My inspiration was certainly not humility, a virtue that at the time was in too short a supply with me. But few join Lubavitch because of humility. It wasn't even a love for truth that moved me, although that did figure as well. Rather it was my sense of ambition that made me join Lubavitch. There can be no question in my mind that many others joined Lubavitch for the same reason. If you wanted to translate the eternal human dream of a perfect world into reality, only one man spoke of it seriously: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Rebbe was a colossus, a giant among men. He appealed both to the pious as well as the powerful, people whose desire for success was as great as that of any Harvard Business School graduate. Instead of following other opportunities, these motivated men and women chose to follow the Rebbe. They understood that the Rebbe provided a framework within which to maximize their fullest potential, while simultaneously allowing others to benefit from it.
When I first saw the Rebbe, I was ten years old. What I remember most was the holes in his shoes. That the world's most famous rabbi and leader of hundreds of thousands could have holes in his shoes both surprised and delighted me. I realized that his position didn't go to his head--he could remain humble amidst awesome power and influence. He was utterly selfless and had the spiritual capacity to put himself in other people's predicaments and experience their pains and their joys.
He said to me, "You are currently embarking on your journey into adult life. You are too young to give up on yourself so soon, and you have many great things which you must accomplish." He then said words that I shall never forget: "I give you a blessing for your Bar Mitzvah, that you will grow to be a source of inspiration, joy, and nachas for your family, your school, and for the entire Jewish people." It was clear to me that it was of deep concern to him whether or not I did something with my life to aid humanity. Listening to him, I began to believe that I was capable of doing so, and that my life was not arbitrary. I came out of that office feeling that I had been put on this earth to achieve great things and that if I failed to do so there would be no excuses, for everything was in my power.
It was this capacity to look into the individual, assess the needs, and give comfort to each according to his own station that attracted so many to the Rebbe. In him, people sensed a safe haven, for he accepted each person as he was without judgment or condescension. He did not chide his followers for failing to conform to one mold, but rather accounted each man for his individual merits. I witnessed one of the most remarkable examples of this capacity when I went to visit the Rebbe with a friend who had left Lubavitch several years earlier.