“Chassidic wisdom shows man how small he is, and how great he can become.”

The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

In 1986, the Rebbe began a weekly “receiving line.” Every Sunday, he would stand near his office, greeting one person at a time from a long line of people who came from all different walks of life. Some also used this as an opportunity to ask a brief question and receive advice.

The Rebbe gave a blessing and a $1 bill to each visitor, appointing every individual as an agent of charity and kindness. Thus, a brief meeting with the Rebbe created a chain of positive impact upon the world.

Well into his ninth decade, the Rebbe stood for as long as eight hours without interruption, greeting thousands of people, one blessing at a time. When I was 13 years old, I, too, patiently waited in line, hoping to get a glimpse of this tzadik, righteous person. On June 10, 1990, a year after my immigration from the former Soviet Union, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov took my family from Philadelphia to the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The encounter was transformative and ignited a spark within my soul. That day, I saw myself through the eyes of the Rebbe, who considered each person as a precious diamond. I understood that despite my Soviet, atheistic childhood, the Rebbe considered me to be a “gem,” someone who was worth standing on his feet for. Why else would the Rebbe stand on his feet all day long until our family’s encounter at 2:18 p.m.? This realization endowed me with perseverance and yearning to discover my unique light.

Righteous individuals, or tzadikim, are known for their ability to see good in each individual, despite missteps or shortcomings. There is a story of the fifth Lubavitcher Rabbi—Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, otherwise known as the Rebbe Rashab—who lived during the early 1900s. Once, a diamond merchant asked him why he emphasized the value of simple Jews? The Rebbe, in turn, asked him to display diamonds of different values. The businessman explained that a particular diamond was unique in its beauty, but the Rebbe looked at it and admitted that he couldn’t see any difference.

“Rebbe,” the merchant clarified, “you need to be an expert to see the value of each diamond.” The Rebbe Rashab smiled and replied, “The same is true with souls. When it comes to souls, you also have to be an expert to be able to see their beauty.”

For the last three decades, I thought back to that day, and about the Rebbe’s commitment to each person who walked near him. The Rebbe transcended exhaustion from so many encounters because he regarded this activity as innately meaningful and valuable. The Rebbe looked at each of our souls and saw a beautiful, precious diamond.

I try to emulate this ability of recognizing every person as a precious gem. Admittedly, It’s not always easy to look beyond people’s limitations and character flaws. Yet I draw my inspiration from that day.

Many times I have wondered if there was a photo of my encounter with the Rebbe. I searched for a long time but was unable to locate a picture because we didn’t remember the exact date of the trip. Then one day, my father discovered a dollar he had put away that had “June 10, 1990” written on it. This finding made it possible for our search to be renewed.

My friend, Rebbetzin Doba Rivka Weber, offered to help me look through Chabad digital archives in the hopes of finding my photo. Our conversation inspired me to visit the Ohel in Queens, N.Y. The next day after Shabbat, together with my friend Lana, we drove to the resting place of the Rebbe to pray for the “diamonds” we knew who were experiencing obstacles in connecting to their inner light. Though it was a cold night in New York, we stood on our feet for nearly two hours, reciting Psalms for people who needed prayers.

On our way home to Philadelphia, Rebbetzin Weber sent me a screenshot of a 13-year-old girl next to the Rebbe. It took my breath away as I recognized myself in the picture. I also spotted my parents, my aunt Vera and my grandmother Zelda, who have since then passed away with a picture of the Rebbe by their bedside. For many hours, I just looked at the picture and cried from joy.

The Rebbe taught that “hearing is not like seeing. The excitement and belief of something that is seen is so much more exciting and believable, that hearing cannot compare at all.” Seeing that picture after all these years of talking about it was exceptionally emotional for me. A few days later, I was able to obtain a video of that day from the organization that is not so coincidentally called JEM (Jewish Educational Media).

The Rebbe taught us that each person is a true gem. Regardless of any mistakes and shortcomings, each life is full of incredible potential and goodness. All we must do is identify with that diamond within and shine our individual light upon the world.