It’s very difficult to write something of a joyous nature in light of the horrendous evil that was displayed in Newtown, CT yesterday. My heart goes out to families who lost precious loved ones. I mourn for this small community. This deadly attack is incomprehensible beyond what words can express. The magnitude of the reality of this evil act grips our hearts and makes us cry for the innocent children who lost their lives. Life is a precious gift from God. This is a time to pray, a time to mourn, and a time to appreciate our kids that much more.
In contrast to such an evil act involving children, this past week has been a time for Jewish children to play with the dreidel. During this eight-day Festival of Lights or Hanukkah), spinning their small four-sided tops or sivivons is part of the rich tradition where joy triumphing over evil is the focus. Add an oil-laden menu of fried latkes (the Yiddish word for levivot) and sufganiot (puffy jelly-filled doughnuts sprinkled with powered sugar and sold on nearly every street corner in Israel), and this makes for a delightful recipe of celebrating good over evil.
These dreidels or spinning tops are shaped with four sides, each bearing a Hebrew letter, nun, gimel, hey, and shin. These letters represent the Hebrew phrase, “Ness gadol haya sham” — “A great miracle happened there.” (In Israel, the phrase ends with the Hebrew letter “pey” — for the word, “poh,” or “here.”). In speaking about Jewish children and the Jewish people in general, according to Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, “When we face times of hardship and tragedy, the dreidel teaches us first and foremost that God is our God and we are His people. And if we believe in that ultimate meaning of the Jewish people; if we know that despite the dizzying blur of events in our history there is some purpose the challenges we face, and if we are prepared to fight to remain Jews regardless of what history throws at us, then who knows – we might just experience a miracle and be reassured that there is a hidden hand guiding the destiny of the Jewish people.”
The fact is, the world in which we live is scarred with evil. While we mourn for what happened in Newtown, in the words of the rabbi, “the world is also filled with miracles great and small.” Where Herod-madness struck again in Newtown, may Rachel’s tears be wiped away by the One who weeps with us. And may the One who brings joy to children spinning dreidels, may we been given the ability to see past the darkness in order to behold the light of God!