Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A New anagrammatic association for Hannukkah

Hannukah is a playful holiday . While the game of dreidel has become an integral part of its experience  as a playful activity, the occasion has also  elicited a wide array of imaginative word associations that lend broader meanings and interpretations to understanding the holiday’s essential significance.

Examples abound. The word for the heroes of Hannukah,” Maccabbee,” represent an acrostic of the well-known biblical phrase-”Who can be compared to You among the mighty” / “מי כמוכה באלים יהוה” (Exodus 15:11) .The first letters of this phrase form the Hebrew spelling for Maccabbee-: מכבי.

The name of the holiday itself- “Hannukah”(“-חנוכה-”) has been understood as containing two words indicating the date of the event-חנו/”they camped” -on כ”ה-the 25th of the month (Kislev).

Even the number of days of the holiday-eight(-שמונה- ) has had its letters  rearranged to spell other words(-נשמה-) or soul; or a word contained in the Hebrew word for eight spells “ שמן “-(oil), the very substance of the Hannukah narrative.

Perhaps the most popular letters of Hannukkah are those inscribed on the four sides of the dreidel-נ-(nun); ג-(gimel); ה-(hay); ש-(shin). These letters constitute  the beginnings of the phrase “-נס גדול היה שם-” [“ A great miracle happened there (Israel).” ] Furthermore,each letter is the first of yiddish words that indicate the result of each spin of the dreidel. Depending on which side of the dreidel appears when the spinning ends, the participant takes the entire ante-(gimel for “ganz”-all), or nothing, ( nun for “nicht”),or half (hay,”halb”, or add to the ante (shin for “shtel”), put in.

It occurred to me that these letters can spell out a very suggestive word that may bespeak a particular  dimension of the miraculous in Hannukkah and in life in general.
This word ” נגש”, meaning  “to approach, to draw close, to step forward, even to confront,” brings to mind salient instances of our ancestors’ posture  of courage vis a vis God Himself or in the presence of daunting authority  in moments of crisis. Abraham , we are told, stepped forward to argue with God on behalf of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah (Genesis 18: 23). Moses demonstrates boldness as he approaches the thick cloud where God is while the people remain at a distance out of fear. (Exodus 20:18) Curiously, the portion of the Torah read the shabbat after Hannukah begins with the word ”-ויגש-” (“and he drew near”)-referring to Judah’s daring confrontation of Joseph, still disguised as the vizier of Egypt, in order to rescue his brothers from imprisonment, even death.

Thus, the notion of the heroic emerges from the playfulness of Hannukah’s special vocabulary. Indeed, it becomes evident that the essential miracle of Hannukah is reflected in the heroism of the Maccabees, the few against the many, those armed not with the state of the art weaponry of war but with the commitment to a spiritual ideal of one’s right to independence of worship and belief and the exercise of those beliefs in the context of freedom and  human dignity.

There remains one more letter to those on each side of the dreidel-that is the letter “ ה”-” hay. “ It is common knowledge that this letter when accented is an abbreviation for the Name of the Divine.Thus, it elicits associations to the holy, the godly ,that which transcends our more limited perception of reality’s totality.

 One could deduce from the above interpretation that the recognition and awareness of the divine can inspire a spiritual stepping forward and resolute response to the challenges of life in spite of the obstacles necessary to overcome. Perhaps the very willingness to confront life boldly is, in itself, a reaching out to the divine,to the miraculous, to the glowing light of the Hannukah menorah.

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