It was my first public speech

Friday, 23 December, 2022 - 3:08 am

It was my first public speech. I was a young man, and I still remember my voice – and my body – shaking. It was on Chanukah, and the city was “apportioned out” to the students of the Chabad Yeshiva in Jerusalem – in other words, it was decided who will bring the Chanuka lights to which section of the city. My friend and I were given the Malcha Mall, which had opened only a short time before this. I still remember the excitement involved in speaking with the mall’s officials to ask them to authorize (and pay for…) the lighting of a large menorah in the mall. I am still moved when I remember the surprise of how swiftly and warmly the owners of various businesses in the mall joined in the effort so that the party would be successful: one supplied the PA system, one paid for the large menorah, and the Ne’eman bakery donated the traditional doughnuts. 

While I was busy with the final arrangements, the manager of the mall thrust a microphone into my hand and said, “Chabadnik, get on the stage and say some Dvar Torah (Torah message) or something.” When I got on the stage, I saw dozens of people, and, of course, children, and I got really scared. I lifted up my eyes to heaven in order to gather my wits together, and discovered that on the floors above people were leaning over the bannisters, waiting to hear what I would say. And then, in the following order, my knees went weak, my mouth became dry and my voice – shaky. But Hashem, with His great power, opened my mouth and I said: “Rabotai, look at the menorah. It has one solid, broad base and from that base come its different branches. Why does the menorah have separate branches? Because the menorah symbolizes the Jewish People. 

We have different ways to serve Hashem, different traditions that developed in each exile and even different songs. But all the branches – all of them – are connected to each other, and are really standing on one solid base, and that is our being one people, with one Torah and one G-d.”

Several years have passed since then. I know the beauty of this nation much better than I knew it then. I have learned to know and appreciate so many interesting and exciting customs and traditions, things that people do today exactly the way their forefathers did for generations. I have also seen people accept upon themselves lovingly new customs that they saw by the Rabbis from whom they had learned Torah and Fear of G-d. 

About two thousand years ago we were scattered among the nations. We barely met each other during all those years, and when we did meet in the Holy Land, we found that the gefilte fish and the chreime differed greatly in their shape, consistency, color and especially flavor. But they are all connected to a single solid base, because both of them are an outcome of the verse “Remember the day of the Shabbat to sanctify it.” We celebrate Seder night with different matzahs, different Carpas, depending on the origins of the family. Even the Marror is not the same. But all of us – from Tzan’a in Yemen to Babruisk in Belarus – observed in our own way the mitzvah of “You shall tell your son”, which is written upon the solid base under our menorah’s branches.

One more thing: For all of us, our central goal, privilege and obligation is to illuminate the world with the light of goodness and loving kindness, love and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Chodesh Tov,

Chanukah Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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