In Pirkei Avot 1:6 it says, "Aseh l'cha rav, u'kneh l'cha chaver, v'hevei dan et kol ha-adam l'chaf zechut." Now I don't know about all my readers out there, but most of the time I hear this mishna quoted, it's because the speaker is trying to get to the end, about being dan l'chaf zechut. Usually there are one or two sentences devoted to the first two things on the list and the rest of the drasha/d'var Torah goes on to tell us how we need to devote our efforts to judging others favorably. All well and good--judging others favorably is definitely an important middah and mindset to cultivate. But I'm finding that in this crazy, mixed-up world, so many people are trying to muddle through on their own, without any real guidance other than the occasional chat with friends. Whatever happened to "Aseh l'cha rav"?
Do you have a rav, rebbetzin, or someone else you go to for hadracha? To ask shailas, or to ask advice on life and all the craziness it entails? Just to chat with, to make sure your life is headed in the direction you want it to be going? If you do, how did you find him or her, and if not, why do you think you don't have one?
For halachic questions, I usually still go to the rabbi of the shul I grew up in; in matters of practical observance, I know that he's fairly close to where I'm holding, and I'm comfortable approaching him. However, for hadracha and to just generally speak my mind and get good advice, I talk to a woman I know in Lakewood--I'll call her Shula Schwartz. And Shula Schwartz, for all intents and purposes, is my rebbetzin.
Now, how did this happen, you ask? How did I, Scraps, a RW-MO (though I hate labels, that's the closest to fitting) single girl living on my own, end up with a mentor who's a rebbetzin living in Lakewood with a kollel husband and three kids? And how in the world does Shula have any way to relate to me and my life when she lives in such a different world?
The first thing I will tell you about Shula is that she is probably one of the most giving and least judgmental people that I know. She teaches her children to be the same way--to look at people from the inside-out, not to judge by appearances, to appreciate what each person has to share with the world no matter how "more" or "less" frum they are, but at the same time to be happy living the way they do and serving Hashem in the way they are being raised. I originally met Shula through going on shabbatons in Lakewood when I was in college; she organizes these special shabbatons for college girls (mostly from Stern, but usually a few from other schools as well) who want to spend a nice, spiritually-oriented Shabbos in a warm environment. It's a project she's been running on an ongoing basis with no financial backing for over ten years now, with no sign of stopping anytime soon! She finds housing and meals, she cooks for up to 30 people at a time, and she doesn't even charge the cost of all the food and supplies she buys for the shabbatons, just a token charge to offset the costs a bit. And this is just what she does for the shabbatons! Shula also works in a Hebrew school for non-religious kids, she gives regular shiurim to local high school girls, and somehow she also manages to hold down a regular job and raise a family in a beautiful, Torah-oriented home.
This, then, is the woman I go to for guidance. Though Shula doesn't live in my world, nor I in hers, I still find that I can relate to her and she can relate to me. She is patient, insightful, and understanding. As I mentioned above, she is very non-judgmental, which helps a lot to put me at ease talking to her. And I know that no matter what I'm discussing, she is looking at the situation from the standpoint of Torah and serving Hashem in the best way we each can, which is the kind of mindset I want to have. Also, one night recently she called me up just to chat, instead of the other way around, and I ended up spending the better part of the conversation instead telling her all of the various joys, frustrations, life events, and stresses going on in my life, talking everything out with her...and at the end of the conversation (well past one in the morning!) she actually thanked me! She said that talking to me was actually a favor to her, since it enabled her to stay awake and clean the house at the same time she was talking to me. So of course, I assured her that if she was ever in need of such favors in the future, she should feel free to call again. ;-) She is truly one of the most special people I know. And I'm so glad that I have someone in my life with whom I really feel comfortable talking and getting advice from in this crazy, crazy world...