It’s not often that you read a book and as you’re going through it, you say to yourself, “I should write about this topic, too.” Apart of the excellent and inspirational writing style (which is a given with author Joseph Telushkin), the “Rebbe” book shared so many outstanding characteristics of one of the world’s greatest leaders, that I started taking notes so that I could write some articles on leadership. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was not only a leader of the Jewish world, but presidents and prime ministers, business leaders, and people of all faiths sought his counsel and followed his ideas.
Each chapter of the book highlights specific leadership traits of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and illustrates them with intimate details of personal stories. There’s no better way to learn ideas of leadership than to watch a master in action. The Rebbe’s hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of admirers will benefit from stories such as when the Rebbe stopped being able to see visitors for one-on-one meetings, he refused to see anyone on the grounds that he did not want to insult anyone's feelings. The governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, asked to meet the Rebbe, but was told, “I am bound by [a] basic tenet of our Torah which requires us to be extra careful in showing respect to all, including those who are less privileged in terms of stature and the like, and they would be embarrassed if they had the feeling that they have been discriminated against.” His thoughtfulness for each individual is highlighted in many stories in the book. But the Rebbe could also see the big picture and consult with, for example, military leaders about war strategies, community leaders about bringing morality back to schools, and with all that, his attention to detail was unparalleled.
The Rebbe exuded optimism as well, even in his language. He explained, “I have stopped using the word “deadline,” substituting instead “due date,” the first term—which is so widely used—connoting the end of life and the second, life’s beginning.”
The Rebbe’s respect for his own teachers also shows an amazing sense of humility. He often quoted his father-in-law, the previous leader of Chabad, as saying, “When two people meet, it should bring benefit to a third.” Imagine if more people had that outlook on life!
I am happy that over twenty-five years ago my college Chabad rabbi insisted that I drive to Brooklyn to meet the Rebbe and get a dollar, which was a gift the Rebbe gave to people to encourage them to give charity.
Telushkin’s book will be a wise addition to anyone’s reading list.