I was recently privileged to learn an insight explaining two very popular Jewish traditions: those of spinning the dreidel on Chanukah, and spinning the gragger (noisemaker) on Purim. There is a special connection here: Both items allude to the nature of the respective festival’s milestone miracles. The dreidel, moved by a small handle at the top, symbolizes how the miracles of Chanukah were clearly from Above. There was no question; they were entirely supernatural. On the other hand, the gragger is swung into action from a handle beneath, hinting to how the miracles appeared to be brought about from below, by human hands, and that G-d was more hidden.
On this tradition is the following inspiration of mine based, as I apply the concept alternatively to the holidays of Pesach (rather than Chanukah) and Purim, two festivals we are celebrating in this lovely season of Springtime.
(I would here like to express my sincerest thanks to R’ Tzvi Freeman of Chabad.org, for indeed, a tremendous number of concepts and quotes from Maamarim, letters, etc., imparted in this reflection, are sourced from his Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe.)
The miracles were open, revealed, and obviously supernatural.
From the Nile to the bath, every source of water was transformed into unpalatable blood. Plagues persisted and ravaged regardless of any incantations or balms employed by the king’s officials, yet the plagues abruptly halted when the king simply declared Hebrew enslavement reneged. An entire sea was split– and what’s more– into twelve paths for each individual tribe to traverse, and fountains of fresh water spouted from the aquatic walls, as taught by the Midrash.
We were commanded to remain passive, and put total trust in G-d. The highest level of trust, where we forsake all specifications and limitations in our prayers for salvation, and simply declare that “It’s all in His hands, and all will be well.” G-d works in wondrous ways, if only we step back in humility, and allow G-d to make the wonder come to pass in His totally incomparable way.
The Israelites were to wait quietly and unobtrusively in their homes, as the Angel of Death made his rounds through the homes of the firstborn of Egypt, on that first Pesach night. Even the bold warrior and outspoken prophetess Miriam, was not exempt from these orders. As the nation was trapped at the Sea of Reeds with the hostile Egyptians steadily approaching, they were to remain calm in their camps.
Indeed, Miriam exemplified trust in G-d, even in the darkest nights of Egyptian shame and slavery… Hashem will never forsake His prophecy, nor His children. Surrender your ego and worries to G-d, and faithfully trust in Him, for He can make a miracle happen, even at the last moment. Nothing is beyond Him.
The miracles were hidden, to some degree, or, rather, G-d’s mastery over them.
G-d’s name is not mentioned even once in the entire Megillah! He worked from ‘behind the scenes’, channeling His will and sovereignty, within the confines of the affairs of a mortal kingdom.
A drunken king flew into a rage over his wife’s disobedience, and had her executed. Once he was sober, was it not natural for him to seek out a new queen? And in accordance with his passions, only select the most beautiful girl, who just happened to be Esther? Mordechai overheard the murderous plot of Bigsan and Teresh, two palace guards, and informed upon them, thereby preserving the king’s life. As a sage of the time, it was protocol for Mordechai to be familiar with the seventy languages, so of course he understood the guards’ sly foreign tongue. Mordechai’s custom was to dwell near the king’s gate, and if this was the present station of the scheming men, doesn’t it appear to be just coincidental that everyone was “in the right place at the right time?”
This is a tale true and resonating, placing strong emphasis on human action, both the positive and praiseworthy, and the negative and punishable. Our Sages teach, in the merit of Sarah Imeinu’s 127 years, lived with constant effort, striving, alacrity and holiness, her descendant Queen Esther merited reign over 127 provinces. At the other end of the spectrum of human nobility, Queen Vashti prided herself on her physical beauty and attraction; and on account of her excessive arrogance, she was bodily humiliated before her removal, brought before the royal court stripped of her garments and crown and made a mockery. On a more soulful note, the intense fasting and teshuvah the Jews took upon themselves, to repent from their failings and assimilation into gentile affairs, were key in meriting nationwide salvation from the hands of evil massacre.
The weight of the world was placed on one woman’s shoulders, and the fate of her people into her hands. Queen Esther was compelled beyond her initial will and comfort zone, to take action with her own strength and ability. She, along with her fellow Jews, wept and fasted. She prayed for days straight. If she approached the king of her own free will, she could never return to her husband Modechai as a wife, according to Torah law. And that is only if the king received her with mercy… It was forbidden to enter the king’s throne room without a summon, and transgressing was suicide. Esther, the ambassador and light of her people, put her very life on the line. The pleas of the people were heeded, in the merit of her mesiras-nefesh (self-sacrifice), and her total dedication of the body… the action of mortal man. Esther has demonstrated for us the crucial value of human effort.
Now, fast-forward to the present…
For a long time, G-d hasn’t asked us to linger in our homes for our enemies to fall, nor hinted to us to venture forth and plead with a ruler for our welfare.
It is a penetrating personal question of mine– “What is the center, the point of balance at which we can fuse the strengths and wills of these great women, mirroring and harmonizing their examples in our everyday lives?” Indeed, where does the submissiveness of Miriam kiss with the boldness of Esther?
A reader might now be furrowing their brow, wondering if the traits I’ve labeled these two women with are quite opposite? Perhaps we are both right, for indeed all the traits and soul-powers are contained within the soul of every single Jew, but specific attributes might manifest themselves more poignantly than others in an individual. However, we are instructed in Likkutei Sichot: “Whatever you find yourself being, be the opposite as well.”
Indeed, this message from Likutei Sichot reminds us that practically all energies and emotions are part and parcel in complete Avodas Hashem. In a certain Maamar it is taught:
‘The mind awakens the heart to its nothingness…’ Generated by the mind, your conscious thought and decision, a wave of humility conquers the human desires of the heart. ‘And by this, the soul G‑d gave you is bared in all its brazen power…’ I make a humble attempt to try to understand this lofty concept: When you put aside the aspect of your being that’s controlled by the heart, which is not only your instincts and natural desires, but also all the negative emotions of anger, disgust, fear, ego, self-doubt, etc., you bring about something profound. Perhaps the Maamar is explaining to us, that when we tell our Nefesh Habaheimos (animal soul) “No” or “You’re not my master!” to its fears and cravings, and force our negative inclinations to the sidelines, then, and only then, is an open path created for our G-dly soul; our neshamos are then allowed to shine forth, make their mark, and fulfill their purpose.
The only reason you exist is because of G-d’s energy He instills within you. And the only reason you can transcend simple existence, and really live with meaning and purpose, is because of the special soul that He breathed into you. But how can a soul, rooted within the highest realms of holiness, just exist to begin with, in a world so opposite to its essence? The soul can accomplish nothing in this world without the vessel that is your body, your “self”.
You are a perfect imperfection of Hashem’s creation. You were made to be a bridge that shatters any logic: You are a fusion of a body made from dust, and a Divine Soul sourced from Above. This is how you can work wonders. This is how you can draw down blessing and miracles. You have the power to elevate all the gashmiyus, the physicality of this world, to the highest levels, recognizing G-d’s purpose to it all, and returning the sparks of holiness to Him. But you also have the power to bring Heaven down to earth. Bridge that you are, you can make this material realm into a chariot and home for Hashem.
Maybe this is where the secret lies, to where Miriam’s submissiveness and Esther’s boldness kiss.
You and G-d, body and soul, Heaven and earth, are partners. You and G-d both share the metaphorical pen, as you co-write your destiny. You both share the wheel of the same ship, but you must learn to recognize when it is time to let Him take over. Quoting a letter to Kfar Chabad:
‘If you want to change anything in this world, you need to know it’s all in your hands.
If the change you want to make is going to be real, you need to know it’s not about you.
It’s about what has to be done.’
And know that Hashem is holding your hand.
Sources (and thank you!) to: R’ Tzvi Freeman’s (of Chabad.org) Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe, including:
- Trust Over Hope
- Be Not That
- Not About You
- Fierce & Humble
- A Time For I