Joseph Telushkin is an American rabbi, lecturer and best-selling author. He is noted as one of the most prolific and respected interpreters of Judaism in the United States. His more than 15 books include several volumes about Jewish ethics and Jewish literacy. His latest book, “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History,” appeared on all the major best-seller lists, including the New York Times.
I was given the fortunate opportunity to listen to Rabbi Telushkin speak to a sold-out crowd of over 500 people in the Myers Theater at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County. Let me know tell you, my hand hurt from writing all the little pearls of wisdom this man had to impart. President John F. Kennedy once quoted a Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The Rebbe intuited and taught that the Jewish journey could start with a single mitzvah.
Here are just a few lessons the Rebbe taught Rabbi Telushkin…
1 Have a great love of others and yourself: an unconditional, non-judgmental love.
2 Don’t be self-righteous.
3 How do you create leaders? By empowering them: “A good leader creates followers; a great leader creates leaders.”
4 Do not say you “found yourself in this situation”: you placed yourself in this situation. If you realize that you cause the problem, you can then solve the problem.
5 Anything worth doing is worth doing well: shift that to “Anything worth doing is worth doing now.”
Rabbi Telushkin told us the story of Rabbi Weinrib from Maryland. Rabbi Weinrib was attending one of the Rebbe’s services, and when asked to say his name and where he was from from, Weinrib was too nervous and shy to say his name. He simply said, “I’m from Maryland; who should I consult with?” The Rebbe said, “I am supposed to tell anyone from Maryland to consult with a Rabbi Weinrib.” The Rabbi proclaimed, “I’m Rabbi Weinrib!” The Rebbe then said, “Well then, you should consult with yourself.” Such a simple suggestion changed Weinrib’s life forever: from that moment on, instead of seeking approval or asking questions of others all the time, he simply searched within himself. He consulted with his own heart—something we tend to forget in our hectic lives.
Something else that particularly spoke to me was that the Rebbe challenged the idea of a person having “no Jewish background;” he argued that these people had the background of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” So if you’re ever feeling your “background” is insufficient when it comes to the holidays, the traditions, the recipes, and the rules—and let’s face it, Judaism can be a bit intimidating—just remember that according to the Rebbe, not to mention the most influential Rabbi in modern history, we all have the same Jewish background.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of the Jewish Federation & Family Services.