"You need a rav! You need a rav!"
For women, a rebbetzin was also considered important.
Then when I started shidduchim, that mantra changed to:
"The main thing is that your husband has a rav...doesn't matter what rav! Any rav!"
And everywhere you turned, there was story upon story to illustrate the following:
- A rav saves a person from himself. The person was going to make some mistake that would ruin his life, but his rav's advice saved him.
- Here's a person who didn't consult with a rav...and now just LOOK at his terrible situation!
But despite the most rose-colored way I insisted on viewing many of the rabbis and rebbetzins with whom I met, eventually I could no longer hide from the fact they weren't necessarily wiser or better than anyone else. Furthermore, some of them certainly possessed worse middot than your average person and therefore, could not give correct direction or insight.
Even a very good rabbi or rebbetzin also possesses blind spots regarding certain issues.
And, speaking from personal experience, being a rabbi or rebbetzin is extremely stressful and even the most well-intended person doesn't function ideally under stress.
Initially, I thought there must be something wrong with me. Apparently, something about me brought out the sinat chinam, the hypocrisy, the bad middot, the egoism, or just the plain lack of good sense and compassion in rabbis and rebbetzins.
(Note: I'm not talking about gadolei hador, but regular rabbis and rebbetzins.)
But as the years went by, I noticed that the mantra changed to:
"You need a QUALIFIED rav! You need to find a husband with a really good rav!"
Slowly, I realized it wasn't just me; other people had also been burned by their rabbis or rebbetzins.
(And I don't even have any of those horror stories of being robbed or exploited or abused by a rav or rebbetzin.)
Furthermore, I give credit to the frum community for changing its tune on this particular issue. Contrary to popular belief, the frum community does pinpoint problems and takes the proper steps to adjust itself. Sometimes it's still wrong (like with its attitude toward mental health, in which they've taken on a wholly secular view based on that of the atheist psychiatric community), but it is well-meaning and it does try more than any community I've ever seen on the secular side.
But the idea that you need a rav, a rebbetzin, a chinuch advisor, etc., and that consulting with one of the above guarantees a healthy outcome?
Nope. It depends.
If you have an actual halachic question in Jewish Law, then yes...please consult a QUALIFIED Orthodox rabbi.
But if you need non-halachic advice? Then it depends.
- Is the person truly qualified to advise you?
- Does this person possess the wisdom and understanding (both in Torah and in the area under discussion) to give solid advice?
- Does this person genuinely care about you and the damage their advice could possibly wreak on your life?
- Is this person really better or on a higher level than you or, say, your next-door neighbor?
- Does this person take halacha and mussar to heart?
- Does this person do a regular cheshbon hanefesh?
You could actually just read Gate of Trust in Duties of the Heart to find the answers to the above questions.
(Hint: The Only One qualified for the above is...God.)
God Can Do ANYTHING - Literally!
Coming from such a hishtadlut-oriented culture, it really took me years to even start internalizing this fact.
But in fact, however much Hashem liked you before, He likes you even more now that you have tossed away so much garbage in order to follow Him into the Midbar (Wilderness).
Hashem loves us so much and does so much for us, it is ridiculous to think that we can no longer trust Him as we did when we were steeped in sin.
Here are some proofs:
God Goes to the Ashram
Here we have a lady invested heart and soul in the profound tumah of avodah zara well into her thirties...yet Hashem rescued her from amid all that spiritual sewage!
He even brought her to Eretz Yisrael to the holiest city in the world, where she raised a Torah-true family.
And He has done that not just for her, but for many other Jews steeped in tumah.
After going all the way to an ashram in India to extract you, Hashem isn’t going to suddenly dump you.
She’s the most famous, but there are a lot of ex-ashramers walking around the frum world.
As further proof, Hashem even goes after Jews who have no way of knowing that they are Jewish.
God Goes to a Christian Home
Yet for some reason, as a 9-year-old in Sunday school, when a Catholic priest tried to give her a copy of the Christian bible for her very own, she refused.
“I don’t need it,” she said.
He kindly insisted.
“I don’t want it,” she said.
Smiling, he handed it to her.
“If you make me take it,” she said, “I’m just going to throw it in the garbage.”
He made her take it anyway, and sure enough, when no one was looking, the book went into the garbage. (Her only regret later was that she didn’t realize that the first part—the Tanach—was genuinely holy and didn’t belong in the garbage.)
In her teens, she became interested in Judaism and decided to go through the rigorous conversion process. Toward the end, she mentioned to her rabbi that she was adopted.
“Before we continue,” said the rabbi, “I’d like you to check and see if you can find out your birth mother’s religion.”
It was in her adoption file—her birth mother was listed a Jewish.
But because there was no solid proof, she still needed to go through the actual conversion, although in her case, the rabbis ruled that she shouldn’t say the full blessing. (I can’t remember whether she said it without Hashem’s name or whether she had kavanah during the tevilah without saying any blessing.)
This is incredible. There was absolutely no way she could ever know she was Jewish.
Yet Hashem ignited a spark in her heart for Torah and mitzvot.
Without that, there is no way she could have ever returned to her soul’s root.
Anyway, after doing all that, is Hashem just going to disappear from her life?
No, of course not.
God Goes to Royal Spain
She was raised as a Christian and went to exclusive schools for the upper class elites, yet she had unexplained terror of the nuns who taught there, even though the nuns were always perfectly nice.
Yet just before her mother died, this woman discovered that her family was from a long line of anousim who had always been particular to marry only other anousim...until either her mother or grandmother. One of them was the first to marry a non-Jew, and not just any non-Jew, but a royal one.
Yet when she tried to find out more, her mother fiercely rebuffed her until her dying day.
So the daughter set out on a spiritual journey that led her to Torah and to a kosher conversion (because there was no tangible proof of her family’s Jewishness throughout the generations even though they had a solid line of tradition).
When I met her, she exuded rock-solid contentment with her Torah life in her cozy Israeli apartment. Quite a change, I'm sure, from the luxury villas of the Spanish elite.
To me, her story is incredible testimony to Hashem’s intimate involvement with every Jew.
To have dwelt in such comfortable materialism only to leave it all for a much lower standard of living in a developing country, plus her willingness to enter the Jewish community and absorb Jewish Law, and also to be a minority in a Hebrew-speaking land where even among other immigrants, she is still a minority among the huge population of Russian- and English-speaking immigrants—Who can be behind such desire and determination?
Why didn’t she make the choice her mother made? On the contrary, why did she davka choose to embrace exactly that which so terrified her mother?
(Hint: Perhaps Hashem was guiding her?)
God Doesn't Dump His Faithful Ones
But according to the “Consult a rav!” enthusiasts, now that Hashem has personally extracted the Spanish lady out from centuries of luxury, fear, European culture, Christianity (and so much more), why does the “Consult a rav!” crowd still insist that this obviously special woman will not be able to choose a community or make a myriad of other non-halachic decisions without consulting Rabbi So-and-So (who is probably not as special as her and has probably not made sacrifices of that magnitude to follow Torah) of the local shul , seminary, or yeshivah?
So yeah, Hashem can pluck people out of ashrams, Christianity, Spanish royalty, and even Mitzrayim.
He can split apart the Yam Suf.
But only an all-too-human rabbi can tell you where to live or where to send your children to school!
Isn’t that all a little bit too wacky to really believe?
God is Perfect. People Are Not.
It's a nice mazal.
But like anything else, it doesn't have to be that way.
Rabbis and rebbetzins aren't perfect and some aren't even decent.
They can be very good well-meaning people who are misguided, just like anyone else.
There's also a matter of chemistry, just like in any other human relationship.
Yet even though they almost drove me off the derech, I'm grateful for my disappointing experiences with rabbis and rebbetzins because that very lack is what pushed me into a relationship with Hashem and with Chazal that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I'm actually more frum and more committed to Torah without them.
And that's probably why it all happened.
(Note: I do ask a rav if I have a halachic question. But God is my Address for advice, direction, and all other requests.)