עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵרPirkei Avot 1, Mishnah 6
Make for yourself a rabbi (aseh lecha rav) and acquire for yourself a friend” (kneh lecha chaver).
The rabbinical exhortation to Aseh lecha rav is mentioned twice in Pirkei Avot, indicating its importance.
When we think of a contemporary rabbis, we most likely envision graduates from a Rabbinical seminary. Yet we had rabbis ages before Jewish seminaries existed and gained traction as a modern 19th century development.
After the introduction of seminaries, ordination became a very formal process. Jewish authorities believe that to be a result of external pressures and influences.
In C/Hasidic tradition, rabbinical status was conveyed by way of s’micha — laying of hands.
“And he laid his hands (va-yismokh) upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord spoke by the hand of Moses.”Bamidbar/Numbers 27: 23
Moses passes the torch to his disciple Joshua (Yehoshua/יהושע) by laying his hands upon him.
S’micha was a physical leaning in — a rabbi (who had received s’micha from another rabbi) would lay his hands on the shoulders of a Torah scholar and confer s’micha onto him.
S’micha could also be conferred via an individual or kehillah (Jewish community), who viewed a person capable of imparting the heart and soul of Judaism as their rav.
There was opposition to the formal seminary system as a means to produce rabbis, even though s’micha status was still honored and valid.
What does it mean to make for yourself a rav?
Maimonides (Rambam) zeroed in on the verb “aseh” (make). It doesn’t say to acquire or find as you may do by joining a synagogue, it says make.
Synonyms for make are: create, fashion, shape, form, bring into being or bring into existence.
Make is something you bring into being through your own powers of discernment and volition. Shaping and forming speaks to a co-creative relationship, not a one way street.
What does the word rabbi mean?
The English term “rabbi” means Teacher (in the spiritual/theological sense). For C/Hasidic Jews, the Hebrew word “rav” denotes a high degree of respect and personal connection to one’s “rav,” as in “my rav.”
While writing this drasha, it occurred to me that Moses, the leader of the Israelite nation, made for himself a rav in the close-knit mentor/student relationship he had with his father- in-law, Yitro, a Midianite priest. Yitro was not only his rav (mentor), Moses trusted Yitro as an ally and friend.
The ‘making’ of a personal rabbi is captured beautifully in the quote below:
“Jewish learning traditionally was not defined by access to knowledge but rather by the intimate and often revelatory relationship between teacher and student. This intimacy is captured in the word Torah itself, which means “instruction,” suggesting that communication, a connection between people, is at the heart of the enterprise.”Dr. Susan Handelman, professor of English at Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Conferment of knowledge is not enough to truly Teach and to truly Learn.
Make for yourself a rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend.
The sentence structure tells us these two precepts go hand-in-hand. Sentence structures are always significant in Jewish texts.
To make for yourself a rav, you have to be ready to receive. Has it ever happened to you unexpectedly without the conscious awareness of being ready?
In some interpretations the “friend” is your chavruta (Torah study partner). In another interpretation, the friend is your rav.
Last but not least, Aseh lecha rav עשה לך רב can be interpreted two different ways: 1) Make another person your rav. 2) Make yourself your rav as well. In my mind, the two interpretations are interdependent and need to co-exist. A rav should be a role model, first and foremost. You have to be attuned to your own voice of wisdom to choose your role model wisely.
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Yohanan ben Zakkai, (30 BCE–90 CE) 1st-century sage in Yehuda (Judea) and key contributor to the Mishnah, was the first to be called “Rabbi” or “Rabban” (our teacher, our master).