What is a True Teacher? Remembering Rav Berg

October 6, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes
Appreciation, Relationships, Sharing


What is a teacher, in the truest sense? Is it someone who dispenses information and wisdom? Is it one who instructs and guides, who poses questions and provides assignments to help us steer our knowledge? Or is it all of these, but something far more—something that goes beyond the dispensation or instruction… something ineffable that we take in not from assignments, but rather from being in the presence of our teacher?

For me, no one embodied a true teacher more than my teacher and father-in-law, the Rav Berg. October 7, or the 12th of Libra, marks 11 years since he left this physical world–what we call his “Day of Elevation.”

As the Rav often said, no true teaching can happen without a certain resistance. He used the example of electricity to illustrate this idea: One can pass energy through a lightbulb, but there will be no light without the resistance created in the bulb’s coil. The Rav and Karen met with such resistance when, 40 years ago, they committed to bringing the ancient and heavily-guarded secrets of Kabbalah out into the world. But it was through this resistance that the light was able to shine into the corners of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary lives. That light was shared for the purpose of love. For community. For helping others find themselves. For spreading not just wisdom, but empowerment, understanding, connection, and love. The Rav wasn’t a teacher just for what he brought. He was a teacher for who he was.

I felt that love and connection directly. He didn’t teach it; he lived it. I first met the Rav and Karen when I was only 17. At the time, they seemed like spiritual giants–unreachable to me from that place of inexperience. I may have had spiritual inclinations, but I hadn’t developed them yet. Yet life led me to learn from these incredible teachers and later to know them as family.

And even now, I’m only beginning to understand the full impact the Rav had on my life. The light and the essence of the Rav are woven into the fabric of my work and our family. For example, the words he shared with me during a time of my own inner chaos–“Monica! Fear is not an option!”–became the title of my first book. The Rav influenced the naming of our first son, David, for the name’s biblical implications. And I’ll never forget when, after our son Josh was born and had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, the Rav sat with me in loving silence for what felt like an hour. When he finally spoke, his words were so powerful, so pure, I can still hear them echoing across the years: “Monica, this didn’t just happen to you. It happened to me as well,” he said.

What he meant was that he was in it with us. In fact, he was always in it with us. He shared our pain, our fear, and our joy. Through that sharing, we knew that all would be well. We knew that there was a perfection at work in this and in all of the Creator’s plans. And sure enough, that perfection was–and continues to be–revealed not just in our family, but in the whole of our lives.

What the Rav gave to me and to others was a blueprint for our lives. He illustrated that a true teacher goes beyond the study of any material. A true teacher helps us understand ourselves. A true teacher sees us, makes us feel that we matter, and inspires us to emulate what they’ve done with their lives. This teacher helps us understand why we came to this world. That was the gift that the Rav was able to bring to so many.

My husband Michael tells the story of when he was young and his family lived in a tiny apartment in Queens. The Rav would get up to teach a class on Mondays and Thursdays at 6:30 in the morning. Although 15 or 20 students would show up, most of them would fall asleep within the first half hour of class. So Michael asked him why he still taught the class, to which he replied, “I’m not teaching this wisdom for the people in this room; I’m sharing the wisdom because the world needs this light!”

And that’s how the Rav lived. In everything he said and did–even those moments of tough love–he strove to bring the light into the world. I’m sure that the reason he and Karen were so successful in their quest to bring the light of Kabbalah into the world was because they did it not for themselves, but to share with others. They gave us a space in which to fight the chaos in the world with consciousness.

What did the Rav teach me? I’d say that, above all, he taught me the power of empathy. It takes strength, courage, and appreciation to cultivate true empathy. It takes a surrendering of the ego and an ability to step into the best of ourselves to truly feel for–and be kind towards–another. He also taught me that any of us can actualize our potential at any time. He didn’t even begin his studies of Kabbalah until the age of 40 when he met his beloved teacher. For him, that meant moving from his life as a businessman (which was more thinking-based) towards a new life as a student of spirituality. That was the heart realm, and it was from that place where he met his soulmate, my mother-in-law, and the rest was history.

Writer and historian Henry Adams once wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” My personal hope is that my own work, and the work of the Centre, will be a true continuation of the blueprint the Rav and Karen have left us.

On the Day of Elevation, it is said that the light of a departed soul is most easily accessible to any of us. As we light our candle to draw closer to the Rav’s light, may we choose consciousness over chaos and empathy over indifference. May we grow to understand that it is not just what we bring to the world that matters, it’s who we are.

Most of all, may we each continue to grow our own light and to share it with others. Because that’s the truest legacy of a great teacher, and that’s what the Rav wanted to leave in this world more than anything: all the light he could gather… and all the love, too.

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  1. Your writing is truly powerful. I have been delaying reading this email for days but I think it is for a reason. Today is the right day for me to grasp the meaning of your words beyond what is written in this email. In less than a page you’ve managed to convey the picture of who the Rav and Karen were. Thanks.

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