The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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The Existential Dreidel

Heh is Hiyuli, primordial; Nun is Nivdal, the transcendental; Gimel is Galgal, the celestial; Shin is Shafal, the physical.

from Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom (Sichot Haran), sec. 40

A Rotating Wheel

The world is a rotating wheel. It is like a dreidel, where everything goes in cycles. Human becomes angel, and angel becomes human. Head becomes foot and foot becomes head. Everything goes in cycles, revolving and alternating. All things interchange, one from another and one to another, elevating the low and lowering the high.

All things have one root. There are transcendental beings, such as angels, which have no connection with the material. There is the celestial world, whose essence is very tenuous. Finally, there is the world below, which is completely physical. All three come from different realms but all have the same root.

All creation is like a rotating wheel, revolving and oscillating. At one time something can be on top like a head with another on the bottom like a foot. Then the situation is reversed. Head becomes foot and foot becomes head. Man becomes angel and angel becomes man...

For the world is like a rotating wheel. It spins like a dreidel, with all things emanating from one root.

(The feet of some are also higher than the heads of others. For in the transcendental worlds, the lowest level of an upper world is higher than the highest level of a lower one. And still, everything revolves in cycles.)

The Temple: Highest Below and Lowest Above.

Chanukah means dedication. This is the dedication of the Holy Temple, "the highest below and the lowest above." This revolving wheel is the dreidel. That is why we play with a dreidel on Chanukah.

The primary concept of the Temple is the revolving wheel. The Temple was in the category of "the highest below and the lowest above". God lowered His presence into the Temple and this is "the highest below". The Temple's pattern was engraved on high: "the lowest above". The Temple is therefore like a dreidel, a rotating wheel, where everything revolves and is reversed.

The Temple refutes philosophical logic. God is above every transcendental concept, and it is beyond all logic that God should constrict God's self into the vessels of the Temple. "Behold the heaven and the heaven of heaven cannot contain You, how much less this Temple!" (I Kings 8:27).

(Philosophy cannot explain how humanity can have any influence on high. It cannot say how a mere animal can be sacrificed and rise as a sweet savor giving pleasure to God. They [theologians] explain that this pleasure is the fulfillment of God's will, but how can we even apply the concept of desire to God?)

But God placed God's presence in the Temple and accepts the animal as a sweet savor. God made the fact contradict philosophical logic. Such logic is crushed by the dreidel, the rotating wheel which brings the "highest below and the lowest above".

One Root to All Things

Between potential and existence stands the power of hyle [primordial matter from which the world was created]. The three categories of creation—transcendental, celestial, physical—all come from this one root. As they interchange, they all revolve around this root.

The letters on the dreidel are Heh, Nun, Gimel, Shin.

Heh is Hiyuli, primordial [from the Greek word hyle].
Nun is Nivdal, the transcendental [from the word for separation].
Gimel is Galgal, the celestial [from the word for sphere].
Shin is Shafal, the physical [from the word for fallen].

The dreidel thus includes all creation. It goes in cycles, alternating and revolving, one thing becoming another.

Redemption Is a Wheel

Redemption is also an alternating cycle. Like in the Temple, the highest are below and the lowest above. Redemption was for the sake of the Temple, the revolving wheel. For when the highest are below and the lowest above, it shows that all things have one root.

This is the aspect of the verse, "You redeemed the tribe of Your inheritance, Mount Zion." This is [again] the meaning of the letters on the dreidel. They are the first letters of the verse: Go'alto Shevet Nachalatekha Har Tziyon.

It is the aspect of the Holy Temple [on Mount Zion, Har Tziyon], symbolizing the revolving wheel which is the main concept of redemption.

There are not too many theological interpretations of dreidel-spinning. Rebbe Nachman's is wonderful for many reasons. Among them is his holism, his special way of talking about the unity of creation. Another is the close but complex relationship between his ideas about the wheel, reincarnation and Buddhism, whose symbol is the wheel. Other Eastern traditions also feel resonant with these teachings.

Rebbe Nachman's words, as they have been written down, are quite repetitive. Every time I teach this text, people remark on how the form of the text fits perfectly with the message, spinning around itself and coming back again and again to the same points.

For a very different interpretation of why we spin the dreidel, go here. The translation is based on the English edition of Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom with small changes.   ~Reb Duvid


Very good translation! Yeyasher Ko'ach

Posted by: moshe aharon at December 11, 2007 5:20 PM


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