Aseh Lecha Rav (Make for Yourself A Rabbi)

עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר

Make for yourself a rabbi (aseh lecha rav) and acquire for yourself a friend” (kneh lecha chaver).

Pirkei Avot 1, Mishnah 6

Aseh lecha rav is reiterated twice in Pirkei Avot, emphasizing its importance.

When we think of a contemporary rabbi, we most likely envision graduates from a Rabbinical seminary. Yet we had s’micha as a means to ordain, dating all the way back to Moses.

“And he laid his hands (va-yismokh) upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord spoke by the hand of Moses.”

Bamidbar/Numbers 27: 23

The word, s’micha, means “laying of hands.” Moses ordained Joshua (Yehoshua/יהושע) by laying his hands upon him.

Traditionally, a student is ordained as a rabbi when another s’micha rabbi confers the tile of “rabbi” upon the student, or by the will of a community. Communities often chose who they wanted to be their rabbi. The title “rabbi” was first used in the first century CE.

Official Jewish seminaries developed as a response to Christian seminaries founded in North America in the first half of the 19th century by Mainline Protestants.

When Christian seminaries became the standardized process for ordaining Christian clergy, some branches of Judaism began to establish Jewish seminaries to create a Jewish equivalent that would be seen as equally credible in the eyes of non-Jewish society.

In 19th-century Germany and the U.S., the rabbinic duties of seminary or “pulpit rabbis” increased, closely resembling those of the Protestant minister.

The title of rabbi can still be conferred via s’micha and remains a tradition in Hasidic communities.

What does it mean to make for yourself a rav?

Maimonides (Rambam) zeroed in on the verb “aseh” (make). It doesn’t say to acquire or find, it says make.

Synonyms for make are: create, fashion, shape, form, bring into being or bring into existence.

Make is something you bring into being by engaging in the student/teacher learning process.

What’s the difference between a rav, rov, reb, rebbe, rabbi, rabban and rebenyu (dear rabbi)?

At the start of Talmudic times, rav was a term for a “master” of any topic, environment, vocation or trade. In the religious sense, Rav was a title mainly used by the Amoraim of Babylon, the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud. Rav evolved as an honorific conferred upon any spiritual or religious master.

The English word ”rabbi” derives from the inflected term rabi, meaning “my teacher.” While rabi was originally a direct form of address from student to teacher, it became a general title in the early centuries CE.

Where did the “n” in “rabbin” (such as rabbinate, rabbinic/al and rabbinim) come from? “Rabbin” derives from raban, an inflected Aramaic form of rav, meaning “our master,” that was used in ancient Palestine for a rabbinic leader, such as Raban Gamliel, or Raban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who was recognized as the teacher of an entire generation.

In Yiddish the ”n” forms a term of endearment meaning “dear rabbi,” as it appears in the words gottenyu, “dear God,” and tatenyu, “dear father.”

Rov descends from the Hebrew rav, and rebbe from the Hebrew rabi. In Ashkenazi culture, a rebbe referred to a chasidic rabbi and rov to a non-chasidic (mitnagdic) rabbi.

Reb was a title of respect or affection that could be given to any Jew.

The English word “rabbi” is typically translated as teacher, as the inflected from of rabi רבי or “my teacher.”

Rav means great one or honored one. We can see that it means abundant or great in number in the terms rav todot (many thanks), rav brachot (abundant blessings), shalom rav (abundant peace) and ma rav tuvcha (how great is your goodness)” in Psalm 31:20.

Moses made for himself a rav in the relationship he had with his father- in-law and mentor, Yitro, the Midianite priest. Yitro mentored Moses and Moses trusted Yitro to mentor him. When making for yourself a Rav, trust and emotional safety are essential components.

The ‘making’ of a personal rabbi is captured beautifully in the quote below:

“Jewish learning traditionally was not defined by access to knowledge but rather by the intimate and often revelatory relationship between teacher and student. This intimacy is captured in the word Torah itself, which means “instruction,” suggesting that communication, a connection between people, is at the heart of the enterprise.”

Dr. Susan Handelman, professor of English at Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Conferment of knowledge alone is not enough to truly teach and to truly learn.

Make for yourself a rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend.

The sentence structure tells us these two precepts go hand-in-hand. Sentence structure is always significant in Jewish texts.

To make for yourself a rav, you have to be ready to receive one, which reminds me of the Buddhist adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.”

In some interpretations the “friend” is a chavruta (Torah study partner). In another interpretation, the friend is your rav.

Last but not least, Aseh lecha rav עשה לך רב can be interpreted two different ways: Make another person your rav or make yourself your rav. They need not be exclusive. The two interpretations can be interdependent and coexistent.


Yohanan ben Zakkai, (30 BCE–90 CE) 1st-century sage in Yehuda and key contributor to the Mishnah, was the first to be called “Rabbi” or “Rabban” (our teacher, our master).


5 thoughts on “Aseh Lecha Rav (Make for Yourself A Rabbi)

  1. Pingback: Spirit Animals in Judaism: Chapter II – The Wild Pomegranate Tree

    • Thank you for being here to share your knowledge, experiences and journey. The post you linked resonated with me. Just commented on it.

  2. I like that thought. That you yourself are your own rabbi.
    I’m grateful for my rabbi… though plenty people are our rabbis.
    Thank you for being a chaver.

    • I like the thought too. Love it, in fact. Thank you, dear friend! It’s a pleasure to have you here on this journey with me.

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