Wednesday, 12 May 2010
With Sefirat HaOmer well into its final days, we read Parshat Bamidbar. It seems like it's all about counting! Whether it's the Jews who are counting, or being counted, it seems that there is a value in each count that is made.
But who cares?! Who really cares?! With over 600 000 Jews being counted, does it make a difference? 600 000 – excluding women, children and those under 20 and over 60 years of age. In total – more than three million would be the more accurate figure. But with such figures, does it really count that anyone is a "someone"?!
It is well known that on Sunday mornings the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to distribute dollars to be given to charity. Thousands of Jews would line up each Sunday for the chance to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe. On one occasion, an older lady who had been waiting a long time blurted out to the Rebbe that she marvelled at how he could stand for so many hours on his feet dispensing the dollars, as she was totally exhausted from her wait! (The Rebbe began giving dollars at the age of 84!)
Replied the Rebbe, "When you are counting diamonds, you don't get tired." For the Rebbe, every Jew was a diamond.
Another story was related by Mr. George Rohr at a convention for the Rebbe's emissaries in 5757.
Mr. Rohr related how, as a member of the Machne Israel Special Development Fund - a special fund established to build new Chabad centers around the world, he had the privilege to meet the Rebbe on one occasion just after Rosh Hashanah. Mr. Rohr thought that instead of asking the Rebbe for something, he would give the Rebbe a present of his own. A short time before Rosh Hashanah, he had been instrumental in setting up a beginners' service at his shul in Manhattan. On Rosh Hashanah, 120 Jews attended this new service. Mr. Rohr decided to announce this to the Rebbe and was sure the Rebbe would receive much nachas from this good news. When his turn to meet the Rebbe arrived, he confidently strode up to the Rebbe and shared with him his good news:
"Thank G-d, this Rosh Hashanah we set up a beginners' service in our shul and had 120 Jews with no Jewish background participate!" Until that point the Rebbe had a broad smile on his face, but when Mr. Rohr told him the news the Rebbe's face dropped, and Mr. Rohr searched his words for anything he may have said that had upset the Rebbe.
"What?" said the Rebbe. Mr. Rohr repeated, "...120 Jews with no Jewish background." "No Jewish background?" asked the Rebbe. "Go and tell those Jews that they are all children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov."
Now Mr. Rohr understood. The Rebbe objected to these Jews, his children, being described as having no Jewish background. The Rebbe pointed out that every Jew has a Jewish background, a great, illustrious background - they are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov! Every Jew counts.
When it comes to understanding the true wealth – the true greatness of a Jewish soul, it takes a true "diamond dealer" to know just why it is that every single one counts, and each is as great and special as the next. The essence of a Jewish soul is a spark of G-dliness. There is no tangible physical value to that, only that it a necessary part of creation. It counts…
Imagine now the difference this would make in our lives, were we to consider that each interaction with another was as important to us – as it is important to G-d?! Instead of the constant criticism, the attacks, the insults and disregard for the other, we would actually come to acknowledge them for the greatness inside them. The real diamond dealer knows well that though a rock may look like a piece of coal, buried underneath that black coating lies the diamond of inestimable wealth!
But most of us think this way in any case – right?!
If you knew that a great musician was playing at a huge hall where thousands would attend, tickets cost $100 each, and he'd be using his $3.5 million violin to play on – would you feel honoured to attend? Would you show the musician some sort of respect, possibly even speak about the "show" for weeks on end? Would you feel privileged to receive an autograph of the musician? Amazingly, most people would feel and answer in the positive about all the above.
But what about if you didn't know who that same musician was and bumped into him at some place not quite as fancy as a prepared hall for thousands of visitors? What about if he were wearing some torn jeans instead and a baseball hat instead of his five thousand dollar tuxedo? What if you heard him playing dressed that way with the same violin used at his concert? What if you heard him playing – as he begged for money?! Would you feel honoured to give him now? Would you feel as if it were you doing him the favour more than he was doing it for you? Would you even want to listen to what he had to play?!
Many would answer that they would treat everyone with the same respect – especially if they could really see the talent. But words are far easier to work with than action. When I heard about this story (two years later!) related below, I was amazed at the results. Though amazed, it did not surprise me. We tend to give honour only to those who we believe deserve our respect. Apparently, they must dress a certain way, be in a certain place and charge a certain amount before we'll show them any respect. But the true person of goodness and honesty learns to value everyone for the great soul that they are. This is the difference between the average person and the one who learns to see the value of everyone in the world – a person who the Torah might refer to as someone whose inside is like his outside. He does not show his behaviour falsely in one scenario and then in another let his true colours shine out. Instead he behaves in the same way with all – because he sees the beauty of everything as it should be.
There really is no difference between a person who seems covered up in mud – before and after the shower – except that in the one case, his appearance looks shabby. But inside, the same person exists. G-d knows that, the Rebbe knew it too. Diamonds are diamonds whether covered up or not. One needs to be sensitive enough to wake up and realise what lies in front of us every day of our lives as we show respect to each person who comes in to it. When will we learn?!
Joshua Bell – a leading and outstanding world class violinist had just played his $3.5 million violin at a concert. Tickets cost $100 each. The hall was full. The silence - a pin dropping on the floor could be heard next to the beautiful melodies – some of the most difficult pieces – being played. The night was a success! One can only imagine the honour and respect given to Joshua as he ended his performance that night!
The Washington Post decided to do a test with people just a couple of days later… Joshua was dressed like an ordinary citizen with a cap on his head. He would be stationed at the subway playing his $3.5 million violin (the one he had just used). He would be playing the exact same pieces he had played that night. Only, this time, he would open his violin case in front of him in the hope of attracting "customers" to part with their hard earned money so that he could make a living. He would take upon himself the role of "beggar" – though he'd be working very hard for his money by playing his violin.
We all know how bothersome it can be to have to walk down a street listening to some beggar playing pathetically because he cannot do anything more with his life than beg for money – right?! How many of us choose to walk by with our noses in the air – what an unfortunate wreck! How ever did he manage to get himself into such a mess of life as to having to resort to begging for money? And on top of this, he has the nerve to attempt to do something by playing an instrument to show his "readiness" to work for his money. How many of us actually give?! How many of us actually care?! Do we even ever listen to the beautiful melody that the musician might play?! Could we ever imagine that he might even be an expert? Hidden underneath those torn clothes lies the potential for greatness! Perhaps he already is great! He certainly knows – he is!
We might have imagined the average person to have parted with large summons of money as they heard this expert playing his violin so perfectly. After all, just some time earlier he had played for a very large audience who paid $100 per ticket – each!
Ironically, Joshua earned just over $30 for those 45 minutes of play. Only 6 people had actually taken the time to listen, and some 20 odd actually gave. Just one woman actually recognised him as being the musician from the concert a few days before (who could not work out how he had ended up on the street!)
How many of us do this to ourselves every day? Each day presents itself with the opportunity to take the time out and see the greatness of every single person. Are we prepared to listen?! Are we prepared to open our eyes?! Or will we still walk past the beggar with feelings of arrogance at our own success – and his pitiful state – for not being an anything in the world?! Will we even walk past those "closest" to ourselves thinking nothing more of them and incompetent at everything they do?! What of "friends" who just can't seem to ever make a "success" of their lives? Will we continue to disregard what might actually be hidden inside themselves? What actually is hidden inside themselves!
G-d knows well the value of a person – because as we see in our Parsha, He counts each Jew. Each has value – even if nobody else can see it. Each will show their value one day. It's really up to us to be the ones to begin the process of seeing things now – while we have the chance – before it is too late – for us all! And so too, the Rebbe would see the value of every single person that passed by. It was not a waste of his time. Because when one is a diamond dealer of souls… an expert… then one never gets tired counting diamonds.
For a full description of this amazing story of Joshua Bell, see Famous Violinist Joshua Bell Plays at a Metro Station
If you still don't believe it… see it on the video below: