Chanukah Miracles: The Little Dreidel

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Be realistic; plan for a miracle. – Osho

Safran Dreidel CollectionBeis Yosef asked, “Why do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days if there was ample oil to last for one day?  It would seem that the miracle was that the oil lasted an additional seven days… in which case, Chanukah should be celebrated for seven days, not eight.”

This most famous of Chanukah questions can certainly give one pause.  Not that there are not any number of answers given.  Indeed, there are hundreds of answers that have been offered over the ages to Beis Yosef’s question.  Some are logical.  Some are fanciful.  All try to go to the heart of Chanukah and what it means to the Jewish people.

There is one answer that speaks to me.  It offers a hint to why I am so enamored with my ever-growing dreidel collection; a collection that I began some twelve years ago when I met my beloved wife, Clary.  I remember that moment so clearly.  It was the second night of Chanukah… yes, it was a miracle for me to have met my dear Clary.  But even that remembrance begets a Chanukah question.   In my heart, the dreidel came to symbolize that wonderful meeting and yet… wouldn’t a single grandiose dreidel have been enough to commemorate that life-transforming moment?  Why did I feel moved – some might suggest compelled – to continue to amass dreidel after dreidel, growing my collection into hundreds upon hundreds of dreidels from the United States, from Israel, from Spain, Hungary, India, Russia, Scotland… indeed, from all over the world.  So many wondrous tops!  So many that anyone who comes into the room where I keep my many volumes of books will find themselves transported by the sight of them.

No single dreidel for me, no!  For me, hundreds of dreidels, made from a broad array of materials, coming in all sizes and colors.  Some, when you spin them, perform with little music boxes.  Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay…

But why more dreidels every year?

It is a rare visitor to our home who doesn’t view my wonderful collection and then, the smile fading from his or her face, “But, Rabbi Safran, of all the things in the world to collect, why dreidels?”

Ah, lest you think that my collection is simply whimsy, an opportunity to recall the delightful evenings of childhood when the joy of Chanukah filled my household, let me share with you my response.  “What,” I ask, “does the dreidel teach us?  What is its message?”

Nes Gadol Haya Poh (in Israel) or Nes Gadol Haya Sham (outside Israel)

A great miracle happened t/here!

Step into my library and you see hundreds upon hundreds of reminders that miracles surround us, here, there, and everywhere.  No matter where we look, our lives are touched by miracle.  Our lives are miracles.

Just as God is everywhere, so too are the miracles that He brings about.  His miracles are as unceasing as His love.  Each day, when we recite, Modim anachnu lach… we are reminded of God as the source of all daily miracles.  Ve’al nisecha she’b’chol yom imanu  (And for Your miracles (nissim) that are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors (niflaos) in every season.”

The question then should not be, Why so many dreidels?  The question should be, Why not more and more and more?  We can never have enough dreidels.  We can never exhaust our praise for God’s wonders and miracles.

Wonders (niflos) surround us everywhere.  They are, at once, special and ordinary.  So ordinary that we often take them for granted.  The rain, the blossoming flower, the brilliance of a blue sky, even the very air we breathe.  All these wonders… and we experience them without giving them a second thought!  We call them teva, nature.  And we experience them the way we do because they represent the wonderful world the way it is supposed to be.

Miracles, on the other hand, are… well, miraculous.  We recognize miracles as being “out of the ordinary.”  It is, as has been noted, a break from the natural routine.  They are those events that are, quite literally, “nothing short of miraculous.”

Which brings us back to Chanukah.  During the time of the Second Temple, a small, valiant band of Jews fought the mighty Greek armies.  They miraculously defeated them and won back not only the Temple but their religious freedom.

On the 25th day of Kislev, we once again lit the chanukiah in the Temple, only to realize that all but one flask of oil had been defiled.  Only one.  Enough for one night of light.  But then another miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.

Our Sages teach that there is no real difference between nature and miracles; God’s hand guides everything in the world.  However, we are often so lost in our routine that we become blind to the wonder of God’s hand all around us. “Nature” is just the word we use to speak of the breathtaking beauty and symmetry of God’s Creation becoming routine.

We expect it.

A miracle, though, shakes us from our stupors.  A miracle breaks our routine and draws our attention to God’s dominion over all life.

Dreidel, delightful, silly, wonderful, playful little dreidels, remind us of the existence of miracles.

Not just one dreidel.  Thousands!

The Levush comments on the seemingly strange phrase used in the opening sentence of Al ha’Nisim recited throughout Chanukah, when we praise God “for the miracles, and for the salvation….which You performed for our forefathers – bayamim ha’em bazman ha’zeh – in those days, at this time.”

Which is it?  In those days, or at this time?

Levush notes that this phrase refers to a “double dose” of praise – for the miracles of yesteryear and for the countless miracles we experience each and every day.  Every breath, every sunset and sunrise, every newborn, is a new miracle bazman hazeh.  Every miracle calling for a new dreidel to remind us that life never stops spinning, not even for a second.

Which returns us to Beis Yosef’s question.  With only a single day’s supply, the oil lasted eight.  But why eight days instead of the “miraculous” seven additional days?  The Ramban suggests it is because teva, that which we recognize as the everyday, as natural and normal, is also a miracle.  The Chazon Ish agrees, teaching that teva is merely miracles that recur on a steady and regular basis.  That oil can burn and give us light is, in and of itself, a miracle!

Rav Chanina ben Dosa forewarned his daughter (Taanis 25a), “The One Who commanded oil to burn, He can command vinegar to burn as well.”

We need to be reminded of the great Chanukah miracle, that a mere one day’s supply of oil burned for eight.  We also need to remember what we too often forget, that for oil to burn at all is a miracle too.

Ramban teaches that it is through a recognition of the great miracles that one can ultimately recognize and praise the miracles hidden in everyday life.  By the same token, until we recognize and embrace life’s everyday miracles, we might remain blind to the great miracles. Just as the extraordinary allows us to see the ordinary, it is the ordinary that opens our hearts to the out of the ordinary.

Rav Yeruchem Levovitz teaches, “What is a miracle? It is a window into God’s conduct of the world.”

A miracle allows us to sense God’s influence on the natural order.  As we gaze upon those on-going, wondrous alterations, how can we fail to acknowledge that the very same God Who performs such miracles is the very God Who maintains the world; Who spins it and all that is in it.  The everyday – teva – is a wonder!  A miracle!

Can I ever have enough dreidels ?