I wanted to quickly speak to you about the statement that appears twice in the mishna Avot of Aseh Lecha Rav, usually translated that one should make for him or herself a rabbi.
And you’re probably thinking that the inyan of making for yourself a Rav seems pretty plain and straight forward and what could i possibly have to teach you regarding this concept.
Well actually aseh lecha rav has had a lot more influence in orthodox world than perhaps you may of thought.
An influence that unfortunately has not always been positive and I would go as far to say that in many instances by incorrectly understanding the inyan of aseh lecha rav it has really left Orthodox Judaism in a social standstill literally.
Mainly because although Aseh lecha rav literally states that one should make for himself a Rabbi or teacher this has come to be understood that one should just make for himself only one teacher with whom he should then inquire with regarding all issues in life, from how to dress, who to date, where to live, how to speak, medical advice, psychological counseling when to or not to travel etc etc.
Now alone the words make for yourself a Rabbi sounds positive and encourageble, and friends I could not agree more on the necessity that especially males have for mentorship.
No friends the problem arises when the idea is used as a tool to completely control the student to the extent that it guarantees that he will never ethically or courageously surpass his teachers.
And Idea that that because of the ingrained notion of yeridot hadorot doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
And I know I don’t have to tell you that not all Rabbis agree with this
Like the late great Rav Ovadia Yosef ztl would cry to daughters on how much time these constant interruptions would consume in his daily life mainly because this is not what aseh lecha rav meant.
Constant phone calls and meeting over stupid minute issues, should I travel what name should I name my child etc etc.
In other words the Job of talmid chacham was only to learn and teach torah and not answer the most minute questions in someone’s life.
And this friends don’ t think that this is something that Jews have intentionally misunderstood on their own but rather it has been the message pushed by mainly ashkenazi Rabbis whose main goal was to standardize religious Jewish life and thought that for some reason never advanced past the 18th century..
Groups like Agudas Yisrael that has gone as far as to materialize their interpretation of aseh lecha rav to a communal and even nationalistic level with the invention of Daas Torah in 1919.
The notion that the words of the Rabbis or gedolim of our generation are not only infallible and almost of the level of prophecy.
And that the Rav that one chooses for himself should have some connection to one of these gedolim to in someway guarantee that their guidance is in someway celestially sanctioned.
Which is one phrase heard much in the Yeshiva world today that if one’s Rebbi has some sort of connection to Daas Torah.
So today friends we together are going to go back to the sources to see what does the statement aseh lecha rav actually means and what it encompasses.
So its reads in Mishnah Avot perek alef mishnah vav
יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת:
Yeshua ben Perachiah omer, aseh lecha rav, u’kneh lecha chaver, v’hevey dan et kol ha’adam l’chaf zchut.
Make for yourself a Rav, and acquire for yourself a friend, and let it be such that you always judge each person in a meritful manner.
So like we said today we’re just dealing with the first portion of this mishneh.
First contextually Rav in Aseh lecha Rav does not necessarily mean a Rabbi but literally a skilled individual .
Although we know that Rav apart from meaning some sort of a leader it was also a title given to men who held authentic smicha (Ordination).
Now one could not assume that this could possibly mean that someone had to acquire for himself an actual mushach no friends here Rav in this context only meant a skilled individual in what ever manner one felt it applied.
Now the Rambam in his perush to this mishna here states that this is even applies to someone who is of lesser of wisdom than you in other words not a teacher not someone to darshen personal insights or any type of sevora, but he says someone to sharpen your skills with in order for you to remember what you study.
Try telling a Jew today this understanding that it just someone to bounce halacha of off. And not not what is taught today to create semi demigod to filter all of your actions through.
Provide yourself with a master – I.e., even if that person is not worthy of being your teacher, accept him as your teacher, so that you will confer and debate with him. In this manner, you will retain your studies. For one cannot compare the effect of individual study to that of study with another person. [Subject matter studied with] another person will be retained better and will be clarified more. This applies even if the other person is on one’s own level of wisdom and even when he is on a lower level. This is the intent of this charge.
Now Aseh Lecha Rav is actually not a Halacha but mussar actually all of mishnah avot is mussar ethics…
In other words good advice but not statements that we necessarily have to adhere to be considered kosher jews.
And friends if you’re still wondering what the big deal is with having a corrupted understanding of aseh lecha rav don’t worry friends I’m confident that if its sources along with logical reasons that help sway your opinion then towards the end of the lecture you will be satisfied..
And what logical reason is there to repair the current day understanding of the term well for one the modern notion of aseh lecha rav keeps men from maturing, which is precisely what happens when you keep men from making decisions.
It also Ensures that things will never improve no friends the only thing that it does ensure is that things will just not get worse.
And lastly it removes the responsibility of dealing with the consequences for bad decisions. In other words the notion that I cannot be blamed for this or that because I was just listening to my Rav because I acted through the guise of a proxy in others words because “he told me to do it” and when you feel that this institution is sanctioned by the creator himself this insures having that one will have a clean conscience.
Like a soldier just taking orders…
Which is why haredim don’t feel they have to apologize to a society for refusing to go to college and having his wife support him or by having a family so large that he cannot financially afford or by putting that family on welfare where his neighbors are forced to pay for his children because he was just following the instructions of his rebbi.
Like Syrians Jews who feel they have to mistreat converts only because the Rabbis before them did so.
When the Talmud yerushalmi is crystal clear in horayot that Listening even to Beit hagadol blindly does not exempt from paying the consequences for acting irresponsibly so much for daas torah…
And the next place we find the statement of aseh lecha rav is in the same but the 16th mishnah is states
רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וְהִסְתַּלֵּק מִן הַסָּפֵק, וְאַל תַּרְבֶּה לְעַשֵּׂר אֳמָדוֹת.
Rabban Gamliel would say: make for yourself a rav or I guess a master; stay away from doubt; and do not accustom yourself to tithe by estimation.
So here Raban Gamliel is tell us that one of the purposes of acquiring a rav is to free yourself from doubt.
What does this mean? Here the rambam clarifies further that this does not mean to find some to teach you but only someone to lay down pasak in other words someone who in the time of the mishnah could just bring down the tradition, and lay down issur v-heter,
To the point that the Rambam in here states that this means that one can even pick an educated man at random to fulfill the role of this Rav.
And we will see that the gemara elsewhere elucidates this idea.
Rambam on Pirkei Avot 1:16
Provide yourself with a master – The intent is not a teacher, but one who issues halachic decisions. [The Mishnah] teaches: select a person as an authority so that you will rely on him as to what is permitted and what is forbidden, and you will thus not be beset by doubt. In this vein, the Jerusalem Talmud states, “Bring a sage from the marketplace upon whose opinion I will rely, and I will permit this for you.” Similarly, [this admonition against] separating tithes by approximation is to avoid doubt.
And another great quote that was said the late great rav aaron Lichtenstein regarding the haredi notion that aseh lecha rav means make only one Rabbi he states that Aseh lecha ram means only make one Rabbi like u’kneh lecha chaver means only make one friend.
Basically stating that it is ridiculous that notion that one should only make for oneself only one Rav or one rebbi…
(Meiri Mishlei 13:11)
And one of the most fascinating comments that applies to this mishnah is the one stated by the meiri in Mishleh he states that we don’t find or we don’t have a Rav to teach us we have to acquire one “aseh lecha rav”…
In other words we in the yeshiva world have been reading this mishneh all wrong and this understanding really opens up the Rambam and every other makor I will quote today..
In other words he is saying that this is not said for the frum person but for the person who needs initial instructions in other words he saying want be frum want to keep torah? your first step is aseh lecha rav shoot find yourself someone to teach you..
Very simple Rabotai!
The frum assume because they are reading it and they already know torah or pesak that this must mean something more no this must mean to make a life coach or full mentor,.. Or you’re asking me if I could this from this Hasghacha let me ask my rebbi, no way
No way says the Meiri,, rather want torah get a teacher? 1, 2
And I think this the clearest of what this statement means
Think about it this is the peshat and for sure the contextual meaning in the avot begins
משֶׁה קִבֵּל תוֹרָה מִסִּינַי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשְׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים; וּזְקֵנִים לִנְבִיאִים
and on and on and you want some of this fine, “ases lecha rav” so find someone to teach it to you…
How my friends can you extrapolate make a demigod from that statement..
And friends you also should in no way think that making for yourself a Rav or many teachers should in anyway free someone from using common sense.
As the Gemara states in Bava Batra 168a on how a talmud Chacham who desires to marry a woman should take with him an am Ha’aretz, in other words take with him someone who is used to looking at women,, in other words there are things that not even chachamim can help you with…
In other words you have to use the appropriate tools for the appropriate tasks, common sense my friends.
So If you have a business question ask a businessman, if you have a medical question find a doctor if you need advice that has nothing to do with a girsa in our understanding of a sugya go to an expert.
And friends there is no source that i think that makes it clearer than the gemara in Avodah Zarah 19a which states that
That “Rabbi Yanni states whoever learns Torah from only one Rav will never achieve great success.”
In some way directly answer the first two statements in avot but no friends it gets better it then states regarding Rabbi Yannis statements that
“says Rav Hisda, hanei mili sevora aval gemara mrav echad”
Then Rav Hisda clears up the issue by telling us that this is notion of learning from many Rabbaim is only regarding s’vora (Sevora). Why because everyone has a different opinion in reasoning out the girsa’s in the mishna so that one can get their savara yishara a clear understanding, and not sevora as we have them today remember Rav Chisda is an amora..
However to know the actual texts to them from scratch as they were spoken to know them clearly you need one Rav.
Remember back then people learned the sources of oral law what latter became the mishna orally, not like today that we have them in written form..
So this is what the sugya here in Avodah Zorah and in the Mishna in Avot is speaking about but the reasoning ie everything that is done after the divrei sofrim after chazal then it would behoove you to learn from as many people as you can. And friends I dont think it can get any clearer.
So what does Aseh lecha Rav mean?…
Its as easy as the Meiri himself put it, want to learn find teachers to teach you.. thats all, and thats it…