As expected, there was a farbrengen today at 1:30 sharp, and (a miracle!) the tables at which we sat were properly spaced, leaving ample room for us to stand up when necessary. Furthermore, a gangway had been left open between the center tables, so when the Rebbe beckoned for someone to come up to the platform, all they had to do was walk straight up this aisle to the Rebbe. Hitherto, they would have walked on top of the tables – often standing on people’s hands, faces, and heads too – in their quest to reach the Rebbe at the head table.

During the farbrengen, the Rebbe discussed the name of this week’s parsha (Torah portion) – and the entire fourth book of the TorahBamidbar.

Why did the Sages establish the title of this week’s portion – and of the fourth book of the Torah – as only Bamidbar, which means “in the desert”? Would it not have been better to simply add the next word in the verse, “Sinai,” thus, making the name “Bemidbar Sinai” (in the Sinai desert)? The added word “Sinai” turns what is just a barren “desert” to the place where the Torah was given!

This world is comprised of four types of categories: inanimate, vegetation, living creatures and “speakers” (human beings). Inanimate objects – like stone, water and earth – are the lowest of all created matter, being devoid of life, but G‑d created the world in a manner which ensures that even this lifeless matter is elevated through sustaining and cultivating the level above it, ultimately becoming integrated into the vegetation. The same is true with vegetation, which is elevated to “living creatures” by becoming part of the animal, and living creatures are elevated to “speaker” by supporting human life. When a person then lives his or her life in a manner that is consistent with promoting G‑dly awareness, every facet that played a part in sustaining and animating this person, all elements of the cosmic cycle, are elevated, and in unison are proclaiming this G‑dly awareness!

A barren desert, however, is almost entirely inanimate and is unable to sustain much. Consequently, most other forms of life cannot survive there. The desert is therefore lower than all other places.

The fourth book of the Torah, and its first parsha, is called, simply, “Bamidbar” (in the desert), indicating that the accomplishment of Torah is in elevating even that most barren place, a desert, to Torah!

The lesson we learn from this is that our purpose is to bring and propagate the message of Torah to all. Although a fellow Jew may seem like a desert, the most barren of places, we are reminded that the Torah can reach there as well.

The Rebbe also addressed a mishna in chapter six of Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) that is studied on the Shabbos before Shavuos. The Rebbe said, “On this one mishna there are so many questions that it is difficult to keep count! However, since there are socharim [business people] present,” and the Rebbe looked directly at me, “they should count the questions on their fingers.”

Right: One, two… After the third question the Rebbe said, looking at me, “And that was question number?”

“Three,” I shouted out.

The Rebbe then continued, “The fourth question is…”.

After a few more questions, the Rebbe called out again, “How many questions now?”

“Eight,” I replied. My neighbors said I was wrong and that it was eleven. (Shmuel later told me he had thought it was ten.) The Rebbe did not shame me – besides, I may have been correct – and continued, “The ninth question is…”.

All in all, the Rebbe asked ten questions on this one mishna.

It was a very lovely, freilichen (joyous) farbrengen. The only discordant note was when the Rebbe discussed the subject of “Mihu Yehudi” (Who is a Jew). After all these years, the position regarding conversions of non-Jews has not much improved.

I recently read in a New York newspaper about a non-Jewish fellow who married a non-Jewish woman; however, because his father was Jewish, he later decided he wanted his wife to “also” be Jewish. She initially refused, but eventually she was persuaded to go to a Reform temple where she participated in eight lessons of one hour each and was then given a certificate (a piece of paper!) to “prove” that she had become Jewish. She was never tested on her knowledge (or lack thereof) and no ritual whatsoever took place at all. Still – amazingly – she insists quite adamantly that she is a devout, practicing and loyal Catholic! She only took those lessons to please her husband, who himself is not even Jewish! Each month, forty people receive these certificates from this one temple alone. Every one of these “converts” can now go to Israel and they will be registered as Jews there, without any arguments or questions being asked. This is a danger to the entire body of klal Yisroel, and that is the reason the Rebbe is fighting so hard to get this odious practice stopped.

I am personally of the opinion that the Rebbe’s continuous heart-rending cries regarding proper conversion, that it must be “al pi halacha” (according to Jewish law), is slowly but surely having the desirable effect.

The Rebbe also fiercely denounced some Israeli cabinet ministers (without mentioning names, of course) who were going out of their way to attract and tempt Arabs to move to Jerusalem. They offered them every conceivable type of incentive and benefit, and indeed they were now moving there in the thousands, at the expense of the Jewish taxpayers in Israel and even Jewish charities from all over the world. At the same time Jews are prohibited from making their own homes in our ancient holy city of Jerusalem. “They are always frightened of what the goyim will say!”