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Provide yourself with a teacher: 10 Lessons From My Rabbi at Yeshiva

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

In Pirkei Avos 1:16, the Sages instruct us: “Provide yourself with a teacher and free yourself of doubt…”

In regard to this teaching, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said it is essential that every person have a mashpia, a personal mentor, who will provide him with sound guidance in all areas of life, beginning with the most important area of one’s life – one’s service of G-d.

Since the initial visit I had of Hadar HaTorah in December, there was something special about the Rosh Yeshiva (Head Rabbi), Rabbi Goldberg. Over the near year now I’ve studied at Hadar HaTorah, I have had the opportunity to ask him questions and guidance on personal matters.

The first day I went to check out Hadar HaTorah yeshiva, I attended the chassidus class and prayed with the minyan (congregation). In the class, the maamar (discourse) was discussing the significance of the moon. The moon has no light of its own, it simply reflects the light from the sun. The moon serves as an analogy for the Jewish people, who have no independent existence. As Jews, we reflect the light of G-d. The closer something is to it’s source, the maamar continued to explain, the more bittul (nullified) it is - as in the case with the moon’s proximity to the sun, and the Jews to G-d. By entering into this yeshiva in close proximity to 770, and experiencing Rabbi Goldberg’s delivery of the chassidus, followed by his prime example of real davenen (praying), I felt captivated by his presence and wanted to learn more.

Below are some memorable moments and lessons he shared with me that I hope will also bring you light in your life.

  1. After deciding to study at Hadar HaTorah yeshiva, I met with Rabbi Goldberg for the first time. He mentioned that it’s important to choose one place to sit and learn. Moving around could be a disturbance. In making the decision, he shared a teaching from the Gemara: “A person should always learn Torah in a place where his heart desires.” This influenced the article, "Learn Where your Heart desires.”

  2. One specific matter was in regard to what I wrote in a letter to the Rebbe. Rabbi Goldberg helped me see one important lesson we can all appreciate, especially if it’s very subtle: A lot of my journey with meditation and it leading into adopting an orthodox life, has been about healing. Rather than focusing on the healing, and that learning Torah and Chassidus will help heal, instead, shift the focus to how you want to be healthier in order to learn more Torah and fulfill mitzvos - to fulfill your purpose. A simple shift in intention creates a dynamic shift in action, clarity, and being supported by G-d in accomplishing one's purpose. (Adapted from my newsletter issue “New with Ebb & Flow February 5, 2023”).

  3. Prior to the yeshiva going upstate for learning in the summer, I joined Rabbi Goldberg and a few others in a ride to the Ohel in honor of Gimmel Tammuz. In the car, he asked me, “Nu, Shlomo, are you ready for camp?” “Yea I’m ready and excited," I responded, “how about you, are you ready?” “No, I haven’t packed yet,” he said. “Oh, I thought you meant if I’m ready mentally.” “Mentally?” He retorted. “Yea like for the change,” I said. Immediately as I finished, he responded sharply, “it’s not a change. It’s a continuation.”

  4. Taken from my article, All or Nothing: Similar to meditation, I experimented in yeshiva with exercise. Some days doing a little bit in the morning, and then, thinking it may be healing to not exercise - since one can hinder healing through exercise too. Rabbi Goldberg, however, in listening to me share the pains I felt, encouraged me to do some light exercise in the mornings. It donned on me that he’s been helping me reintroduce all of these important activities I engage in - particularly sleep, meditation, and exercise - only in a healthier way.

  5. After a few months in Yeshiva I was receiving quite a few messages about shidduchim (dating). At the time my focus was on learning, but many requests came in so I thought maybe G-d was telling me to date. I took the situation to Rabbi Goldberg and shared the following quote to depict how I felt: If one person calls you a horse, they’re crazy. If three people call you a horse, there’s a conspiracy amuck. But if ten people call you a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle. He chuckled and said I like it but let me give a change. “If ten people call you a horse,” he said, “let them buy you a saddle.” I took this to mean that my main focus is learning and if people think there’s a good match for you, let them do the work - researching if it’s a good fit - for you.

  6. During one of the days upstate at camp I was feeling tired and out of it. As mentioned in a previous lesson, Rabbi Goldberg emphasizes the importance of rest. After one of the classes, I went outside and sat feeling overwhelmed. He came out and noticed the state I was in. Then, he asked if I’m going to chazer (review). “Rabbi, I feel out of it…” Based on a previous conversation he asked,“when did you go to bed and wake up?” He asked. “By 11 and I woke up at 6:15.” “So you got enough sleep”, he said, “sometimes even with enough sleep I too feel overwhelmed. In this situation take a [30 minute] nap in the afternoon.”

  7. Give yourself some elbow room. Whatever is extra is like it is taking away.

  8. In a maamar we were learning in chassidus, the Friedeker Rebbe shared that in order to grow in ruchnius (spirituality), in loving G-d, he must distance himself from gashmius (physicality). This is learned when Moshe Rebbeinu witnessed the burning bush. G‑d appeared and instructed Moshe, “do not draw closer. Remove your shoes from your feet for the ground you stand upon is hallowed.” After class, I shared with Rabbi Goldberg a seeming contradiction: It’s taught to distance from gashmius, but in yiddishkeit there’s a lot of involvement with gashmius… For example, based on this teaching shouldn’t we not eat before shakaris (morning prayers)? Yet, we’re taught (Hayom Yom 10 shevat) that it is beneficial to eat a little something before davenen. And I mentioned that when I would only eat after davenen, I would feel ruchniusdik (spiritual). “That’s because you felt, he responded sharply, “but in davenen you probably felt ‘greater’ than others.” “And afterwards,” he continued, “you felt you earned food. Now, look at why you ate. You ate in order to assist your davenen.” By eating something physical before davenen, we use the energy for something spiritual. In Judaism, we use the physical for the spiritual. In that way, we elevate the physical thing.

  9. Learn slow, otherwise consuming info is like eating very fast. The Gemara says, “tafasta merube lo tafasta” - If you grab to much you grab nothing. It's not enough that you are learning, the learning must affect and change you. But you still want to be your [old] self.

  10. As the month of Elul 5783/2023 approached, I felt and recognized some rigidity still lingering in how I was living. It was very subtle, but I became aware that I was overanalyzing my thought, speech, and deed throughout the day. This was being expressed through journaling. Although journaling is a beneficial tool, it too can be overdone. It became clear that by journaling in the morning after meditation, taking notes in each class, and having it with me throughout the day was too much. When I took a step back and decided to limit journaling to at night and to shorter reflections, I felt at greater ease. I shared the above personal lesson with Rabbi Goldberg, who was aware of my avid journaling. He then shared with me a powerful lesson after mentioning that he thought this, but since note-taking can be beneficial he didn’t mention it. There’s a Zohar that says Jews have the power to be like a tarnagol (chicken) because a chicken knows how to distinguish between good and bad. In a work entitled “Ramak Osios,” Rabbi Schmuel Gronim Esterman brings from the Alter Rebbe a chassidic interpretation based on that Zohar: A tarnagal with dust/ashes in its wings must shake it out by itself. Someone can’t remove the dust for it. Rabbi Goldberg also shared that we recite this every Shabbos evening in Lecha Dodi, “shake the dust off yourself…”

Resources 📑

The task of finding an ideal mashpia doesn’t come easy to all. There are many great resources below, including videos of the Rebbe on this matter; nevertheless, it is building a relationship and is important to find the ideal mentor for you.

The first step in ”providing yourself with a teacher,” as some of the videos below mention, is to know what to look for. Then, as the saying goes, "when the student is ready, the teacher appears."

Youtube Videos 🖥️

Books 📚

A Life-Changing Mashpia about Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman by Uri Kaploun

My Articles:

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