Not for the religious faint of heart
I once told my rabbi: ‘I don’t want your ruling in an area where I consider myself an expert, but I would like your opinion to take into account.’ He gave me his thoughts and then added a friendly: Just, be careful.
Before I got married, my rabbi said: ‘You were in medical school so I don’t need to educate you about sex.’ I agreed but said: ‘I would like to hear it now from a kosher mouth.’ So, he told me one central idea about sex.
Here are several reasons to ask a rabbi, from elevated to down-to-earth.
The last Lubavitcher Rebbe is the only one in this category. One could say he also was all of the below other categories. He was seen by many, Jews and Gentiles, as having the Holy Spirit, as a mystic and having the wisdom of an older person, being a true specialist in Jewish Law and the ultimate teacher, selfless to a level only seen in the greatest, and, as a true Chassid, he saw the good in everyone and loved all people deeply immediately.
He was seen by many as the Redeemer, Messiah. He never acknowledged that. He knew a false prophet must be executed. But, he also must have understood people’s desperation and didn’t want to undercut their (false) hopes. But he was severely criticized for not disavowing this. Possibly he himself was waiting to see if he would become the Redeemer. How so? As soon as we all repent, our Redeemer will appear – but not be born or miraculously appearing out of thin air. He must have been around already.
But, in any case, he was no doubt the leader of the generation, an amazing source of good, smart, wise, and holy advice.
Tell me who your students are and I tell you what teacher you were. The global giants who started under him were Rabbi Steinsaltz, Rav Jonathan Sacks, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
After his funeral, some started what looked like what Christians believe in: our savior is not dead and can return any moment openly as the Messiah. But, unlike Trinity flocks, they kept kosher and all other Commandments. These include their outstanding one of welcoming guests and Gentiles.
Almost a Prophet. Many Ultra-Orthodox and Sephardic Jews ascribe to the top rabbis that they have the Holy Spirit, that their knowledge surpasses what the rest of us can know. They don’t just know all of Judaism but have supreme advice in every area of consciousness. If you deny this to their followers, they see you as an Atheist. There are many miracle stories but little proof these wise rabbis thought themselves to have the Holy Spirit.
Then there are people really steeped in Kabbalah—unlike some popular, money-making charlatans. Almost no one knows them. They study holy books on a mystical level and mystical books every minute they don’t pray or sleep. Everyone who meets them understands that they are very holy and that they are extremely dedicated to goals beyond themselves.
It seems that many elderly rabbis know more because, besides being well-versed in our religion for many years, they have left the foolish beliefs most people still take for knowledge. Some people when they get older get wiser. It comes with age. But, especially in a fast-paced world, there is the risk of being out of touch and not even knowing you’re out of touch. Still, it never hurts to ask someone who could be wise.
Many Modern-Orthodox to Orthodox Jews hold that learned people are good advisors, the ones who studied Jewish Law enough to understand it on a superior level. Some of them see themselves capable of answering the public, sometimes en masse: in books, in speeches, in general rulings, or giving serial advice to thousands. After all, when you need medical advice, you ask a specialist too. Yet, one implication is that you don’t ask such a rabbi about things he doesn’t know about and won’t learn about.
Many serious Jews explain that ideally, you should ask a rabbi who knows you. Jewish Law is subtle. Many details come into play in what to do. The Torah and Talmud and Codexis of Jewish Law give the Standards. But in each individual case, there are countless details and nuances to consider.
Rabbi Steinsaltz said once that it would be nice if the man or woman you asked knows Jewish Law, but the most important thing is that we ask Someone Else. Even smart and knowledgeable people are so biased that too easily we calculate that we need to do something comfortable or familiar instead of what Jewish Law really prescribes in our case. He added that also great rabbis ask other rabbis for rulings.
Last but not least, the best advice may come from someone who loves us, either a spouse, teacher, parent, child, student, or friend, just as the Torah says when humans are created: We need someone who can help us but may oppose us (Genesis 2:18). How are they supposed to be objective, wise, and honest sources for us to rely on? I think that what does the trick is love. Love is Souls connecting. When we would sin, our Souls become more obscured. Our lovers say: No, that doesn’t sound good. When we plan to do something virtuous, our Souls grow. Our lovers say: Good idea!