The traditional Chanukkah dreidel is a reminder of the times when the armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land. This regime passed a series of laws making it illegal to study or practice Judaism. The Jews decided to do their Torah learning secretly in outlying areas and forests. The children brought along small tops to pull out and play with after hiding their texts, so that they could pretend to be playing games instead of studying if a patrol came by.
Playing the dreidel game reminds us to always be true to our faith even when it is dangerous. This is a valuable thing to remember for all faith traditions.
Here’s how to play the dreidel game –
Things you need –
1 Dreidel (or several to speed up the game play)
2 or more players
The “Ante” Chocolate coins, nuts, or pennies, for instance.
A flat surface to spin the dreidel on, such as a table top or floor.
A platter of Latkes (hash browns) and/or Sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) add to the fun. Fried foods are part of the holiday. They commemorate the miracle of the one small jar of oil lasting eight days during the re-dedication of the Temple.
1. All players sit around the playing area.
2. All players get an equal amount of the “ante”
3. To choose who goes first, everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) Spin again if there is a tie.
4. Everyone puts one unit of the ante (Chocolate coin, penny, etc.) into the pot. (A bowl is useful for this)
5. Player A spins the dreidel and does the appropriate action according to the result.
6. The play proceeds to the left.
Nun looks like נ
It stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means nothing.
Take nothing from the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “nes” – which means “miracle”.
Gimel looks like ג
It stands for the Yiddish word gantz, which means whole.
Take everything in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “gadol” – which means “great”.
Hay looks like ה
It stands for the Yiddish halb, meaning half.
Take half of what is in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “haya” – which means “happened”.
Shin looks like ש
In Yiddish, Shin is for shenk, which means give.
This means put one item from your ante into the pot.
This letter refers to the Hebrew word “sham” which means “there”.
These four letters together are an acronym for the sentence “nes gadol hayah sham” which means “a great miracle happened there.”
In Israel, the letter “shin” is replace with a “pey” פ – which refers to the Hebrew word “po” – meaning “here” , saying “A great miracle happened here.”
May we all be ready to receive miracles at all times and in all places.