The Importance of Making for Yourself a Teacher

I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers lately. In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1, Mishna 6, “Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya says, ‘Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend, and judge each person favorably.”

Leaving the latter part of this teaching for another time, I’ll focus on the first phrase: “Make for yourself a teacher.” Why should we make for ourselves a teacher? What does this mean? I think it means to find someone who can teach us, enlighten us, inspire us.

Without a teacher, we don’t learn. If we don’t learn, we don’t grow. Teachers inspire us. They help us become our best selves. They mirror to us our potential. In fact, they show us what we can – or do – know.

Do you have a teacher? For a long time now, I haven’t had one. This fact comes not for lack of available teachers. I have chosen for a variety of reasons (Yes, I’ve made excuses and had circumstance that kept me away from teachers…) not to go to classes or ask for lessons. I’ve even chosen not to make time to read books, listen to books on tape or CD, or find other ways to learn from teachers. On Monday, I will travel all the way to Albany, CA, to learn from a new teacher. I’m very excited. I may have acquired for myself a teacher.

Now, there are some teachers closer to home. I hope to also acquire them…or to place myself in their company when they are teaching on a regular basis. However, I have carved out a special time with this particular teacher, to whom I feel particularly drawn. I hope to feel enriched, inspired and to to grow through the experience.

As for the other part of the Pirkei Avot lesson, I have recently acquired a friend and committed to time with a few old friends. I am trying to develop new friendships. Friends can be teachers as well. They also help us grow. They inspire us. They serves as great mirrors of ourselves.

That’s why we judge everyone favorably. Each person we meet has something to teach us. They are all teachers. When we judge, we don’t allow ourselves to learn, to grow, to become our best selves.

And once we have learned a new lesson, as Rebbe Nachman teaches, we must offer that lesson to someone else. We must become the teacher.

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