Friday, July 11, 2014

"Make Yourself A Rabbi" or Do We Still Need A Mentor?

My husband was forever looking for a mentor, perhaps because he was an older brother, he felt the need to seek advice and to look up to someone outside the family. For a while in high school the math teacher was his mentor, and later during the war when he was stationed in the Suez Channel, an older soldier, an intellectual who immigrated to Israel from France, taught him how to play Bridge and talked to him about French poetry.
In contrast, for me, my brother, who is seven years older, has been the most dominant influence in my childhood and  has always been my mentor.
In Judaism we have an instruction which translates literally to English as “make yourself a Rabbi.” The meaning of these words is:  find a Rabbi  (a mentor /a spiritual guide/ a teacher/a guru),  and become his pupil (in traditional Judaism a Rabbi is always a man). Once you find a Rabbi the expectation is that you follow his directions.    
With this order the Oral Jewish tradition reveals its conviction that it is not enough to believe in God, but each person is required to find a trustworthy mortal guide. Moreover, this instruction aims at instilling humility in the believers regardless of their age or their station in life. We should  always strive to be around  someone who is on a higher level morally and spiritually who could help us become  better people.
 In theory this is a straightforward instruction, it is quite feasible in the religious circle to find a venerated Rabbi whose authority we could accept,  but it is more complicated in the outside world. It seems to me that as a person gets older and becomes influential or prominent then it gets harder to accept the moral authority of another human being. In the case of my husband when he became a full professor and had his own PhD students and advisees,  he no longer looked for a mentor but instead became one himself.
 I feel that the Jewish instruction of “make yourself a Rabbi” is still relevant and meaningful even for those who have become mentors themselves. With no one to look up to, some people tend to gradually lose touch with their fellow people, and even worse they could  grow arrogant and blind to other people’s needs .
There are plenty of such examples: medical doctors who become callous to their patients,  politicians who no longer are accountable to their constituents, gurus who exploit their followers, and teachers who no longer like their students.
With age it is harder to find a "full time" mentor, we have the experience and the knowledge to recognize faults in other people,  but  a useful way could be to find temporary guides,  for certain purposes. At this point in life perhaps we could no longer find an ultimate encompassing Rabbi, but a mentor whom we could admire for certain qualities or accomplishments.
And if it doesn’t work we could always turn to literature, history and  the Bible and admire Jael for her courage, Salomon for his wisdom and Job for his endurance.
And like a kite we could fly much higher if someone is holding fast  to our strings.

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