A 10-year-old local girl won a national essay contest, "What Chanukah Means to Me," earning her the right to read her piece at the Chabad-sponsored menorah lighting ceremony at the White House on Dec. 20. The essay of Dahbra Erlbaum, the daughter of Marc and Leiba Erlbaum, is below:
When something in your life goes wrong, how do you feel about it? Some people feel frightened and discouraged, as if their life is ruined and going to stay that way. The Chanukah dreidel teaches us otherwise.
The dreidel is made up of four sides. On each side is a Hebrew letter. On the first side is the letter gimmel. If a player lands on this letter, he or she wins the whole pile of coins. Then there is the letter nun. If one lands on this letter, he or she doesn't get any of the coins. If you land on the letter hey, you win half the pile. If you land on the letter shin, you lose some of your coins. The dreidel game represents the "ups and downs" in our lives.
Some days are gimmel days, when everything goes just how we want it — we're given a big pile of coins! Other days are hey days when things are going fairly well — we're given half a pile. Then we have our nun and shin days when things are not going our way, we might even be losing our coins. What we must remember is that the dreidel keeps spinning. On the other side of the nun is always a gimmel.
The letters on the dreidel symbolize "Neis gadol hayah sham," which means "a great miracle happened there." This phrase refers to the miracle of Chanukah. The battle against the Greek empire seems impossible to win,which made it seem like a shin day.
The Maccabees didn't give up. They thought about the gimmel on the other side of the shin. Their faith cleared a path for G-d's miracle. This shows us that wherever we are in life it's part of G-d's dreidel. Miracles happen every day around us. We can always turn a nun into a gimmel.
There is one other idea. If you add up the gematria (numerical value) of the four letters of the dreidel, you get 358. Nun equals 50, gimmel equals 3, hey equals 5, shin equals 300. The gematria of mashiach (the messiah) also equals 358. Mem equals 50, shin equals 500, yud equals 10, ches equals 8. Mashiach will teach us how to see the hashgacha protis in everyone's life when the nun will be turned into the gimmel.
On Chanukah we are reminded that the dreidel isn't just a toy we play with, it's a way of looking at life.