Chanukah 5777

The Secret of the Dreidel[1]

ואת יהודה שלח לפניו אל יוסף להורות לפניו גשנה
And [Yaakov] sent Yehudah before him, to Yosef, to teach before him, to Goshen[2]

After Yaakov found out that his son Yosef was not only alive, but that he was the viceroy in Egypt, he and his family made plans to move there. There was a worldwide famine and the only place with food was with Yosef. The verse tells us that Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead of everyone else to Yosef, in the city of Goshen. The question is why was he sent, and why specifically Yehudah[3]. Another question is a grammatical one. The verse says Yehudah was sent גשנה, to Goshen. The normal way to write this would be לגשן. Why did the Torah choose this formulation? Chazal tell us[4] whenever you have a ל at the beginning of a word, which means ‘to’, you can replace it with a ה at the end for the same result. While this explains how it works in the verse, it doesn’t explain why sometimes one format is chosen over another. There must be some significance.

To answer these questions, some background knowledge needs to be presented. Chazal inform us[5] that the dream described in the Book of Daniel[6] is a prophecy regarding the four kingdoms that were destined to persecute the Jews: 1) בבל, Babylon (with the destruction of the first Temple) 2) פרס/מדי, Persia/Media (before the second temple was built) 3) יון, Greece (which took place during the second temple period, when the Chanukah story took place 4) רומא, Rome (which we are still experiencing). It is taught[7] that the Egyptian exile was the root of the four persecutions. This is alluded to in the verse at the beginning of the book of Exodus[8]: ויהי בימים הרבים, and it was after many days (of Egyptian persecution). The word רבים is an acronym for the four kingdoms: ר for Rome, ב for Babylon, י for Greece and מ for Persia/Media. Since the exile of Egypt is the root of all the exiles, the redemption from Egypt is the root of all redemptions.

The Maharal writes extensively on this topic[9]. He adds that there are four attributes to a person: 1) גוף, body 2) נפש, soul 3) שכל, intellect 4) כח עליון הכולל כולם, a lofty all-inclusive attribute[10]. Each of the four persecutions corresponded to one of these aspects. The Babylonians attacked the souls of the Jews. This is because they destroyed the Temple, which prevented offerings from being brought[11]. The Medians/Persians attacked the bodies of the Jews, as evidenced by the story of Esther[12]. The Greeks attacked the intellect of the Jews. They introduced philosophy, which was very enticing but utterly incompatible with Jewish thought. The Romans attacked all the above. First they destroyed the Temple, for two millennia there have been persecutions and pogroms, and more recently the Enlightenment created a new intellectual battle with traditional Judaism.

The purpose of these kingdoms was to destroy the unity of the Jews; they had the goal to scatter us throughout the world. The Jews, when united, are unstoppable. The four kingdoms, which represent disharmony, can be understood as the four compass directions, whereas the Jews, as a unified nation, are the center. The kingdoms tried to pull the Jews from that center. Only once they are defeated can the Jews return to their original state and worship the One G-d properly. This is why the Jewish king can only come from the tribe of Yehudah, יהודה, which includes the name of Hashem, plus the letter ד, which corresponds to the number four. The Jewish king has the power to unite the Jews from the disharmony caused by the four kingdoms and return them to serving Hashem properly. The final piece of the puzzle is that Chazal teach us that before the final redemption, there will be two Messiahs[13]. One is Moshiach ben Yosef, descended from Yosef, and Moshiach ben Dovid, descended from Yehudah. The Moshiach ben Yosef will start the redemption and the Moshiach ben Dovid will finish the job by returning the scattered Jews to their homeland. They will become one nation again.

We can now understand what Yaakov had in mind by sending Yehudah to Yosef in Goshen. When Yaakov saw that the Egyptian exile was beginning, the root of all exiles, he wanted to plant the seeds of redemption. He sent Yehudah to Yosef to pave the way for the future Messiahs who will descend from them to unite the Jews and return them to their proper place. Where did they meet? In Goshen, גשנה. This is an acronym for the four attributes which were affected by the 4 exiles. ג for גוף, the body, ש for שכל, the intellect, נ for נפש, the soul, and ה for הכל, the all-inclusive attribute. This is where they could make the proper preparations for the משיח, the Messiah. Words with the same gematria, numerical value, are known to have related qualities. The word משיח has the same gematria as גשנה [358]. The Messiah will extinguish the poison of the נחש, the primordial snake, also with the same gematria [358]. This is the snake that tempted Eve to eat from the fruit. The snake implanted in man a tendency towards evil, which the Messiah will annul. Then Hashem will be King over the entire world, therefore הוי”ה מלך הוי”ה מלך הוי”ה ימלך, Hashem reigned, Hashem reigns and Hashem will reign[14] has that same gematria [358].

Now the custom of playing with a dreidel during Chanukah[15] can be fully understood. Kids play with a toy with four sides which spins on a single point. Each side has a letter on it, one of the four letters from גשנה [16]. This alludes to what we’ve been saying. The four kingdoms represent the four compass directions. The single point represents the Jewish nation. When the four kingdoms are defeated, all the nations will unite and call out to the Name of Hashem, the poison of the snake will be removed, all through the coming of the Messiah. All of these have the same gematria as גשנה [358], the four letters on the dreidel. The custom from times of old was to use a dreidel made of wood. A verse in Ezekiel[17] can be seen to allude to this: ואתה בן אדם קח לך עץ אחד וכתוב עליו ליהודה וכו’ ולקח עץ אחד וכתוב עליו ליוסף וכו’ וקרב אותם אחד אל אחד לך עץ אחד, And you, Man, take a piece of wood and write on it “To Yehudah”…and take a piece of wood and write on it “To Yosef”…and bring them together to be to you one piece of wood. This is clearly referring to the secret meaning behind the dreidel.

Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!

[1] Based on Bnei Yissaschar Ma’amarei Chodshei Kislev Teves 2:25. Although this is based on verses from parshas Vayigash and its accompanying haftarah, and this week is parshas Mikeitz, the ideas are focused on the holiday of Chanukah, which we find ourselves in. Parshas Mikeitz mostly falls during Chanukah, but sometimes parshas Vayigash also falls during this holiday (when the 8th day is on Shabbos). As such, it’s appropriate to find ideas relating to Chanukah in this parsha and its haftarah

[2] Genesis 46:28

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 95:3 gives two possible reasons why anyone was sent: either to establish a settlement for the Jews there, or to set up a meeting place, perhaps to study Torah. This still doesn’t explain why Yehudah was the one sent

[4] Yevamos 13a

[5] See Rashi to Daniel 7:2-7

[6] Loc. cit.

[7] Likkutei Torah Ki Teitzei

[8] Chapter 2:23

[9] In the first part of his book Ner Mitzvah

[10] The Bnei Yissaschar suggests (based on Eitz Chaim Sha’ar 50) that these correspond to the four types of creatures: 1) inanimate (body) 2) plant-life (soul) 3) animal-life (intellect) 4) humans/speaking-life (the all-inclusive attribute)

[11] The Torah indicates that offerings helped correct the soul, as it says in Leviticus 2:1, נפש כי תקריב

[12] Which describes the Persian plot devised by Haman to kill all the Jews without exception

[13] Pesiktah Zutra parshas Balak

[14] A combination of three verses, found in the Daily Prayers

[15] The Bnei Yissaschar describes in many places that Chanukah is the inauguration for future redemptions

[16] Traditionally known to be an acronym for נס גדול היה שם, a miracle took place there, but now it’s clear it means more than that

[17] 37:16; this is from the haftarah to parshas Vayigash