Groggy!

A grogger isn't the feeling in your head the day after a successful Purim.

A grogger (or gregger, or gragger) is Yiddish for a rattle of the type favored by soccer supporters.

The grogger, however, has a more holy role in life: on Purim, it makes a star appearance at the reading of the Megilla. There is a universal (and frequently uncontrollable) custom that whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the Megilla a barrage of noise is created to symbolically "erase the name of Amalek (Haman's progenitor)." The grogger is the favored instrument in this endeavor.

Nothing in Judaism is mere decoration. The most seemingly simple Jewish custom contains layers beneath layers of meaning. What is the deeper message of the grogger?


On Chanuka, another children's toy finds a holy usage - the dreidel or spinning top.

If you compare the grogge to the dreidel, there's an interesting similarity and an obvious difference. They share the similarity that they both have to be spun. However, the dreidel is spun from above whereas the grogger is spun from beneath.

What lies behind this similarity and this difference?


In the long winter march between the two great Torah festivals of Sukkot and Pesach, our spiritual masters fixed twin beacons of light, two refueling stations, along the way. They are called Chanuka and Purim.

In the long winter march of history, the image of man - who he is and what is his purpose - has been distorted. One distortion claims, "Man is everything." The other claims, "Man is nothing." Chanuka and Purim are Judaism's antidote to these two distortions of the image of man.


Chanuka is the response to a mind-set that views man as everything. The Greeks saw man as god. Their gods were, by and large, human in form and temperament. Moreover, their weltanschauung mandated that which is beyond the mind of man cannot, by definition, exist. To the Greek, the mind of man defines and encircles existence. From where does this mind-set originate?

Noach had three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yafet. Cham means "hot" in Hebrew. Cham's worldview says, "The world is what I can feel." The world of Cham is circumscribed by emotion, by feeling. Beyond that is nonexistence. Noach's eldest son was Yafet. The word yafet comes from the same root in Hebrew as the word for "beauty." Yavan, the first Greek, was the grandson of Yafet. The Greek worldview says, "The world is what I can know." The Greek gifts such as Intellect, Art, and Science circumscribe existence within the skull of man. To the Greek mind, what I can't dissect on the table of science doesn't exist.

The Jews are the descendents of Shem.

Shem means "name." The Jewish view of the world is that we can know something of existence. We can give things names. But these names do not bound reality. The Jew says, "The world is more than I can know."


Chanuka is the antidote to the idea that "man is everything." Chanuka stands against the Greek view of man as the definer of existence. The story of Chanuka is a story of miracles, of intervention from Above: an impossible military victory over the Seleucid Greeks who ruled the world; a small flask of uncontaminated oil that burned miraculously for eight days. In the miracles of Chanuka we see that man does not define reality. Man is not everything. The world does not turn around and inside the mind of man. For there is a Hand that comes from Above. Just as the dreidel is spun by a hand that comes from above.


At the other end of this dark rainbow lies a worldview equally pernicious and more easily recognized:

"It is true we are barbarians. It is an honorable title... I free humanity from the shackles of the soul, from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and morality...

"The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind - circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul. These are Jewish inventions.

"The war for world domination will be entirely between us - the Germans and the Jews. All else is façade and illusion..." (A. H.).

Behind the great evil of the Nazis, there lies a world picture. A view of the world in which man is a barbarian and proud of it. Domination, ruthlessness, and efficiency pulverize compassion, conscience, sympathy, and morality. How else could they kill more than two million Jewish children?

In spite of their appalling success, the Nazis were not a new phenomenon. We can trace their line back for close to 4,000 years.


God created the world as a place of opposites. Of light and dark. Good and evil. Thesis and antithesis.

The three fathers of the Jewish people each embody a fundamental aspect of the image of man. The second of the three fathers was Yitzchak. Yitzchak was the embodiment of gevura, self-abnegation. Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov took his father's spiritual inheritance and exalted it. Esav took it and distorted it. Esav's distortion of his father's gevura reasons thus: "Self-abnegation means that I'm nothing. If I'm nothing, you're nothing, too. If you're nothing, then I can kill you."

"It is true we are barbarians. It is an honorable title... I free humanity from the shackles of the soul, from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and morality..."

Esav's great-grandson was Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people who attacked them mercilessly after the Exodus from Egypt. From Amalek came Haman and Hitler. In every generation Amalek tries to annihilate the Jewish people, be it in Shushan or Berlin. Throughout history Amalek is always recognizable by his illogical and implacable hate of Jews and Judaism.


Purim is the antidote to the worldview that "man is nothing."

There are two ways to read the Megilla. We could read it as a remarkable series of coincidences, which is the way Haman would read it. Or we could see that everything in the Megilla points to a Hidden Hand at work in history.

The Megilla is unique in the canon of Scripture. It contains not even one mention of God. The very name Megilla comes from the word "to reveal" - l'galot. Esther is connected to the word hastir, "hide." Megillat Esther means "to reveal the hidden."

When we assemble reality and reveal the Hand of God, we are reaching up to Him. That's the symbolism of the hand that reaches upward to make the world turn.

On Purim, we pick up our groggers and raise them skyward. We show that man is not nothing. Man is not merely a better breed of animal, a super-ape devoid of moral responsibility. Conscience and morality are not shackles that bind the soul of man. They are his very essence. Man can, and must, reach for the sky.

For man is a partner in making the world turn.







More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.