The Menorah on the Roof of My Volvo

Friday, 7 October, 2022 - 2:21 am

At the time, I had an old Volvo station-wagon, to which I attached a large menorah that I had managed to get in Israel and had had transported, with much effort and expense on my part.

It was my second year in Basel, and I saw this menorah as being a significant accomplishment. And so, I parked my Volvo next to the shul and went in to daven Shacharit, happy and excited.

But then, a Jew some thirty years older than me approached me, looking angry, with a readymade speech, which he delivered in direct and rapid German: “I don’t like the menorah on your car. It is not suitable here. I do not think it encourages respect towards Judaism.”

I was rather naïve; I knew that there were those who object to my activities, but I didn’t think that a menorah on a car, emblazoned with “Happy Chanukah” greetings, would create problems.

To tell the truth, the situation was not easy for me. It is no fun to be criticized, certainly not in such a vociferous way, and that after all my efforts. At first, I thought to answer the man with equally vehement words, but Hashem helped me and I stopped, took a deep breath, looked in his eyes and said: “Just look: you oppose it adamantly, and I am fully in favor of it. You don’t like the menorah on the car, and I am very happy and love it. And yet, we are still friends, divided in our opinions, but loving each other in our hearts.”

I still remember the surprised look he gave me. He was ready with a suitable response to the reaction he thought he was going to get, but now he was left open-mouthed. And then, with a broad smile, he said: “I wish you good health, young Rabbi. What is going to be with you? We can’t even fight anymore, like Jews.”

Why am I telling you a Chanukah story on the day before Succot?

Because Succot is the holiday of unity.

The festival of Succot is the festival during which we unite four different – and even diametrically opposed – species and make a blessing on them. Moreover, halachically, we cannot make that blessing without tying all four together.

In three words, all that we are asked is to maintain “Unity, not uniformity.”

We are not required to be uniform; but we are definitely required to live in peace and quiet, in love and interpersonal unity.

Sometimes it seems to me that we are becoming more and more narrow in our opinions, without being able to contain any other opinion or thought, and certainly not a diametrically opposed one. But that is not the truth.

The truth is, that we are much better than that. We can certainly accede to this demand that the holiday of Succot makes of us, and remain friends, in spite of the differences of opinion among us.

This is the time to bring out this light, to enable ourselves to hear a different opinion and to listen to it with love.

Unity, not uniformity.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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