In 2012 I was included on the South Florida Business Journals list of 20 under 40. As part of the process I was asked a bunch of questions, one being who my biggest mentor was. My answer was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Schneerson’s impact on my life has been constant since the day I was born. I’ve tried to apply the lessons I learned by watching him in my day-to-day life and as an entrepreneur.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Rebbe, was born in the Ukraine in 1902 and came to America in 1941. In 1951, one year after the passing of his father in law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson took leadership of the Lubavitch movement, becoming the seventh and final Rebbe. Today you can find thousands of his “Shluchim” (Emissaries) living in all corners of the world, spreading his message and keeping his legacy alive.
This weekend is the 32nd annual convention of Chabad Lubavitch emissaries. The convention is held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Chabad capital of the world. There, thousands of the Rebbe’s emissaries gather each November to gain inspiration from one another and discuss how they can continue to change the world for the better. It is somewhat like a corporate retreat, where thousands of rabbis leave their families and communities for one weekend each year to flock to Brooklyn, where they attend breakout sessions given by experts in topics like social media, fundraising, leadership skills and more. Like any good corporate get-together, the weekend ends tonight with a grand gala dinner. I have attended this dinner many times over the past ten years, and tonight I will attend as a guest and supporter of Chabad institutions. Each year, I am more impressed and inspired by the way this movement continues to grow.
The Rebbe was not your traditional Rabbi. This short article can never do justice to the Rebbe’s brilliant mind, and to what he meant for the millions of people who came to visit him, but I will try to give my readers a taste of who the Rebbe was to me, and to share some of the leadership skills I learned from him – skills I believe any entrepreneur can benefit from.
Besides being a Rabbi and knowledgeable in all aspects of Judaism and Jewish law, the Rebbe had a brilliant business mind, and he advised thousands of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, in business matters they brought to him. Not only did the Rebbe advise businessmen and women, he advised government and political leaders as well. The Rebbe launched and scaled his own “business” and brand, known as Chabad, a brand that is growing in popularity.
One of the Rebbe’s central messages was that anyone should be a leader, because each person can choose to be an example to the people around them, leading others to their best path in life. The Rebbe passed this message down to his emissaries, making them understand that everyone needed to be a leader to do what it took to get the job done: bringing Jews closer to Judaism.
Because he knew he could never accomplish his passion of spreading his message to Jews all over the world on his own, the Rebbe was the ultimate entrepreneur. He expanded his father-in-law’s work by sending emissaries all over the world. Today there are over 5,000 Chabad “Shluchim” operating “Chabad Houses” all over the world, with almost 3,000 new Chabad centers opened in the past 20 years. These emissaries are all leaders and more importantly, entrepreneurs. They each run daily programs, pre-schools, Friday night dinners, Passover Seders and more, while figuring out how they will bring in the money needed to keep the lights on and make payroll each week. Like most entrepreneurs, Chabad Shluchim must chart new territory and use their own creativity to expand their offerings. These entrepreneurs have the added burden of living in places unfamiliar to them, with little or no family or friends around. Yet they are thriving and finding a way, day in and day out, to keep their “startups” alive and growing.
The Rebbe accomplished his goal of creating thousands of new leaders by leading by example and by providing the tools necessary for a bright future. The Rebbe was a pioneer in communicating his message via the latest technologies. In 1988, before most of society was aware of the unfolding communication revolution that became the Internet, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement began using online discussion networks to bring Judaism to tens of thousands of Jews around the world. Today thousands of Shluchim around the world are continuing their leader’s legacy by using Social Media to spread their message. I have many friends that are Shluchim who began using social media before it was popular to bring awareness to their organizations and communities. The Rebbe’s example of using new technology to spread the message has flowed down to his followers, creating a ripple effect that has continued to today.
Being Constantly Engaged
The Rebbe believed that one must always strive for the best and never settle. If something is worth doing, do it now. Action speaks louder than words, and most importantly: there is never time for rest or vacation. Once the Rebbe took on the leadership of the Chabad movement, he never left New York. He didn’t travel to Miami for the winter, nor to Boston or Washington, D.C. for a conference; and yes, he never went to Israel. The Rebbe had a mission and there was never one moment when he wasn’t fully engaged in it.
In the book, “The Secret of Chabad”, author Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie tells a story of a successful businessman named George Rohr. Mr. Rohr explains that the reason why he “invested” so much more of his money in Chabad houses compared to other Jewish causes and organizations is because Shluchim have so much skin in the game. Unlike other organizations, these emissaries are completely dedicated to their movement – failure is never an option. Shluchim witnessed their leader, the Rebbe, completely devote himself to his cause, and his leadership by example radiated to them, making a major impact on how they build and run their own organizations.
Ask any new entrepreneur what they’d want if given one wish and they will likely answer “a way to clone myself,” because no one will ever be as passionate about a business as the founder. The Rebbe did just that: he created 5,000 clones of himself, with just as much passion and dedication, to help take his “business” to the next level and assure it will live on forever. The Rebbe is the ultimate entrepreneur.