Many are interested in studying the Tanya, the fundamental
book of Chassidut (written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi over 200 years
ago), but are faced with a problem: it is quite long and not easily understood.
Though there are many commentaries on the Tanya, most are also quite extensive,
and the new reader feels somewhat overwhelmed, and may give up.
In recent years,
the Ascent Institute in Safed conducted an on-line course on the
first 12 chapters of the Tanya. Unlike most other Tanya aids, the studies
were not based on the actual text of Tanya, but rather on its themes,
utilizing oral, experiential lessons, including stories and examples.
In other words, we do not read and explain the words of the Tanya themselves,
but rather summarize and comment on their general content. The course
was a great success, with enthusiastic feedback.
A summary of these
lessons is presented in this book for your reading pleasure.
It should be emphasized
that studying this booklet does not take the place of studying the Tanya
itself; rather, it gives the reader a "taste" that should "whet
his appetite" for true study of the Tanya and at least one of its
accepted commentaries, to be studied thoroughly and deeply.
Who Am I?
A Book for the
On the cover page
of the Tanya, on which the author defined its goals, it is written that
the Tanya is a book for the Beinoni - the average person, an intermediate.
At first reading, we may find ourselves a bit insulted - are we merely
average? Mediocre? Is that all we can aspire to? I remember that once,
when I sat down to study Tanya with someone else, when we arrived at those
words, he closed the book and asked me to bring the book for the Tzaddik
The Tzaddik, the
Rasha and the Beinoni
When we hear the concept of "Tzaddik, Rasha and Beinoni"
- the Righteous One, the Evil One and the Average One - our understanding
is that a righteous one is one who does many good deeds and very little
of the opposite; the evil one does very few good deeds and a good deal
of the opposite; and an average one is in the middle - fifty-fifty. This
is the common, well-known interpretation of these concepts.
Actually, the Talmud
addresses these concepts in a similar way, as it describes how G-d judges
us, each individual according to his deeds. However, when we delve deeper,
we understand that this is merely the simple, surface meaning, and that
the concepts are far deeper and more comprehensive.
In general, every
matter in the Torah has different levels of interpretation, and we always
aspire to reach the deepest meaning, the innermost aspect. In this way,
the Torah is much like each person: just as each of us has a body and
a soul, an inner and outer being, so do the interpretations of the Torah.
And just as with a person we are not satisfied with knowing just his physical
being, but want also to understand his deeper soul, so it is with the
interpretations of the Torah.
When we say that someone is "clever as a fox" - do we really
mean that he is really like a fox? Of course not. Thus, when we say that
someone is a Tzaddik - do we mean that he is essentially a Tzaddik, or
that we merely wish to describe the present state in which he has done
us a favor or a mitzvah, and so we call him a Tzaddik? It is clear that
we have "borrowed" the idea of the fox or the Tzaddik in order
to describe a particular aspect of that individual's character.
Unlike the metaphoric title, there is an essential title. When we bestow
the essential title "sage" on someone, we mean to say that his
wisdom is manifest in all his deeds. The wisdom is his title, just as
doctor is the title of someone whose occupation is healing. This, according
to the Tanya, is one's essential title. Thus when we say of someone that
he is an essential Tzaddik, it means that he is, in his very nature, a
Tzaddik, and his righteousness is expressed in every aspect of his life.
The Inner and
In accordance with the above, one can also understand the difference between
the common concepts and the precise definition of a Tzaddik. According
to the simple interpretation (level) - a person is judged by his deeds
alone, and thus it is enough for him to do more mitzvot than wrongdoings
to be considered a Tzaddik. But this is a metaphor for the true Tzaddik.
The true Tzaddik is an "essential Tzaddik". According to the
inner interpretation of the Torah, a person is measured by his true nature,
and thus there is a completely different scale for judging who is a Tzaddik
and who is a Beinoni.
In order to understand
this new scale, and thus to advance practically towards desirable self-conduct,
we must first understand the makeup of our inner being and condition,
to penetrate the depths of our own soul. In other words, we must study
well the structure of our soul in order to understand the concept properly.
worked at Ascent in Safed as the Director of Educational Programs.