With great fondness, I remember playing dreidel with my brothers while the candles burned down. We would sit on the dining room floor in semi-darkness, each with a different color dreidel, and a small pile of pennies in front of us. At least I think pennies are what we used. I’m sure they’ll correct me if I’m wrong; after all, that’s one of the gifts of children and siblings.
It’s been years since we played dreidel. Now the games we play this time of year are touch football, after the Thanksgiving parade in November and the more knee-friendly family football pool (as of this writing I’m tied for third with my eldest nephew Ben).
But I miss dreidel, so I keep a big jar of dreidels on my desk during Hanukkah and it reminds me of the similarities between dreidel and how we experience life. The game of dreidel is set up with the expectation that each time one spins a dreidel, one gets a certain outcome; and that outcome may be different for different people, or the same person may get different outcomes each time she/he spins.
Sometimes we roll gimel, and we are successful, achieving all that we hope for. Sometimes we roll nun, and we get nothing. Sometimes we roll hey, and we get some of what we wish for, but less than what we would have hoped. And sometimes we roll shin, and we disappointedly suffer a setback, giving up much more than we wanted.
In this time of gift giving, dreidel teaches us about being grateful for what we have, satisfied with what we “roll,” and staying engaged in the game through the many different outcomes. On long winter nights, it reminds us of simply spinning happily with the ones we love.
Hag Urim Sameyach!