Chanukah: Torah and Play Do Go Together

By David Feiner

One of the more interesting and different stories related to Chanukah are those surrounding Dreidels. According to many traditional accounts, the Dreidel was used as ruse to cover up the studying of Torah when Greek soldiers would come upon groups of children with their teachers. Rather than observing Torah study, they would see a bunch of children playing with a top.

While the stories surrounding Dreidels are amusing and cute, there is a serious, yet ironic lesson that can be learned from them. The irony comes from the fact that the Greeks attempted to do away with Judaism and the study of Torah and the fact that Chanukah is generally considered to be a time when extra Torah study is encouraged and may even be considered a second Matan Torah similar to that stated by the commentaries on Megillat Esther.

However, consider the following:
There is considerable focus on succeeding in Torah learning. This pressure is mostly felt by children, who are expected to be studying all the time. In fact, several Rabbonim have said (or in some cases, had proclamations attributed to them) that it is better for children to study Torah all the time and have no time for play or to rest than to have a vacation and risk having someone go OTD. However, one could learn the exact opposite from this part of the Chanukah story – that in fact one should take breaks from learning. This is especially so since study of Torah never ceased and one could argue that the study was even more intense in the years that followed.

In addition to this, many people are shamed of their hobbies and distractions. Ba’alei Teshuva as well as FFBs are subjected to this and as a result many have feelings of guilt when it comes to taking time from learning and using it for something different, such as vacation. With this pressure and guilt, it is nearly impossible to succeed in learning on any level.

Therefore one can learn the following lesson: It is true that Torah is our life-blood and we are expected to study whenever possible, as the verse in Yehoshua states. One should absolutely be Kovea Itim. However, it is necessary to take time and relax and if necessary, do something completely unrelated to the study of Torah such as playing baseball. While it is true that the playing with the Dreidel was in a life-threatening situation, it could also be said that non-stop Torah study with no breaks can also cause a similar situation, except that the individual becomes burnt-out and loses interest.

The time will be considered well used since upon returning from a break, the mind is refreshed and can process information better, which means that learning Seder will be more productive. Consequently, this year, let us take a lesson and study Torah as best we can, but also take the time to relax when necessary.

2 comments on “Chanukah: Torah and Play Do Go Together

  1. As a teacher, I can attest that most students at most ages need play and breaks and a variety of activities. I even play grammar games with my adult students!

  2. My youngest son was diagnosed as borderline ADD. What that meant in a practical sense was that he had trouble sitting and learning all day long without a break (you might also call it a lack of “zitzfleish”).

    My husband advised him if needed to find a physical outlet such as basketball or even just running around the block.

    The yeshiva was fortunately very perceptive about his need to take an occasional break. Once one of the rebbis found him in the side room grabbing a coffee. Instead of lecturing him, they realized he needed the caffeine to stay awake and stay focused.

    Lomdim need to spend their bein hazmanim time creatively so that they can come back for the new zman refreshed and recharged.

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