A little while back, I was talking to someone who’d just been given some pretty shocking ‘advice’ from one of their spiritual advisors. The ‘advice’ was shocking for a few different reasons:
1) They hadn’t actually asked for it;
2) It involved some very big, very complicated decisions with far-reaching implications for the rest of their life; and
2) It completely contradicted everything else that this spiritual advisor had been telling them to do.
Now, what would you do, if that happened to you?
Before you answer that, let me tell you what I thought about the whole sorry saga. I thought that in every direction and in every way possible, God is pushing more and more of us to start thinking for ourselves again.
For the last few decades, ‘outsourcing’ has been the big thing: we’ve been encouraged to outsource our health to the medical profession, our child-rearing to therapists, our marriages to relationship counsellors, and our spiritual development and connection to God to various ‘holy’ intermediaries.
You can probably guess what I’m going to say now:
THIS IS NOT THE JEWISH WAY!!! (and yes, I am shouting.)
The Jewish way is for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, and our own lives and souls, and our own relationships.
Who can know us better than ourselves? Who has got more of an interest in things turning out well for us, than we do? Who is in a better position for working out all the messages and clues that God is sending down to each one of us, every second of the day, than us?
There’s a famous story told about the Steipler Rav, who was a very big tzaddik who lived in Bnei Brak a generation ago. The Steipler could be very blunt, and sometimes seemed a little exasperated by the numbers of people coming to him for blessings and advice.
Once, he turned to his companion and said incredulously: “Do the people who are coming to me for a blessing really think that I’m going to do a better job of it, than if they would just go and pray to Hashem for their own needs?!”
Of course, let’s be clear that going to a tzaddik like the Steipler in our own times, is a very beneficial, wonderful thing. But even Rav /shalom Arush has written that a tzaddik’s blessing is limited by the work the person getting the blessing is willing to do for, and on, themselves.
So where does all this leave us, and our attempts to work out what God wants from us, and how to relate to all these authority figures in various areas of our lives?
The ‘expert’ checklist:
Here’s what I think: regardless of whether you are dealing with a doctor, or a lawyer, or a rabbi, or a therapist or any other ‘expert’, the first thing you should do is check the following:
1) Are they humble?
2) Are they compassionate?
3) Do they listen to you like you’re a valuable human being, or talk over you and ignore or rubbish your opinions?
4) Do they admit to making mistakes, or try to paint themselves as being perfect and ‘superior’?
5) Do they have God in their lives, in any real, tangible way?
5) Do they encourage you to think for yourself, or do they try to make you feel small, stupid and insignificant, and greatly in need of their vastly superior wisdom and knowledge?
This last point really contains all the others. I’ve seen Rav Arush in action a number of times; my husband and I have also tried to ask to ask him a number of things. Almost always (with a few small exceptions), he’s put the onus for making the decision back on us, and encouraged us to talk to God about what’s going on in our lives, and to get guidance that way.
He gives advice, but he doesn’t issue commands. He gives strong guidance, indirectly, throughout his books and classes but when it’s one-on-one, he respects your free choice and normally only hints at things.
This was also the way of Rebbe Nachman, who made it a point NEVER to tell people what to do directly, and only ever gently advised them. If a huge tzaddik like Rebbe Nachman didn’t think it was appropriate to boss people around, that speaks volumes.
So let’s sum it up like this: if your ‘expert’, whoever they are, likes offering unsolicited advice to you, revels in telling you (or even ‘ordering’ you) to do things; and tries to blame you, subtly or otherwise, for making ‘wrong’ decisions – walk away.
If they don’t encourage you to believe in yourself, and in your own decision-making abilities, and in your own value as a unique human being – walk away.
God wants you to talk to Him, and to think for yourself, in every area of your life. I know, it’s so tempting to try and outsource your decisions and responsibility to others. But it’s truly a case of ‘buyer beware’, because the people you’d really want to tell you what they think usually won’t; and the people who can’t wait to tell you what they think are usually the very last people you should be listening to.