Chanukah 5778 – Part VII: Life is Like a Dreidel

“Life is like a box of chocolates.” “Life is like a bicycle.” “Life is like a box of cereal.”

The above three quotes about life are attributed (respectively) to Forrest Gump, Albert Einstein, and, as far as I know, me.  If you type “Life is a…” into your favorite search engine, you will no doubt generate a plethora of different answers, some relevant and relatable, and others completely foolish. If you think hard enough, or not, you can make many of these connections yourself. They don’t even have to necessarily make any sense! I have no idea why life is like a box of cereal, but I’m sure someone could point me in the right direction.

Rav Moshe Weinberger, beloved Mashpia at Yeshiva University and pulpit rabbi in the Five Towns, comments that life is like a dreidel. The picture shapes up as follows, which you can most likely imagine. There are times when we feel like a “nunn,” where we can coast about life with no particular fanfare. Everything can be routine, or sadly, things can not go our way. Sometimes, we feel like a “gimmel,” where everything is coming up roses for us. We’re on a hot streak, and nothing can go wrong. Other times, we may feel like a “hey,” where our lives are peppered by unexpected little pick-me-ups that carry us about. Unfortunately, there are times when we succumb to the “shin,” where not only do we have to give of ourselves, but, on different occasions, we may be struggling mightily.

I cannot be certain, but I feel as if many of us been in scenarios when we’ve felt like each of the sides of a dreidel. The world keeps moving around us. No matter which face of the Chanukah toy we feel most close to at this moment in time, there are tremendous lessons we learn from the very dreidel itself.

One takes a dreidel in their hand and they spin it around. They have no way of knowing where it will land and what their fate will be. Whether the outcome is good or bad, the player will pick up the dreidel again and spin it once more. The cycle repeats itself. Is this not a metaphor for life? We are spun, turned in different directions. Yet, when the dreidel drops and the dust settles, we get up and face our next endeavor. Some may be enjoyable. Some may be crippling.

Rav Weinberger mentions a story about the Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Benzion Halberstam HY”D, who, one Chanukah, was playing dreidel with his young grandson, Naftali. Little Naftali spun a gimmel, and, with great excitement, took all the loot in the pile. The next go-around saw the boy get a “hey,” which elicited a similar elated response. The third time he spun his dreidel, Rav Benzion covered the toy before it stopped spinning and before young Naftali could see what it would land on. The Rebbe sat for a moment, and then he said, “My child, it doesn’t really matter what side the dreidel falls on: the main thing is that one must get up and continue moving.” It seems like a bit of an eerie message to a child while playing a game, yet the Rebbe was completely serious. Rav Benzion, unfortunately, met his demise at the hands of the Nazi death machine, yemach shemam. However, his grandson, Rabbi Naftali Halberstam, who eventually became the Bobover Rebbe himself, never forgot this dynamic lesson from his saintly grandfather.

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (24:16) that a righteous person falls seven times and gets up. Many of us don’t consider ourselves to be true tzaddikim. If a true tzaddik only stumbles to the ground seven times, how many times does that mean we will fall? Conversely, how many times will we get up? How many times will we brush ourselves off and tackle our issues head-on again? The “game” may not always be easy, and we may not always be winning, but the important thing is to get up, and keep moving.


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