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29, Nisan 5756

"Obtain a Teacher For Yourself"

Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
R' Ytzchak Yoseph B"R Chaim Shlomoh

לשיעור זה בעברית: יציאה ל"בין הזמנים"

With the onset of the "Bein HaZmanim" yeshiva vacation, many students are faced with the question of how to maintain a high spiritual level while in a non-religious liberal environment. So long as one remains in the yeshiva he advances with the flow and ascends ever higher on the ladder of Torah knowledge. Yet, when one leaves the study hall and turns his attention to other studies or to work, how is he expected to preserve his spiritual level? How is he expected to stand up in the face of the influence of a liberal, materialistic, and pleasure-oriented environment? How is he to maintain his high moral standard so that it not become deteriorated. How can he assure himself that he will not stumble?

The Sages of the Mishna answered this question with a single short and sweet phrase in the tractate of "Pirkei Avot." It goes: "Acquire a teacher for yourself." The tractate of Avot is made up of profound advice in the form of short sayings. These sayings containing wisdom and examples of admirable character traits. In the sixth Mishna of the first chapter it is written: "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachia says: 'Obtain a teacher for yourself, acquire a friend for yourself, and judge everyone favorably.' In these few words we are given sound general advice; its follower can be certain of success. When a person has a teacher, a rabbi, he has a source of spiritual power that strengthens him and enlightens his way. He has somebody to lean on and this gives him confidence. Similarly, when a person attaches himself to a positive environment, to a good friend who shares similar ambitions, he is not alone on the battlefield. He is not alone, without aid or a supportive environment. If an individual does not adopt this wise advice, his spiritual level will indeed sink. Good intentions naturally get worn down, and one loses moral altitude.

"Obtain a teacher..." - In Hebrew, this phrase literally reads, "Make a teacher..." Even if you are unable to find a rabbi who appears to be a "messenger from the Almighty" Himself; even if he is not the most faultless individual on earth - do not remain without a rabbi. One who manages to attach himself to a great rabbi is very fortunate, yet even if one is unable to find a perfect rabbi, " Make a teacher..." - somebody who you can attach yourself to, be guided by, and lean on. The mere attachment to a rabbi provides one with strength and spiritual reinforcement. In addition, "Acquire a friend for yourself." One must strive to find a friend; even if one is unable to find somebody exactly to his liking, all the same -"Acquire a friend for yourself." Together, friends provide mutual support for one another. Two are better than one, and a three-stringed rope is not quickly severed. This was one of the innovations of Chassidism: "Obtain a Rabbi..." i.e., a Rebbe; "Acquire a friend ('Chaver')..." i.e., a Chassidic environment (Chevrah). By following this advice, the Chassidic movement managed to boast a large membership, scattered in many cities and small villages. Not only was Chassidism able to maintain a large following and to prevent its members from becoming distanced from Judaism, but it managed to spiritually elevate and strengthen them as well.

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