8 - Situations - Make For Yourself A Teacher

“Making” a teacher means that a person must invest great effort in acquiring a mentor.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Put an extra measure of kindness into your interaction with someone collecting tzedaka.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Situations Lesson #8


Make For Yourself A Teacher 

A’say L’cha Rav - Part 1

Perek Aleph, Mishna Vav

Story(based on a true story)

My family is complicated.  I know--so is everyone’s.  But often I feel like I’m navigating one of those corn mazes, trying to make the right turns to the end goal that I knew was there but couldn’t see, without trapping myself and without messing up or hurting anyone else.

In short, I grew up in a sort of Conservative, sort of Traditional family.  I eventually became frum, while my sister went completely off the derech and my brother stayed the way we were raised.  Since we all live within an hour and a half’s drive of each other and of our parents, and we all have families, life can get kind of interesting, particularly around holidays and simchos.  

I slowly became frum during high school, following as many house rules as possible and putting my foot down where I had to.  But the rav at my youth group and my advisers said that while I lived at home, I was living under my parents’ roof, and I needed to tread carefully and respectfully as I grew.  So I did my best, but there were some fights.

Once I left for school, I was free.  A full scholarship took me to Israel and seminary, where I stayed for two years and really learned halacha and hashkafa.  I came back to the US, moved into an apartment with a few other girls, and started college.  I still called the rav of my seminary regularly with halachik questions, like when we thought we traifed up our microwave.  On one of those calls, I was catching up with the Rebbetzin and mentioned that my parents had been begging me to come to them for Thanksgiving break and were pretty annoyed that I wasn’t coming.   

“And why aren’t you going?” she asked.  Why wasn’t I going?  I thought it was obvious.

“I don’t do Thanksgiving, and they always make a whole big thing, which I can’t eat anyway,” I answered.  “Plus, it’s so much easier to stay at my own place.  When I’m there, I have to deal with food and dishes and who knows what else, and that’s when it’s not Shabbos.  I’m planning to pop over for a couple hours on Friday.”

“Hmm,” she responded.  “Have you spoken this over with my husband or another rav?”

It had never occurred to me to do so.  I was out of the house, making my own decisions.   My parents needed to learn to accept who I was, right?  But I was on the phone to Israel already, so I agreed to speak to the rav.

The rav asked a lot of questions about my family situation, and about what would happen on Thanksgiving.  After hearing how big a deal it was to my mom, and how my grandparents came in, he told me that I should go.  I needed to talk to my mother about bringing my own food, even though my grandparents would kvetch about it.  With trepidation, I hung up and dialed my mother.  She was thrilled to hear that I was coming, and had an innovative solution to the food issue.   Together we worked out the dishes and utensils issues, and I hung up this time feeling nervous but happy.  

It worked out pretty well, in the end. After that, I called the rav with many family questions.  Things have not always gone perfectly.  Sometimes, someone would get severely offended by a stand we had to take, but I think there has been much more shalom than there would have been if we were doing this without guidance.  My kids have a nice relationship with our extended family, I see the good in all my family members, and I like to think that my sister has a better view of yiddishkeit as well, seeing how hard we work to keep the family together.

Our rav is like the man in the tower at the corn maze.  We raise our flag for help, and he helps find the way to go.  He can see more than we can, because he is above us and has distance.   With his counsel, we can better navigate our world.

Pirkay Avos:

“Y’hoshua ben P’rachya and Ni’tie of Arbel received from them.  Y’hoshua ben P’rachya said, “A’say l’cha rav…” “Make for yourself a teacher…” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Vav).

“Making” a teacher means that a person must invest great effort in acquiring a mentor.   A person thrown back on his own resources is liable to remain stagnant or even to deteriorate.  He is particularly liable to err when he must decide what the Torah demands of him, for at that point he is subject to the vagaries of his evil inclination.  In addition, Torah learned from one’s teacher remains in one’s memory longer than something one learns on one’s own (Rabbeinu Yonah; Rambam).

David Hamelech was a master of halacha.  He was familiar with the dynamics of Talmudic discussion, knew the proper questions to present, and possessed broad knowledge and penetrating insight.  Indeed, our sages say that the halacha was always in accord with his interpretation (Brachos 4a).  Nevertheless, before implementing any decision, he would ask his teacher Mephiboshes, “Did I judge this case correctly?”  He turned to an authority to review his decisions.

And who was Mephiboshes?  He appears to have been David’s social inferior in all respects.  He was the son of David’s friend and his nephew by marriage.  Yet David overcame his pride to take counsel with his sage.

The Chassidic literature sees the directive to “make yourself a rabbi” as a demand for introspection:  make yourself your own rabbi.  Before you act, ask yourself, “Is this the proper thing to do?”  Then you can fulfill the edict so dear to the Chassidic masters:  “In all your ways, know Him” (Mishlai 3:6).  When you constantly review your behavior, with your every step you will know G-d.  You will know what he requires of you and whether you are fulfilling His will.  

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

Why is it so important to ask shailos regarding ahavas yisrael issues?

How can we know which bain adam l’chavayro situations require a shaila or other guidance?

What types of ahavas yisrael issues have you encountered that required outside guidance from a rav or mentor?

Stretch of the Week:

Identify an ahavas yisrael issue with which you could use guidance from a rav or mentor.


Stretch Of The Week