How to play the Dreidel game at Chanukkah

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.

Jesus is the Word.

I read a post recently by a Rabbi who has a Facebook page. He is very upset about the number of Jews he knows who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah. He says that he will not call them Christians, but that they are still Jews, just mislead.

His biggest issue is not that they have found the Messiah, but that they think that a human being is God. This is idolatry in his eyes.

I get that. But the problem is, Jesus isn’t God. Well, he is, and he isn’t. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the Torah in human form. Jesus is an aspect of God, in the same way that the Torah is an aspect of God.

The Torah is “The infinite compressed into the finite” according to David Sacks, from the podcast “Living with G-d, Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World.”

The Torah is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh.

Jesus isn’t God, but a part of God. God is quantum. God is everywhere. If Jesus was really God in totality, then who was Jesus praying to in the garden (Matthew 26:36-56)? Who talked to him when he was baptized (Matthew 3:17), and when he was transfigured (Matthew 17-5)? Was he talking to himself?

God gave us the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, as an instruction book. It tells us how to live. It keeps us awake and aware. With these stories, we have a pattern for how to live our lives. It is like letting someone else do all the mistakes first for us. We can read these words and know “Oh, this works, do it” or “Hey, that is a big mistake, don’t do it.” With the study of gematria, you can dig down even deeper. There are people who study the letters of the Hebrew alphabet inside and outside. They assign numerical values. They look at the beginnings of the words and the middle. They find in all this study that the Torah is constantly revealing the Message of God, no matter how you divide it.

The Torah is like a fractal. No matter what part you look at – big or little, you are seeing the whole pattern. It is pretty amazing.

Jesus is like that. Jesus is a part of God, and God, and not God. Jesus is a tiny piece of the whole. But because of the nature of the whole, Jesus has the same pattern as the whole.

Get it? Not really? That is fine. I don’t really either. But I kind of do.

God is so much bigger than our human minds can comprehend. We can’t get “I am the Alpha and the Omega” at the same time. Our processor – our brain – isn’t big enough to handle it. We are black and white and 2D. We are a sheet of paper, copied on a copier. God is not only full color but as many dimensions as possible – way more than four. God is everything all together.

That just doesn’t fit here on this planet very well.

It is like trying to play a CD-rom on a Victrola. It just isn’t going to work. There is a lot more information on that tiny disk. You can put a whole encyclopedia on it. And while that Victrola looks like it can play it – it is a turntable after all, and the CD-rom is round, and there is a needle for reading it, it just is going to destroy that disc.

Now sure, Jesus says “I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30

That is what got him killed. That, and “working” by healing people on the Sabbath.

Jesus, or Y’shua as his name is more accurately pronounced, is the Torah, in human form. God can do that, you know. God can do anything.

The Torah wasn’t working. People weren’t getting it. They were following the rules but they weren’t getting where the rules were leading them. It is like they had the recipe but they weren’t putting any love into it, so the food tasted bad. It wasn’t nourishing. You have to put love into it, or you’ll get nothing out of it. If the rules lead you to be loving, then keep the rules. If they just become rules for the sake of rules, then drop the rules and try something else.

God figured that if He sent a human to explain it to live it, it would work out well. Sadly, not so much. People got really angry. People still get angry. Sadly, that is the way of people.

As for me, I see Jesus as a pathway. I see his life as an example. I believe that Jesus came to point towards God, not himself. I believe that Jesus is proof that God loves us – not because of Jesus’ crucifixion, but because of his existence. I believe that what makes Jesus different is that he proves that God isn’t “up there” but “right here” with us, right now.

And that is worth it all.

Ah! God!

I’m noticing a connection in the different names for God. Jehovah. Allah. Yahweh. Hosanna. Adonai. All have the sound “ah” as part of them. Is there something we should notice here?

Is God, (which is not a name so much as a descriptive) the surprise, the awakening? When we are surprised in a gentle way we often say “Ah-ha!” It is a sound of coming to ourselves, of waking up. It is a sound of an awareness that is deepening. It is a sound of new understanding and growth. It is a good sound. It means that we are stretching ourselves and growing into awareness and consciousness.

Or, another idea, do we find God in the exhalation? A breath out is an “ah”. Of course, God breathed life into us, so the sound we breathe out is that same breath. It didn’t change from going into us to going out of us. And when God was breathing into us, God was actually breathing out. God breathes out, and we breathe in.

Another idea, is God to be found hiding in “amen” and “alleluia”? In our giving thanks, we are pointing back to God. With our God-given breath we are giving it back in praise. I’m reminded of the idea of giving up the first born of the livestock. It takes a lot to give up the firstborn – you aren’t guaranteed a second. It takes a lot to give up your breath, for the same reason.

There are no guarantees. But we are made to love and serve God, and not to hoard up any of the gifts we have been given by God. To use our breath to praise God is the simplest and most honest gift we can offer.

Wherever we go, there we are. Wherever we go, there is God with us.

There is a Jewish podcast that I listen to a lot. The writer/speaker likes to talk a lot about the first word in the Torah. The word is b’reishit. It sounds a bit like “Bray-sheese.” It is often translated as “in the beginning”, but the author says that “with beginnings” is better. It isn’t about the beginning of time, but beginning itself. Every moment is a new beginning, a new chance.

He has said that if you rearrange the letters of the first word, it spells the “song of the aleph-bet (the alphabet)”. That is pretty poetic, and it makes a lot of sense. I’ve heard that the Jews believe that God spoke or sang the world into existence with the Torah.

The writer/speaker has talked about many different meanings and depths to this word, this beginning of beginnings, but I don’t think he has ever talked about the fact that the Torah begins with the second letter of the alphabet and not the first. So I will.

Why would the Torah’s first word start with B, and not A? For starters, God is always surprising us. The underdog is constantly getting promoted in the Bible stories. The second son gets the inheritance most of the time. The last shall be first.

I think God wants us to not expect things with God to be the same pattern as it does with the world. God’s ways are not our ways. The rules change. Don’t become complacent. What you thought was going to happen isn’t always what is going to happen. You are not in charge.

But then, it all goes back to the sound, Ah. Sometimes you only notice something when it is missing. By having B as the first letter and not A, it points back to A. And A, “ah,” points back to God. And God is the beginning of everything.