to reveal God’s kingdom within our superficial mundane reality that seems foreign to spirituality. The ultimate aim is to reveal God’s kingdom in all the levels of the world and in the consciousness of all creations. Then “God will be King over the entire world. On that day God will be one and His Name will be One.”[9] The extension of His kingdom in all His creations is a positive descent. Moreover, the root “to descend” (???) also refers to, “government and kingdom,” (as we find in various Torah verses). [10]

God’s kingdom is not just an abstract idea or merely a matter of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our hearts. God’s kingdom appears in a very concrete garb, in the form of the kingdom of Israel. When the Jewish People is united in the Land of Israel under a rectified rule that follows the Torah, it becomes the Kingdom of Israel that serves as a throne to God’s kingdom in the world. This idea becomes apparent from the verse that refers to King Solomon, “And Solomon sat upon God’s throne as king.”[11]

The correct blueprint for constructing the kingdom of Israel appears as a three-stage process:[12]

  1. Rectifying leadership to the extent of coronating a king of Israel. He must be a righteous king who cares for his people, a descendant of King David, whose success will prove that he is the Mashiach.
  2. Victory over all enemies: this stage of war will culminate in the victory over Amalek, the archetypal enemy of the Jewish People, which will essentially be internationally eliminating all evil from the world.
  3. The construction of the Temple, reaching a golden age when the Divine Presence resides within the Jewish People, and through them, reaches the entire world.

The three dates that commemorate the destruction parallel the three stages of this process:

  1. The Tenth of Tevet, with the beginning of the siege over Jerusalem saw the nullification of Jewish kingdom in Israel.
  2. On the seventeenth of Tamuz, a hole was breached in the fortress that surrounded Jerusalem and the war spread to every corner.
  3. The remnant of the military ability crumbled on the Ninth of Av, when the Temple itself was destroyed.

Here too, our task is to transform the fast days to joy and happiness, therefore:

  1. On the Tenth of Tevet, the day of the tenth sefirah, a day when the Jewish kingdom was annulled, it is our task to reinstate the kingdom of Israel, by uniting the People around a rectified leadership that follows the Torah. This rectifies the descent, beginning from below, from the first and most fundamental level of rectifying the state’s leadership.
  2. On the Seventeenth of Tamuz we confront the military aspect of things, when it becomes apparent that Mashiach will be triumphant, without one battle and without shooting even one bullet (as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught).
  3. On the Ninth of Av, we are occupied with the reconstruction of the Temple which is a heavenly seal that results from our own work, “With fire You did ignite it and with fire You will reconstruct it in the future.”[13]

Adapted and Translated from the article entitled “The Fast of the Tenth Month, from the book, Maayan Ganim (???? ????), Vol. Bereishit (??????)


[1] The Fast of Gedaliah (3rd Tishrei) precedes the Tenth of Tevet in the calendar, but chronologically speaking, the Fast of Gedaliah was the fast that culminated the destruction.

[2] Rosh Hashanah prayers.

[3]  Exodus 25:8. Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ha’ahavah ch. 6.

[4]The main letters of the words, “inner fear of Heaven” (?????? ???????? ????????) are an acronym for “Jerusalem” (??????????).

[5]Hilchot Ta’anit 5:1. .

[6] Tanchuma, Naso 16.

[7] Rosh Hashanah 31a.

[8] Zachariah 8:19.

[9]  Zachariah 14:9.

[10] E.g., Genesis 1:28; Numbers 24:19.

[11] I Chronicles 29:23.

[12] Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim (Laws of Kings).

[13] From the addition to the standing prayer (amidah) on the Ninth of Av.

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