Printed from
The dreidel tells the story of both the history of the world and its ultimate purpose.

Lessons from the Dreidel

Lessons from the Dreidel

By Rabbi Bentzion Milecki

Intermediate Intermediate
Lessons from the <i>Dreidel</i>
The dreidel tells the story of both the history of the world and its ultimate purpose.

The dreidel has evolved from the humble clay or wood version to a "hi-tech," multi-media version, replete with lights and musical accompaniment, which can now be found on shop shelves and in many homes. But even today's ultra-modern dreidels still sport those ancient Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei, Shin. What's the significance of these letters, and why do they appear on the dreidel?

We will see that the dreidel tells the story of both the history of the world and its ultimate purpose.

...a person is comprised of three elements: Body, Soul and Intellect.

Kabalistic teachings explain that a person is comprised of three elements: Body, Soul and Intellect. In Hebrew these are Guf, Nefesh and Seichel. These teachings further explain that the history of the world's empires can be roughly divided into four: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Each of these empires attacked the Jewish people in a uniquely different way - and each time the Jewish people prevailed.

The Babylonian Empire attacked the Jewish body (Guf), massacring as they destroyed the First Temple and took the Jews as captives to Babylon.

The Persian Empire, known for its promiscuity and licentiousness, attacked the Jewish People in soul (Nefesh).

The Greek Empire, which produced some of the world's greatest philosophers, attempted to demonstrate (falsely) the incompatibility of Torah with Science and Intellect (Seichel).

Finally, the Roman Empire utilized all the above three methods - attacks on the body, the soul and the intellect - in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize the Torah and Judaism. The Hebrew word for "all" is "Hakol."

These then are what the letters of the dreidel represent:

Gimmel stands for the Jewish body - Guf (Babylon); Nun stands for the Jewish soul - Nefesh (Persia); Shin stands for the Jewish intellect - Seichel (Greece); Hei stands for all the above - HaKol (Rome).

Furthermore, in Hebrew each letter is associated with a numerical value, known as gematria. The gematria [sum of the numerical values] of the letters Gimmel, Nun, Shin, Hei is 358, the same as that of "Nachash" - the serpent that seduced Adam and Eve at the beginning of time. It is also the same gematria as "Moshiach" - the Redeemer of the Jewish People whom we wait and expect, may he come speedily in our time.

And so the dreidel represents the history of the world from its inception until the end of the reign of impurity. History began with the attempt by the Nachash to seduce Adam and Eve. The serpent then continued its seduction throughout history - in the guise of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. At the end, however, the Nachash will be vanquished by Moshiach.

It's important to note that Nachash and Moshiach have the same gematria, signifying that the victory of Moshiach is not one which precludes the use of the body, soul and intellect. On the contrary, each of these has its place in the service of G‑d. We need to serve G‑d with a healthy body. Our emotions and our desires can and should be used for the greatest acts of holiness. And of course, intellect - especially the advances of science, technology and communication - empower us as individuals and enable the masses to reach spiritual knowledge that was until now unattainable.

the tools of the Nachash...must be transformed into tools to better serve G‑d.

As the time of Moshiach approaches, the tools of the Nachash - body, soul and intellect, each of which might seem to be in opposition to holiness - must be transformed into tools to better serve G‑d.

Chanuka means "rededication." Chanuka is a time to find new ways to use all the powers that make us human to achieve our ultimate fulfillment as human beings and bring us closer to G‑d and the Redemption of Moshiach.

What a powerful lesson from the humble dreidel!

Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
jim dallas May 19, 2017

enjoyed it thoroughly.....recently used dreidel with immigrants now under shameful and deplorable treatment in usa...G-d, help us all! Reply

Lynn New Orleans, LA. November 12, 2014

INTERESTING article. I had always wondered what dreidels were all about. Thanks for sharing this .... Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via November 21, 2012

Re: Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge Rashi, the primary Jewish commentary, states that is the fig (and that is why they used fig leaves to cover themselves. The Talmud adds three other candidates: etrog, grape, wheat. Note that apple is not even a candidate (although it seems that many of the other trees in the Garden were apple trees).

I can't imagine why you think Torah-knowledgeable Jews would need S. Augustine or Google for this? Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via November 21, 2012

Re: Sources The Maharal of Prague and the Bnei Yisass'char. Reply

Drei Kop via December 21, 2011

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing this profound and insightful teaching. I am curious what sources were used? Reply

Robert Hagedorn New York City, NY/USA November 30, 2011

The Serpent and the Fruit. Saint Augustine couldn't do it. But can you explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After thousands of years it's time to think, read, and give the real explanation based only on the facts in the story. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs. We've already had way too many of these. Treat the whole thing as a challenge. You can do it! Or can you? But first, do a quick Google search: First Scandal. Reply

The larger, bold text is the direct translation of the classic text source.

The smaller, plain text is the explanation of the translator/editor.
Text with broken underline will provide a popup explanation when rolled over with a mouse.