The role of mashpia exists in both Hasidic and non-Hasidic movements (such as the Mashgiach ruchani), and is used currently in both the Chabad-Lubavitch and Breslov Hasidic Movements.
The mashpia in Chabad-Lubavitch refers specifically to one whose communal service as a spiritual mentor includes providing:
- communal guidance through regular public lectures and classes, and leading farbrengens, Chasidic gatherings;
- personal guidance in matters of decent interpersonal conduct and fine character traits;
- inspiration to strive ever higher in one's spiritual growth, through intensive Torah study and observance of Mitzvos, particularly according to the Chabad Hasidic tradition;
- answers to those seeking clarification on matters of Hasidic philosophy, customs, and general conduct according to the Chabad-Lubavitch school of thought; and
- personally-tailored advice on how to advance in the uniquely Chabad discipline of avodas ha'tefilah, lit. "the service of prayer." This discipline involves lengthy meditation on sublime Hasidic concepts before and during the course of prayer.
The nature of the mashpia's role is alluded to in the preface to the Tanya, the classic text of Hasidic philosophy written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. It is discussed in numerous public talks delivered by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. In particular, he instructed that one should approach one's mashpia regularly to be examined and evaluated.
There is a distinction to be drawn between a Rav, i.e., a personal mentor and adviser, and a mashpia. Although the two terms are similar and often used interchangeably, the latter term usually refers to someone knowledgeable and scholarly, who holds some official communal position. The former term, however, refers to an individual who is chosen simply as an objective outsider to offer advice and guidance. This person need not be otherwise qualified.
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