Home > Chanukah, Judaism, Rabbi Baruch Lederman > How dreidel and other games led to a boy’s piety

How dreidel and other games led to a boy’s piety

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO–Shimi Gerber (name changed) was a boy with lots of unfulfilled potential – which is putting it mildly. His parents sent him to an excellent yeshiva in New York, but he was more interested in anything  but learning. During parent-teacher conferences they always heard the same thing; “Shimi is a very bright boy, but he just doesn’t apply himself.”  It broke his parents hearts to see  their boy frittering away his days.

He wasn’t mean or malicious. Typically, during Gemora shiur, when his rebbe was teaching the intricacies of Talmudic logic, Shimi would be endlessly engrossed in a comic book hidden inside his Gemora. He wasn’t a bully. But he was a bad influence in the school because he liked to fool around and involve others in his high jinks – much to the consternation of his parents and his Rebbeim.

One year, it reached a point where the yeshiva decided that if things didn’t change, they were going to be forced to approach Shimi and his parents with the stark reality that the  yeshiva couldn’t keep a boy who acts this way. They decided they would wait till Chanukah before issuing any harsh ultimatums.

As Chanukah approached, it didn’t look like Shimi was making any progress whatsoever. Finally, the day after Chanukah, the Rebbe knew that this was the day of the showdown. As  he was coming to yeshiva, he knew that that day, he was going to have to call a very unpleasant meeting with Shimi and his parents.

That was the plan, but when the Rebbe saw him at the morning minyan, Shimi had a look of sincerity and seriousness that the Rebbe never saw in him before. The Rebbe waited. 

Later that morning, Shimi was totally focused in the Gemora. He even participated and asked some thought provoking questions. The Rebbe was flabbergasted. This was a new boy. The meeting was never called. No ultimatums were ever issued.

Shimi’s remarkable transformation did not escape the notice of his parents. They asked him what caused this extraordinary turnaround. Shimi told them that it was based on a speech that their Rabbi gave in shul.

Shimi began, “Rabbi Lamdan (name changed) explained the dedication that the Jews had in the days of Chanukah. How they understood that Torah was their lifeblood. They needed Torah like a fish needs water, and continued to learn despite the risks and hardships involved.”

Shimi continued, “Then the Rabbi said something which really opened my eyes. He explained in vivid detail how the Jews would gather to learn Torah; but when the soldiers would come by, they would take out their toys and act as if they were gathering to play a game (this is where the draidel comes from).  This hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I
was the exact opposite. I would be engaged in games or comics, while pretending to be studying Torah whenever the Rebbe was looking. My ancestors would engage in Torah, while pretending to be playing games.”

The purity on Shimi’s face was evident, like the pure oil of the menorah.

“My ancestors sacrificed so that I could have a life as a Jew; and I was throwing all that away. Twisting it around like a dreidel. I don’t want to be that way. I want to learn Torah like  they did.”

“The Rabbi gave me the greatest Chanukah gift ever.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Yavanim tried to take away three mitzvos from us: Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Bris Milah. These three mitzvos are embedded into every Chanukah:

1. Every Chanukah contains at least one Shabbos. This is always the case because Chanukah is over a week long.

2. Every Chanukah has a Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh Teves always falls out in the middle of Chanukah.

3. Chanukah is 8 days, reminiscent of the 8 days for the Bris Milah.

Dedicated by Linda & Ron Holman in honor of their twin grandchildren Gavriel and Yonah Mordechai Saida.


Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

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