Dreidels and miracles


It’s dreidel time once again! Every where I turn there are dreidels — brightly colored plastic and wooden dreidels, beautiful, decorative glass dreidels, and believe it or not, even dreidel board games.

Children, adults, and families are getting ready for the spinning action — from full-on dreidel competitions to simple games played for raisins, nuts, chocolate gelt or even a couple of coins.


As Hanukkah rapidly approaches many are reviewing the rules and trying to remember just what each letter stands for.

We always seem to remember that when the dreidel falls on the gimmel we get the entire pot, we get half when it falls on the hey, and nothing when it falls on the nun, but if you are like me I never seem to remember what it means if my dreidel lands on shin. Do I have to put in one, three, or do I have to put in more?

I am never quite sure, and one person’s dreidel rules may be completely different from the next. But, beyond what the letters mean to the game of dreidel, how many of us actually take the time to consider and reflect on why those four letters are on the dreidel and what they even really mean?

Nes Gadol Haya Sham –

A Great Miracle Happened There

A Great Miracle Happened!

What an incredible reminder and message for us during the Hanukkah season. It is a reminder that miracles happened, and I believe a reminder that miracles still happen.

What I love about this message is that it is delivered to us on a seemingly mundane object — a toy — rather than a ritual object.

I cannot help but think that perhaps the reason is that it reminds us that miracles can happen to us even in the most mundane or regular of places or circumstances, and reminds us that miracles can happen even in the face of hard times and tragedy.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, Joseph’s brothers set out to rid themselves of him. He is the little brother that annoys them, the brother that is clearly the favorite, and the brother they would like to disappear.

Is there a miracle to this story?

Yes. I believe it is a miracle that Joseph’s brothers did not kill him; it happened because Reuven spoke up. And, though Joseph ended up in an Egyptian prison, his relationship with God was strengthened and he was given the ability to interpret dreams, which in the end helped him get out of prison. That too, is a miracle.

I don’t believe these miracles simply happened to Joseph. Rather, I believe these miracles happened because of relationships, because someone took action.

Reuven’s speaking up when he could have remained silent changed the course of what could have been. And Joseph opened his mind and heart to God, which enabled him to receive an incredible gift, the gift of dream interpretation.

Would these things have happened if no one had acted? Perhaps, but we don’t know.

What this parashah does teach us is that we can bring about miracles, even small miracles, when we open our hearts and our minds to the world around us and take action, when needed.

As the Festival of Lights draws near and we prepare ourselves to light our chanukiot, eat latkes, and spin dreidel after dreidel, we recall the great miracles of this season.

We celebrate the miracle that the few overcame the many, that the Maccabees took action. We also celebrate that an incredibly small amount of oil lasted much longer than it should have, perhaps reminding us that sometimes God takes action and was and continues to be with us.

During this Hanukkah season may we appreciate the actions of those who came before us, the brave Maccabees and those who followed them, who made it possible for us to be Jewish today. And, as we kindle the lights, may our eyes and our minds be opened to the miracles that happen to us and because of us, the miracles of family, of love, of life, and of being in relationship with God.

Great Miracles Happen Here! Hanukkah Sameach!

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.