“Make for yourself a Rav” – Pirkei Avot—Ethics of our Fathers
When you are just beginning your journey of becoming religious, you need a trusted guide to help you. There can be an urge to do everything at once and even to become more religious than everyone you know. This is a sure-fire recipe for failure. You can turn to friends and maybe other family members who have also become ba’alei teshuva, but your most trusted guide should be a rabbi. If you are coming from a completely secular lifestyle, then your exposure to rabbis might be somewhat limited. You could also be nervous about hooking up with one, but trust me, the right rabbi is key to a journey of return that will be fun, fulfilling and successful.
How about a virtual rabbi?
If you go to YouTube, you will find thousands of classes from rabbis all around the world, in all languages. Both my wife and I enjoy listening to these classes, plus literally thousands of others you can find on the internet from various Jewish learning sites. This is not a substitute for an actual rabbi. You need someone live and in person.
How do I choose one?
Here are 4 basic criteria for choosing a rabbi:
• Knowledgeable and qualified
• Local and available
Knowledgeable and qualified
Your rabbi should be a master of the entire Torah—written and oral. He should be officially ordained by an ordained rabbi and be someone who spent time as an apprentice to his spiritual guide before becoming one himself.
Local and available
Your rabbi needs to be in your local community and available. In the beginning, you will have tons of questions and you want to have a rabbi who is able to answer the phone when you call or respond to your email.
Your rabbi should be humble, not someone who needs to toot his own horn about how many books he has written, or lectures he has given, or even how many people he has brought to teshuva.
Your rabbi needs to be someone you can open up to, who can see your face and understand even what you do not know about how you are progressing with your journey of becoming observant.