7 Tishrei 5781 / Friday, September 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Choosing a Spiritual Guide    

Choosing a Spiritual Guide

A true spiritual guide knows that his "merchandise" is top quality so he doesn't have to say anything detrimental about anyone else's merchandise...


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody

The Mishna (Avot 1:6) commands every person to find himself a "rabbi", who is essentially one's teacher and spiritual guide. One must be careful in choosing such a spiritual guide. So many people choose their rabbi and spiritual guide according to external considerations, such as his appearance and popularity, rather than looking for the internal considerations such as his true wisdom and righteousness. One must pray profusely to merit a truly upright spiritual guide who can truly uplift a person in emuna, in character development, and in service of Hashem. A true spiritual guide will give you the advice that's best for you.
More than anything, a true spiritual guide will teach you and encourage you to pray, for as Rebbe Nachman says, prayer is the foremost connection a person has with Hashem. Therefore, a true spiritual guide will himself be a man of prayer.
A true spiritual guide must also be a man of peace, who never speaks badly of others or looks for faults in others. He knows that his "merchandise" is top quality so he doesn't have to say anything detrimental about anyone else's merchandise. Peace and truth always go together, for the prophet says, "Love truth and peace" (Zachariah 8:19).
In picking a spiritual guide, make sure that peace and truth are part of his internal characteristics. Also make sure that he's a man of prayer who is capable of helping you strengthen you emuna. He should be a person who respects everyone, irregardless of their background or social station. See if he respects others who don't think like him or don't belong to his particular group. A true spiritual guide loves every individual. It goes without saying that such a spiritual guide should meticulously practice what he preaches.
Rebbe Nachman teaches us that the true spiritual guide has a spirit of holiness. Even though there is no power of prophecy today, a spiritual guide of stature has a spirit of holiness that is tantamount to prophecy, for Hashem gives him Divine assistance in helping and teaching those who turn to him. This holiness of spirit helps people to channel their powers of imagination into the service of Hashem rather than being wasted in meaningless fantasies.
Not only simple people must search for a spiritual guide. Even Torah scholars and righteous tzaddikim must submit to a spiritual guide. Throughout Jewish history, great truth-seekers tirelessly sought a true man of G-d who would uplift them and help them get close to Hashem.
Rebbe Natan of Breslev was not only a genius who was phenomenally knowledgable in every are a of Torah but was a man of extreme piety as well, nonetheless suffered from an inexplicable gnawing in his soul. He visited many of the greatest rabbis of his spiritually gigantic generation. Yet, he found no true inner peace until he found his true rabbi and spiritual guide, Rebbe Nachman.
The Terrevitzer Maggid was a man in his early seventies - a righteous individual, a scholar and a preacher who helped and influenced thousands of people. Rebbe Nachman was only eighteen when the Terrevitzer Maggid first met him. But that didn't stop the Maggid from recognizing Rebbe Nachman's timeless wisdom and holiness. A man of truth, the Maggid had no qualms in becoming a disciple of a spiritual guide who age-wise could have been his grandson.
There are many similar stories about the tireless efforts the luminaries of our people made in searching for a spiritual guide. We owe them a debt of gratitude for many of them were the ones who wrote down and preserved the teachings of their teachers, as Rabbi Chaim Vital did for the holy Ariza'l.
Rebbe Nachman teaches that the further away a person is from Hashem, the greater the spiritual guide he must search for (see Likutei Moharan I: 30). A person shouldn't say, "I'll make do with anyone on a higher level than me." When it comes to the body, we look for the best doctor. Doesn't the soul also deserve the best "doctor"?
Anyone who takes a good honest look at himself will realize that he simply can't overcome bad habits, bodily lusts and all the obstacles that stand in the way of Torah and prayer on his own. As much as we'd like to, we can't lift thirty-ton boulders on our own. But with heavy machinery - a crane or a bulldozer - we can lift boulders and move mountains. A true tzaddik and spiritual guide is the exact spiritual heavy machinery that we need to clear our path of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in our way of serving Hashem and getting close to him.
Many people say, "What do I need a spiritual guide for? I belong to a group..."
Many "group members" think that their group has a monopoly on the truth. Therefore, they no longer search for spiritual guidance. Social pressure plays a big role also in restraining a group member from searching for a genuine spiritual guide. Ultimately, when something goes wrong, many of them fall into despair or even fall by the wayside; for years, they thought that they were the portals of truth. Now that the portals have cracked or even crumbled, they don't know what to do.
The genuine truth that never changes is the truth of Torah that is passed down from generation to generation by the great tzaddikim. The Torah is called "light", as King Solomon says, "For a commandment is a lantern and Torah is light" (Proverbs 6:23). The tzaddikim are also called light: "The light of the tzaddikim shall rejoice" (ibid 13:9). Those who submit themselves to the true tzaddikim therefore bask in spiritual light, which ultimately illuminates their souls and brings them closer to Hashem. May we all so merit, amen!

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