Choosing a Spiritual Mentor

Dear Rabanit Cohen,
I was at one of the speeches you gave before Pesach where you encouraged the women to choose a spiritual mentor and guide in order to progress in and rise in levels of spirituality. I would like to know if you can provide a more detailed answer as to why this is so important. I feel I am doing fine without guidance.


Dear Reader,
Thank you so much for writing and for coming to the shiur prior to Pesach when it is usually such a busy time for women in Klal Yisrael.

Each and every one of us needs a spiritual teacher and mentor, a mashpiah that will help us maximize our neshamah’s potential in our avodat kodesh. The mishnah states in Pirkei Avot, “Aseh lecha Rav – acquire for yourself a teacher.” Here are some of the reasons why a spiritual guide or mentor may be beneficial.

The chachamim in the Mishnah inform us that “one cannot examine his own defects.” Although they are referring to someone who wishes to diagnose himself with tzoraat, leprosy, this statement is also understood allegorically and is explained that it is very difficult for us to be objective about our weaknesses and even our strengths. We also often under-estimate or over-estimate what we can or cannot do. A mentor who knows us well can help us see ourselves objectively and guide us to use our strengths and work on our weaknesses so that we grow in Yahadut.

The Gemara of Sanhedrin tells us that “a prisoner cannot free himself from his prison.” So, too, a mentor provides us with the outside help necessary for us to lift ourselves up from the prison imposed upon us by our own destructive instincts.

The Baal Ha’Tanya (a”h) explains that there are two distinct neshamot animating the body and fighting for dominion. There is an “animal soul” and a “G‑dly soul.” The animal soul is driven by the self-centered desires of physical life, while the G‑dly soul seeks to serve Hashem. The animal soul has no interest in the triumph of someone else’s animal soul; by contrast, the G‑dly soul’s only desire is that the will of Hashem be fulfilled, so it desires the success of the G‑dly soul in others as well.

When a person grapples alone with his or her spiritual failings, there is a one-on-one struggle between these two selves. But when two people get together, the animal soul of each is overwhelmed by a double onslaught of the two G‑dly souls working together. While any good friend can help us for the reasons mentioned above, a spritual mentor is someone who knows us well and has the wisdom, experience and Torah knowledge that makes his or her guidance that much more effective.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (a”h), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson said, “If you want to learn how to improve your spiritual life and standing, you must not be embarrassed to ask about and discuss all your concerns with someone who can guide you.”