Vayigash 5771 – Letters on the Dreidel

“He sent Yehuda ahead to Yosef to set up in Goshnah (Goshen) and then they came to the land of Goshnah.” – Bereshis 46:28

In the story of Chanuka, we learn the Greeks forbade Jews from keeping certain Jewish laws. One of them was learning Torah. The righteous Jews of that time knew that a Jew without Torah is like a fish without water, and therefore they secretly learned Torah behind closed doors. The Greeks began to find out about these sessions and would perform inspections to stop the Jews from learning. The wise Jews, though, came up with a plan. They sent someone outside as a look-out to see when the Greek guards were coming. When they would come close, the guard would warn those who were learning about the Greeks coming. At that time, all of the books were put away and the children would play dreidel. When the Greeks came in and saw the children playing “games”, they would happily leave thinking no learning was going on.

I recently heard a very interesting question. When the Jewish children were playing dreidel, what letters were on the sides of the dreidel. Nowadays, we have the nun, gimel, heh, and shin (outside of Eretz Yisrael) to remind us of the words Neis Gadol Haya Sham (a Great Miracle Happened There). But this was before the great miracle happened, so what letters did they have? The answer is they had the same letters as we do: they used a nun, gimel, heh, and shin also. But they symbolized something else. Changing their order, these four letters spell out Goshnah. Goshnah was the place where the children of Yaakov lived when they came down to Egypt in this week’s parsha and Yehuda set up a yeshiva there. Goshnah was separate from the other cities in Egypt and the Jews settled here to show they were separate. These letters were on their dreidels because it was a reminder to the children that they are a separate people from the other nations. They especially needed this reminder when they were playing “games” like dreidel because this was the type of game that non-Jews would normally play. The Jewish children were doing something which was not normally a Jewish activity (i.e. playing a game which included gambling). The Sages put these letters on the dreidel to remind the children that although this is normally a non-Jewish activity, remember you are different from the non-Jews. Just as teh Jews lived separately in Goshnah, so too are you separate from the Greeks.

Today, we no longer live in ghettos. We drive the same types of cars as non-Jews. We go on vacations to places the same as non-Jews. Very few things make us externally look different than the other nations that surround us. But we must not forget that we are different than them. We are Jews and must behave like Jews. Just because we are part of the general society today, does not mean we must copy all of their behaviors. We must remember the lesson of the dreidel and Goshnah; we are a separate people. We are different and should be proud of being different. This is what makes us great!

Good Shabbos!
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