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When a person is choosing who they will learn from as their rebbi, are there any guidelines or rules that govern the decision making process?

First a definition of what a rebbi is (for the purposes of this question). I am talking about someone who will teach you how to access what the Torah is saying and what value judgments are to be made where. In addition, there is an assumption that although you might end up disagreeing on certain specific points you will adhere to the general hashkaffah and values that the rebbi holds.

According to this understanding my question really is: how can you decide what values and general outlook you should subscribe to (which rabbi should be your rebbi) when the tools necessary for that decision will (seemingly) only be attained after learning Torah, which is greatly influenced by the person who taught you how to learn? Is there some pre-Torah mind value that is to be used?

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Are you asking about (or assuming) someone who didn't get a decent grounding in torah from childhood -- i.e. an adult who seemingly has to make a decision in a vacuum? –  Monica Cellio Dec 31 '13 at 22:07
    
    
A basic guideline mentioned by Chazal (Mo'ed Katan 17a; see also Rambam, Hil. Talmud Torah 4:1) is that mentioned in Shmuel Brin's answer: הכי א"ר יוחנן... אם דומה הרב למלאך ה' יבקשו תורה מפיו ואם לאו אל יבקשו תורה מפיו. As far as the manner in which a rebbi should resemble a mal'ach, there are different possible interpretations, one of which Shmuel cited. –  Fred Jan 3 at 3:08

3 Answers 3

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said:

This is one of the reasons for the recent stress on the Mishnah's statement, "Make for yourself a Rav." Since the Rav is neutral and uninvolved, he will certainly be able to give sound advice.

Even with this advice, however, a person might complain that he's unsure whether or not he chose a proper Rav. Here again, the Torah provides guidance, in a verse which also speaks of the pre-Messianic era (Malachi, 2:7), "...seek Torah from his mouth, because he is an angel of G-d." The Talmud explains, "If he resembles an angel of G-d, then `seek Torah from his mouth,' and if he does not, then don't."

But how can one tell if the Rav resembles an angel of G-d; one never even saw an angel of G-d! Here again, the Torah provides guidance, in the works of the Rambam, where he describes the lives of angels: "there is no eating or drinking...no jealousy, hatred or enmity."

Therefore, in order to tell whether or not someone is fit to be a Rav, one must see if he fits this description. Is his spiritual life governed without influence of physical factors (corresponding to "no eating or drinking")? Is he free of jealousy, hatred, etc.?

Of course, as always the Evil Inclination comes along with another objection – and one "according to the Torah" (since it likes to conceal its true motives in the holy garb of a "silk kapote"). "Isn't one of the signs of a true talmid chacham," claims the Evil Inclination, "that he is `vengeful like a serpent'?" According to this reasoning, peaceful behavior would not be a correct way of identifying a qualified "Rav"!

Fortunately, the Torah also answers this clearly. When is it proper for a talmid chacham to behave in this way? Only when someone has shamed him publicly, and a general insult to the Torah is involved. However, should he be insulted in private, the Torah requires the exact opposite response. In the words of the Rambam, the way of talmidei chachamim is to "listen to insult without answering back; and furthermore to forgive the person who uttered the insult."

Aside from these signs of a Rav, there is an obvious prerequisite: that the person has the signs indicative of a Jew in general. As the Talmud says, "This nation has three signs: they are merciful, bashful, and kind." Since these are called "signs," it is impossible that a person practice them only in private. To be considered a sign, the person must actually behave in these ways.

Also on video.

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I have picked and unpicked Rabbis based on the following criteria.

  1. Is he nice to other people and strangers?
  2. Is he willing to teach without demanding payment?
  3. Does he, or is he willing to know you as the individual that you are?
  4. Is he able to explain things to you so that they make sense the first time? Or do you have to keep asking for clarifications?
  5. Does he refrain from speaking lashon harah in front of you while teaching?
  6. Does he seem to know what he is talking about?
  7. Does he delay or do research before answering a question?
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A chaver (friend) of mine once said, when confronted with a question as to what do: "Ask yourself if this is going to make you a better Eved HaShem or not?" Acquiring a rebbi could be a similar question: "Ask yourself if cleaving to this person will make you a better Eved HaShem or not?" Honesty and frankness are key here.

A rebbi should be a teacher, a moreh derech, and an inspiration to you to grow. Not knowing a lot of Torah doesn't mean that a person can't find a rebbi - it just means that the search might take more time, and might take more twists and turns than a kid growing up in a yeshiva system. If the seeker of a rebbi keeps the above question in mind, finding a rebbi, while not easy, is an attainable goal.

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