What a US President says in his inaugural speech very often sets the tone for his presidency. The only way to know for sure if his inaugural address will inspire; to know if he will keep his promises and commitments is to look in retrospect once a little time has passed.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the inaugural address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. But this was a most unusual candidate, in that he had no desire at all to be elected to the office of Rebbe. While candidates usually run for the position, this candidate had been running from the position.
But this night, after a full year of refusing the title, the Rebbe relented. And the words the Rebbe spoke that night was clearly a historical inauguration address.
There were no dazzling campaign promises, no melodramatic oaths of office. There was no soaring rhetoric and no thundering theatrics.
70 years later we look back and realize, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that the Rebbe went on to live and breathe every word spoken that night.
The Rebbe’s words about unconditional love became the global network of Chabad Houses, offering just that to literally every Jew on earth. The Rebbe’s words about giving it your all and not being afraid of hard work came to life in the Rebbe’s subsequent 44 years of tireless work without a single day off. Not a single day. The Rebbe’s words about the eternity of a saintly life have become tangible today as the number of his Chasidim and adherents has grown steadily since the day of his passing over 25 years ago.
The scope of the Rebbe’s accomplishments is staggering enough. But what isn’t as well known or appreciated is that the Rebbe’s words never outdid his actions. Every word he said became a tangible reality. And if he didn’t see it becoming a reality, he didn’t say it. The Rebbe wasn’t an orator, interested in inspiring others to do what he wouldn’t, G-d forbid. The Rebbe also wasn’t a dreamer, simply thinking aloud of grand hopes in the hope that someone, someday, somewhere, would make them true. He never spoke of ideas; he spoke of plans.
Many a Chasid of those early days has confessed to suspecting the Rebbe of dreaming aloud. When the Rebbe spoke about scattering out from Brooklyn to the four corners of the world to reach every Jew, they thought the Rebbe might be trying to stir up the injured imaginations of a room-full of survivors. Surely, though, he didn’t mean it as a plan; only a dream. Something to the effect of, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could share our spiritual wealth with the entire Jewish People? Oh well, let’s at least try to get a Minyan for Kaddish.” Next thing they knew the Rebbe was looking for a volunteer to move out to Casablanca. And then Milan. And then they realized the Rebbe wasn’t content with dreams – he wanted plans.
The Rebbe’s inaugural speech was pure gold because it served – and continues to serve – as the cornerstone for decades of energetic and world-changing action. A few hours worth of words in the winter of 1950 echoed and resounded and changed the lives of people all over the world – Jewish and beyond – with the sheer force of their sincerity.
So in the style of the Rebbe, let’s make ourselves a pledge to turn our pledges into plans and our words into world-changing deeds.
Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming and Rabbi Friedman