SELECT A MASTER-TEACHER FOR YOURSELF
The statement above is from Pirke Avot 1:6. (It is so important the it is repeated by a different sage in 1:16). This Mishna goes on to tell us to acquire a colleague for study and that when judging others to tip the scale in their favor (in other words, to be open to seeing the good in people). While this last clause is beautiful, and the way I try to live, it’s the concepts of study with a teacher and a partner that I want to explore.
To me, and historically for me, having good teachers has been an important aspect of my spiritual growth. I have found that the more I learned about our traditions and out liturgy, the more I was able to understand how they applied to and affected my life. Coming to these understandings enabled me to find deeper meaning in the prayers and rituals, thus making them more spiritually fulfilling for me. Put differently, if I know and understand what I am doing and saying, then I am more likely to feel what I am doing or saying.
But I could not learn, or continue to learn what I am still in the process of learning, alone. I have needed not one, but many teachers. Importantly, I have needed to understand that it is necessary to ask questions. I have learned that the only foolish question is the question that one does not ask. I have learned that sometimes it is OK to be wrong (not as a teacher but as a student) because the correction of the error is part of how a person learns.
Having a study partner is important and helpful because it provides a sounding board, another set of ears and sensitivities to share ideas, thoughts and understandings with so that we can see and hear and share other points of view and refine our thoughts. “OH, thank you, I didn’t think of that.” It also provides the opportunity and necessity of carefully formulating and understanding my own thoughts in order to communicate them accurately.
Having been self-motivated to express my thoughts, by making my readers my chavruta, that is, my study partners, it occurs to me that the last part of the teaching, the injunction to judge others favorably, becomes even more relevant to the subject of learning when combined with 4:1 “who is wise? Those who learns from everyone”. There is vast array of knowledge and wisdom out there and just about anyone can know something you don’t. Be open, ask questions, seek out teachers. They are there if you make it clear that you want to learn.
I want to conclude this piece by thanking the many teachers who have been so patient with me over the years. The list is long and includes Rabbi H. Joseph Simckes, Rabbi David Wise, Rabbi Gary Kessler (z”l), Rabbi Gary Greene, Rabbi Miles Cohen, Rabbi David Woolf, Cantor Sol Zim, Frank Strassfeld (z”l) others, too many to list, and last but most assuredly not least my parents Sam and Rita Goldman (z”l). I accordance with Avot 6:3, I honor, respect and am grateful to them all.