By Simon Jacobson
On Sunday afternoons, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would stand outside the door of his office to greet and bestow a blessing upon anyone who came to see him. He would often stand for hours as thousands of people filed by, many of them seeking a blessing or advice about a personal matter or a spiritual dilemma. The Rebbe was once asked how he had the strength to stand all day, sometimes for seven or eight hours, to accommodate everyone. The Rebbe beamed and replied: “When you’re counting diamonds you don’t get tired.”
The Rebbe Rashab was once asked by a Chassid: “Why do you so emphasize the quality and value of simple Jews; how can they be compared to the obvious greatness of the esteemed scholars and the pious?” Knowing that the Chassid was a diamond merchant, the Rebbe asked him to display several diamonds of different values. The Chassid complied. Though he was surprised at the request, he knew that the Rebbe’s wishes had deeper meaning. The Rebbe studied the diamonds for a while, picked up one of them and exclaimed: “Ah! This must be the most valuable of the bunch. Am I correct?” The Chassid did not want to contradict the Rebbe even though this particular stone was not the most precious. The Rebbe persisted: “Is it or is it not?” The Chassid relented and said no. “How could that be? It looks so beautiful. So large and bright.” “Well,” the Chassid continued, “only a trained eye can appreciate the true value of a diamond. The naked eye is unable to discern the diamond’s worth—its cut, carats, clarity and color.” The Rebbe smiled and said: “My dear friend, the same—and even more so—is true with souls. The naked eye cannot see the value of souls. One needs a trained eye to be able to distinguish the true value of a soul.”
Why diamonds? A Rebbe’s every utterance is absolutely precise. Why did the Rebbe choose this particular metaphor to demonstrate the value of souls?
The answer becomes clear upon examining the nature of a diamond and the process used in producing the precious stone.
Diamonds are as old as the universe itself. Most of them are found deep beneath the earth’s surface and need to be excavated from molten rock, called kimberlite. On the average, more than 20 tons of kimberlite must be processed in order to procure just one diamond.
After the surrounding rock is crushed, what remains is the diamond in rough. The rough diamond is then cut by sawing or cleaving (splitting) along the grain of the stone. The pieces are then mounted in a fast-turning lathe where the gem is shaped roughly by a diamond-tipped tool, followed by the bruiting process, which rounds out the stones. Finally the diamonds are polished, allowing all of their facets to emerge. The stone is then placed in a holder (a dop), and facets are ground on the surface by a spinning disk bearing a paste made of diamond dust and olive oil. The cutting of each facet requires changing the position of the stone in the dop. The final product is a brilliant crystal that refracts, reflects and disperses light. Most diamonds are polyhedrons, meaning they have many surfaces (facets), which are converted in the polishing process into many more facets, the most popular being the “brilliant cut,” which has 58 facets.
The value of a diamond is determined by four characteristics: carat (weight), color, clarity and cut.
Among the diamond’s unique qualities is that it is the hardest of all known substances, and it therefore can only be cut with another diamond or diamond dust. “Diamond” comes from the Greek term “adamas,” which means “unconquerable.” A diamond is also known for its outstanding brilliance and fire.
Every phenomenon in life is our teacher, the Baal Shem Tov tells us. So what can we learn from a diamond?
By using the analogy of a diamond to describe the value of each man, woman and child, the Rebbe is telling us that regardless of externals, every person is a true diamond, the toughest substance in existence. Everyone has a divine neshama, a pure soul, and regardless of behavior and outward appearance, every neshama remains intact. Unconquerable.
However, God wanted the pure neshama to descend into our material world and demonstrate its power and glory and to illuminate the universe. He uprooted the soul from its natural spiritual habitat and embedded the diamond-neshama in the hard rock of harsh materialism, under layers upon layers that initially shroud and obscure the fire and brilliance, and even the very existence of the soul.
Our immersion in material survival makes it difficult for us to recognize the spirituality within. The majority of our time—more than 20 tons of rock compared to a one diamond—is preoccupied with work, eating, sleeping, paying our bills, entertaining ourselves. No wonder our inexperienced eyes don’t see diamonds. But the trained eye sees the diamond in others. The Rebbe—the most shining diamond of them all, whose selfless personality is a transparent channel and expression of Godliness—sees the true value even when covered over by mountains of rock.
To fulfill its purpose, the diamond needs to be excavated, cut and polished. This is the mission with which every one of us has been charged. The first step is gaining the awareness that in the hard rock is hidden a precious diamond. We must identify the neshama-diamond and reach for it with unconditional love. The second step is excavation and cutting: clearing away the externals and allowing the diamond to emerge. To reveal the diamond in a raw world of rock requires bittul—peeling away the outer layers, shedding unrefined habits, eliminating the inappropriate—allowing for the diamond to surface. Some stones need to be sawed, others cleaved. They then need to be rounded out and polished through Torah and mitzvot, each mitzvah allowing another facet in us to shine. And finally this process yields the completed diamond that radiates and beautifies this world.
Every diamond-soul has its own unique personality, its own chaine (the sum of the Hebrew letters (gematria) of chaine equals 58: the 58 facets of a “brilliant cut”)—its strengths (carats), clarity, color and cut—and it must be treated in kind, befitting its personal individuality. Each stone needs to be cut precisely, with the greatest sensitivity, a most beautiful cut uniquely appropriate for this particular stone.
We are all diamond cutters. The Rebbe, being the “master cutter,” trains us all in the process. How appropriate that only a diamond can cut a diamond. Only one soul can reach another. No machines, no other powerful forces can do the job. Take the strongest body, the strongest material force, and you can cut and shape any other piece of matter. But not a diamond. The physical body cannot touch the ethereal spirit. A soul, on the other hand, even if it is only soul “dust,” can reach and touch another soul.
“When you’re counting diamonds, you don’t get tired.” The Rebbe isn’t just telling us that everyone is a diamond, he is also telling us why we must wait patiently, untiringly— because this tenacious attitude will bring the diamond to the surface. The Rebbe is also directing us as to what we must do, what is our mission in this world: we must recognize that all people are diamonds and help actualize every individual’s precious potential, by excavating, cutting and polishing and revealing the brilliance within, allowing every man, woman and child’s inner personality to emerge and illuminate the world in which we live.
Why did G-d create diamonds? Perhaps to have an example in our lives of the value and preciousness of the soul; a soul that lies deeply embedded in rock and which, when it emerges, shines with unprecedented brilliance and fire.