The Importance of Being, the Importance of Having...a Rav
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 101a) we find that “when Rabi Eliezer fell sick,
four elders went to visit him: R’ Tarfon, R’ Yehoshua, R’ Elazar ben
Azariah, and R’ Akiva. Rabi Tarfon observed, ‘You are more valuable to
Israel than rain; for rain is [precious] in this world, whereas you are
[so] for this world and the next. Rabi Yehoshua observed, You are more
valuable to Israel than the sun: the sun is but for this world, while my
master is for this world and the next.”
Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz explains (Behar 5731) that the sages were describing
the relationship that existed between teacher and student, “rav”
and “talmid.” Why did Rabi Tarfon analogize the relationship to rain? A
seed, he explains, cannot grow on its own. It needs nurturing to grow.
Specifically, water is required in order for growth to occur. Each
individual has within him the seed, the kernel, from which great
accomplishments can spring forth. It is the influence of a Rav that
unleashes the power of growth in an individual. Just as a seed absorbs
rain, and in essence absorbs the ability to grow from the rain, so too
does a student react to the teachings of his Rav. The Rav imparts the
power of growth into his students.
Rabi Yehoshua, however, analogized the relationship to the radiance of the
sun. As we know, the sun’s rays enable plants to grow. In this respect,
the sun is like the rain. However, the sun also provides light. It enables
man to see what is before him so that he does not get injured. A Rav,
through his teachings, enables his students to more clearly view what is
correct in life. He enlightens his students so that they can properly
assess doubts and then make proper choices. A Rav, therefore, not only
provides the ability to grow; he also provides the ability to thrive.
The importance of a Rav, and the effect a Rav has, is immeasurable.
At the close of Megillas Esther, we find that “Mordechai was accepted by
the majority of his brothers.” The Talmud (Megilla 16b) explains that he
was accepted “by the majority of his brothers, but not of all his
brothers; this informs us that some members of the Sanhedrin separated
from him.” Why did members of the Sanhedrin separate themselves from
Mordechai? Rashi explains that because Mordechai accepted upon himself a
leadership position, given to him from Achashverosh, he therefore “wasted
Torah study time,” and this was not viewed positively by members of the
Sanhedrin. It is hard to imagine that Mordechai, as one of the Torah
leaders of his generation, would waste Torah study time. But clearly part
of the Sanhedrin was not pleased with his actions. Why?
The Talmud (Megilla 11a) tells us that at the time of the story of Esther,
the nation indulged in slothfulness by not busying themselves with the
Torah. Mordechai knew that this was a problem, and he took action to fix
it. The Talmud (Megilla 16a) tells us that upon Achashverosh’s command to
Haman that he parade Mordechai around Shushan in royal finery, Haman took
the requisite apparel and the royal horse. He went and found Mordechai
with the Rabbis sitting before him while he showed them the rules of
the “Kemitza,” the proper measure for a flour offering. Rashi explains
that Mordechai was teaching the matters relevant to that particular day:
it was the 16th day of Nissan, the day the Omer offering (which involved
flour) was brought. Rav Shlomo Brevda comments that we see from this
episode how entrenched Mordechai was in his learning. The evil decree had
been handed down: the Jews were to be annihilated. One might expect that
the reaction from the Sages of the generation would be to increase fasting
and prayer. While that did occur, Mordechai knew that Torah learning could
not suffer. He made sure that people realized that it was because of Torah
learning (or the lack thereof) that they were in a perilous situation. He
strengthened the resolve and dedication of the people to study Torah. He
did not get distracted from this missive. He was so devoted, that even
while facing danger, he continued to teach the laws relevant to that given
So what could Mordechai have done that would have disturbed members of the
Sanhedrin? The Mishna in Avos (1:6) states that R’ Yehoshua ben. Perachya
used to say: Appoint for yourself a teacher. The Rambam explains that each
individual has to accept upon himself a Rav – even if that person may not
necessarily be up to the job because of his knowledge or experience. A
person, through give and take, sharing ideas, and interacting with his
chosen Rav will come to see that the Rav is in essence teaching him and
enabling him to learn more and more. If the Rav is of superior knowledge
and experience, obviously the lessons learned are intensified and the
benefit incalculable. One cannot live without a Rav.
The Megilla (9:27) tells us “Kimu V’Kiblu” – after being saved from Haman,
the Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves the Torah anew. Mordechai,
as mentioned, was the individual who had spearheaded this renaissance.
Mordechai encouraged the people to learn, to grow, and to thrive. He was
the individual whom the people accepted upon themselves as their Rav. He
was the individual who had accomplished so much as a Rav. And then he was
presented with a leadership opportunity by working for Achashverosh. This
position would enable him to secure peace and prosperity for the Jews.
They would be safe and protected. Mordechai decided to take this position,
which had the impact of lessening his ability to act as a Rav. Most of the
Sanhedrin agreed with this decision. But there were those that did not.
They felt that the people needed Mordechai as their Rav – he had brought
them so far, and now was the opportune time to maximize their potential!
There would be no better service to the nation than to ensure their
continued development in Torah by remaining their Rav! But Mordechai, by
not choosing that path, was viewed by some in the Sanhedrin as being one
who “wasted Torah study time,” even if that time has not his
Clearly, the importance of a Rav, and the effect a Rav has, is
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.