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chanukah menorah

May we merit, this Chanukah, to see how the hand of God is involved in every detail of our lives, whether we can see it or not.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Our sages have added on some holidays in addition to what is in the Torah, of which the two most prominent are Chanukah and Purim. Both include a focus on a specific toy of sorts. On Chanuka, it’s the “dreidel,” and on Purim, the holiday commemorating the downfall of the evil Haman at the hands of Mordechai and Queen Esther, we have the “gragger.”

Interestingly, one toy, the dreidel, is held from its top, while the other, the gragger, is held from below. Mere coincidence, surely? The Creator of the world certainly guides epic events like the dreams of Pharaoh and the return of the Jewish nation to the Land of Israel, but the development of children’s games?

Of course. God is behind everything! So what’s with the design of these holiday toys?

Let’s start with Purim. Usually observed in March, depending on the Hebrew calendar of each particular year, it celebrates a miraculous piece of history — but no part of the story was actually supernatural. From Esther’s selection as queen, to Mordechai’s discovery of a plot to kill the king, to the king’s difficulty sleeping one night, all the events described in the Book of Esther are within the normal realm of how things work here in this world.

The Purim battle was likewise very much an “earthly” experience. The Jews, frightened by the king’s decree supporting an attack against them, halted their assimilation into Persian culture and were eventually given permission by the king to “protect themselves and to slay their enemies.” After learning of this new order of the king, the battle became an even one, with the vast majority of the Persian empire, who were not from the nation of Amalek, sitting the fight out. The Jews were victorious in this “fair” match.

The “clothing” of the details of the Purim story in the natural course of events — the return to tradition of the Jewish nation and their “understandable” victory over the Amalekites — all emphasize the role of this physical “lower” world in the holiday. Hence, the toy that would come to be synonymous with Purim, the gragger, was destined to be held from below.

The victory of the Children of Israel over the mighty Greek army in the Chanukah story, in contrast, lacked a rational explanation. Not only was the enemy far more numerous and much better armed, but most of the Jewish nation sat this war out, or worse, joined the Greeks!

Lacking the repentance of a nation living in this physical world and without a logical explanation for the victory of “the few over the many,” it would not have been appropriate for the Chanukah toy to be held from “below.” Thus, the dreidel is held from above, symbolizing the supernatural assistance received by the Maccabees.

May we merit, this Chanukah, to see how the hand of God is involved in every detail of our lives, whether we can see it or not. As King David tells us, God is even involved in the details of the plants and animals: “He prepares rain for the earth, He causes the mountains to sprout grass. He gives the animal its food, to the young ravens which call out.” How much more so is the Creator guiding us to exactly where we need to be!

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