Part 1. The Book
The author called his work by three distinct names. Each of these names characterizes the book in its own way. These names are:
I. Likutei Amarim – “Collected Discourses.” By this name the author describes his work in his “Compiler’s Foreword,” thereby humbly disclaiming any originality for his work. In fact the author explicitly states that his treatise constitutes a collection of discourses “which have been selected from books and scribes, heavenly saints, who are renowned among us.”1 Under this title the book was first published (Slavita, 1796).2
2. Tanya, after the initial word of the book, quoting a Baraitic source.3 The quotation from tannaitic lore serves the author more than as a homiletic introduction to his system. Dealing, as it does, with the mystic descent of the soul and its destiny, it provides the author with a starting point, based in the Talmud; from which to unfold his whole system. Under this title the book appeared for the second time (Zolkiev, 1798), with Likutei Amarim as subtitle.4
3. Sefer shel Benonim – “Book of the Intermediates,” so called after the type of personality on which the book centers attention, that is, the intermediate type whose moral position is between the tzaddik(“righteous man”) and rasha (“wicked man”). Thus the author pointedly indicates that his primary concern is not with the tzaddik, upon whose veneration general Chassidut had placed so much emphasis, nor with the rasha, upon whose condemnation much has been said in other Jewish ethical works, but with the benoni, the “intermediate” man, whose rank is within reach of every person.5 The name Sefer shel Benonim appeared as a subtitle in the first edition (“Likutei Amarim, Part One, called Sefer shel Benonim“). However, actually the author often refers to the whole book, and not merely its first part, when using the title Sefer shel Benonim.6
The standard complete editions of this work include the following five parts, each of which is an independent treatise:
Part I: Likutei Amarim, or Tanya, or Sefer shel Benonim, proper, comprising a Foreword and fifty-three chapters (148 pp.).
Part II: Sha’ar ha-Yichud veha-Emunah(“Portal of Unity and Belief”), with a Foreword and twelve chapters (30 pp.).
Part III: lgeret ha-Teshuvah (“Epistle of Repentance”), with twelve chapters (22 pp.).
Part IV: lgeret ha-Kodesh (“Sacred Epistle”), with thirty-two sections (102 pp.).7
Part V: Kuntress Acharon (“Latest Treatise”); (20 pp.).
Altogether at least sixty-five editions of the Likutei Amarim, or Tanya, complete or in part, have appeared to date,8 with both names alternating as title and subtitle, respectively. Yet this work, as the other Chabad classics, has never been translated into any European language.9 Even in its Hebrew original it is not an easy book, because of its construction, almost complete lack of punctuation, and also because some of its basic doctrines are not treated fully therein and must be sought in the author’s other works. There seems, therefore, ample reason for presenting to the English-speaking Jewish world a translation of this fundamental work of Chabad, with an introduction and notes which, it is hoped, will facilitate the comprehension of this book and its doctrine. Our present study will confine itself to Part 1, to which we shall refer, for the sake of convenience, by its shorter name – Tanya.
The author worked on the Tanya for twenty years10 elaborating its style and form so punctiliously that it came to be regarded by his followers as the “Written Torah” of Chabad, where every word and letter was meaningful. Indeed, the author divided it into fifty-three chapters to correspond to the number of Sidrot (weekly portions) in the Pentateuch. It soon became the custom of many Chabad Chassidim to study a chapter of the Tanya each week, with the same regularity with which the weekly portions of the Pentateuch were recited.11
In his attempt to design the Tanya so that it would meet the widest possible need, both of the analytical and searching mind, as well as of the less scholarly, the author has succeeded to a high degree. The former find in it an inexhaustible profundity, and several searching not yet published commentaries have been written on it. This translator has been fortunate in having access to some of the manuscripts in question.12 The less scholarly, too, each according to his intellectual capacity, find in it edifying instruction at varying levels. This quality, together with the
authority it enjoys, accounts for the widespread recognition which the Tanya has commanded from the time of its appearance to the present day.
The Tanya was written, as the author indicates in his Foreword, for the “seekers” and the “perplexed.” One is tempted to draw a parallel between this author and his book and Maimonides and his Guide. Indeed, both men present some striking points in common. Each of them first established his reputation as a Talmudist and Codifier before publishing a work of philosophy; both had written Codes of Jewish Law, which are still authoritative and popular. Each of them created a new lasting school of thought in Jewish philosophy, and the one, like the
other, set out to write a work which aimed at helping those who needed guidance in their religious beliefs. Yet both of them evoked sharp opposition from the direction of a part of orthodox Jewry; both were misunderstood and their philosophical treatises were banned.
However, this is as far as the parallel goes. The Guide and the Tanya represent two widely divergent systems, in essence as well as in form. The two authors were separated by some six centuries in time, and far apart also geographically and in respect of the whole cultural milieu in which they flourished. Maimonides is the rational Jewish philosopher par excellence; Rabbi Schneur Zalman is basically a mystic. The “perplexed” for whom they wrote were two entirely different types of people. Maimonides wrote for the man whose perplexity derived from the fact that he desired to retain his traditional beliefs, but was puzzled by the apparent contradiction between tradition and philosophy, yet loath to give up either.13The object of the Guide, therefore, was to effect a reconciliation between the two.
No such problem confronted Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Philosophy and science hardly had a place among the masses of Eastern European Jewry at that time. The Haskalah movement had not yet made any serious inroads upon the minds of the masses. Rabbi Schneur Zalman addressed himself to those “who are in pursuit of righteousness and seek the Lord… whose intelligence and mind are confused and they wander about in darkness in the service of G‑d, unable to perceive the beneficial light that is buried in books.”14 In other words, he writes for those whose beliefs have not been troubled by doubts, but who merely seek the right path to G‑d.
We will, therefore, not find in the Tanyathe type of scholastic philosophy with which the Guide is replete, nor any polemics, nor even an attempt to treat systematically many of the philosophical problems which engaged Maimonides’ attention. Such basic beliefs as the Existence of G‑d, creatio ex nihilo, Revelation, and others, are taken for granted by the author. Others, such as the Divine attributes, Providence, Unity, Messianism, etc., are treated as integral parts of his ethical system, and illuminated by the light of Kabbalah.
The Tanya is essentially a work on Jewish religious ethics. The author is primarily concerned with the forces of good and evil in human nature and in the surrounding world, and his objective,
as already pointed out, is to pave a new way to the summum bonum. He is aware, of course, of the existence of Hebrew literature dealing with the same subject. If he is impelled to write a new book, it is not, as he is careful to note, because of the shortcomings of the available works per se, but because the human mind is not equally receptive, nor equally responsive to, the same stimuli. The implication is that many works on Jewish philosophy and ethics were useful for their time and age, or for the specific groups for whom they were written. Now there was a need for a new approach (in the light of the Chassidic doctrine), and for a “guide” that would command a universal appeal. However, the author realizes that even this book, in parts at least, cannot be so simple as to be understood by all. Consequently he urges the more learned not to be misled by a sense of misplaced modesty, and not to withhold their knowledge from those who would seek it from them in the understanding of these “Discourses.”15
R. Schneur Zalman knew his ”perplexed” intimately. They flocked to him in great numbers, and they flooded him with written inquiries. Most of them, undoubtedly, were simple folk and laymen. But there were also many students of the Talmud, and philosophically inclined young men, who, like himself in his teens, sought a new way of life and new outlets for their intellectual as well as spiritual drives. The consideration of such a variegated audience largely determined the form and style of the book.
Speaking of form and style, it should be remembered that long before he committed his teachings and doctrines to writing, he preached them orally.16 ls His sermons and discourses, delivered mostly on the Sabbath and on Festivals (which accounts for their homiletic style), were subsequently recorded from memory by his disciples. These manuscripts had a wide circulation among his followers. Not infrequently Rabbi Schneur Zalman expounded his doctrines in the form of epistles which, being of general interest, were regarded by his followers as pastoral letters, and also copied and recopied for the widest possible circulation. In the course of time, as his community of devotees had greatly increased, R. Schneur Zalman felt, as he explains in his Foreword, that the time was ripe to present an outline of his teachings in the form of a book, which was to supersede the circulating Pamphlets, many of which were replete with errors as a result of repeated copying and transcription, or by the malicious mischief of opponents.17 This is how the Likutei Amarim, or Tanya, in its present composition, was born.
Part 2. The Sources
We have already noted that the author of the Tanya made no claim to originality for his work. On the contrary, he emphasized his dependence on his predecessors. Among the “books and sages” which influenced his thinking, the Scriptures, Talmud and Lurianic Kabbalah must be given foremost place. This is indicated already in the first chapter, which opens the book with Talmudic quotations, references to the Zoharitic literature and R. Chayyim Vital, the great exponent of Lurianic Kabbalah, and with interspersed quotations from Scripture. Here we already have an indication of the author’s cast of mind and his aim to build his system on the combined foundations of Scriptural, Rabbinic and Kabbalistic sources.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s interpretations and doctrines are based upon the teachings of the Ba’alShem Tov, the founder of general Chassidut, and his own “masters,” Rabbi Dov Ber of Miezricz, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s successor, and Rabbi Dov Ber’s son Rabbi Abraham, the “angel.”
The author draws abundantly from the Zohar and the Tikunei Zohar. He mentions by name Maimonides (the Code), and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero(Pardes). Of other “books and scribes” which influenced him, though he does not mention them by name in the Tanya, are R. Isaiah Hurwitz’s Shenei Luchot ha-Berit, the works of the Maharal (Rabbi Judah Lowe) of Prague, and Bachya ben Asher‘s Commentary on the Bible.18
Halevi’s Kuzari was held in high esteem by Rabbi Schneur Zalman and his successors. He is known to have studied it ardently with his son and grandson who succeeded him. Similarly Bachya ibn Pakuda’s Duties of the Heart, which enjoyed great popularity among Talmudic scholars of the day, as it still does.19 Albo’s lkarim was another popular source for the philosophically inclined. It is safe to assume that Rabbi Schneur Zalman was intimately familiar with these, and no doubt also with the whole range of Medieval Jewish philosophy, but there is no evidence of influence by these sources on the composition of the Tanya.
It has been wisely said that the proper approach to a problem is in itself half a solution. Quite often it is the approach to the problem, and the method of treating it, that displays the greatest degree of ingenuity and originality, and in themselves constitute the main contribution of the thinker. This is true of R. Schneur Zalman and of the Chabad system which he created. For, while his basic concepts have been gleaned from various sources, his doctrines nevertheless present a complete and unified system, and there is much refreshing originality in its presentation and consistency.
But R. Schneur Zalman did more than that. Very often he has so modified, reinterpreted or remolded the ideas which he had assimilated, as to give them an originality of their own.
To Rabbi Schneur Zalman, as to Kabbalists in general, the Torah, the Jewish Written and Oral Law embodied in the Bible and Talmud (the latter including both the Halachah and Aggadah), was more than a Divinely inspired guide to the summum bonum. It constituted the essential law and order of the created universe.20 The Kabbalah, in its interpretation, was nothing but the inner, esoteric dimension of the Torah, its very “soul.” Without this dimension the Torah could not be fully understood. Consequently, when he looked for the “inner,” or esoteric, meaning of Biblical and Talmudic texts it was not for the purpose of adding homiletic poignancy to his exposition, but rather to reveal their inner dimension. In his system the esoteric and exoteric, the Kabbalah and the Talmud, are thoroughly blended and unified, just as the physical and metaphysical, the body and soul, emerge under his treatment as two aspects of the same thing. The polarity of things is but external; the underlying reality of everything is unity, reflecting the unity of the Creator. To bring out this unity of the microcosm and macrocosm, as they merge within the mystic unity of the En Sof (the Infinite) that is the ultimate aim of his system.
Part 3. The Composition of the Tanya
Structurally, the Tanya may be divided into a number of sections, each dealing with a major subject and comprising a number of composite topics.
The first section of the work (chapters 1-8) is devoted to an analysis of the psychological structure of the Jewish personality.21 Here the author discusses the two levels of consciousness (to use modern terminology) on which a person operates. These two levels of consciousness are derived from two sources, which the author terms the “divine soul” and the “animal soul.” He examines the essential attributes and practical faculties of each. In dealing with the “animal soul” the author discusses also the nature of evil, both metaphysical and moral. Evil is basically conceived in terms of disunity; good in terms of unity.
Next (chapters 9-17), the author goes on to examine the inevitable conflict ensuing from the two divergent sources of consciousness. He evaluates the relative strength of the two souls
and their respective functions, whereby the essential unity of the human personality is strongly upheld. Experientially, however, the conflict produces a variety of personalities, from one extreme to the other, which the author proceeds to define. His attention is focused on the personality of the Benoni, which falls midway between the extremes. However, in Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s definition the Benoni is not one whose sins and virtues balance, while the tzaddik is a person whose good deeds outweigh his sins, as sometimes defined in the Talmud.22 The Benoni of the Tanya is a person who exercises complete self-control and never commits a sin knowingly in any of the three areas of human activity: thought, speech and deed. The Benoni of the Tanya is thus superior to the tzaddik of the Talmud. Nevertheless, our author insists that this ideal personality is within grasp of the average individual, although not without constant effort and vigilance. The underlying doctrine here is that man is essentially and inherently a moral being.
The following chapters (18-25) are designed to support the author’s basic theory, namely, that the ideal personality of the Benoni is not a mere concept, but one that can actually be realized. To this end he re-examines the functions of the soul, both on the conscious and subconscious level. With regard to the former, the author insists on the supremacy of the intellect. As for the subconscious level, the author draws upon the Zoharfor certain mystical categories, such as the innate or “hidden” love and fear (awe) of G‑d. The “hidden” love provides a subconscious urge for oneness with G‑d; the sense of awe for the Divine Being provides a dread of separateness. Love and awe are therefore not conflicting, but rather complementary categories. The author emphasizes the special, and to a considerable extent also hereditary, nature of the Jew, and his attachment to the idea of the unity of G‑d, originating with the Patriarchs. This thought is, in some respects, strongly reminiscent of Halevi’s concept of the “Divine Influence” (al’amar al’ilahi), which Halevi considers germane to the Jewish people.23
In this connection the doctrine of Divine Unity comes under discussion.
However, never losing sight of the practical, the author discusses certain states of mind which have a direct bearing on the quest for personal unity as a prelude to unity in the cosmic order, which in turn is sine qua non for the realization of the Divine Unity. He offers a series of practical suggestions for attaining mental and emotional stability and inner harmony. The emphasis is on joy, stemming from an intellectually achieved faith, while sadness and dejection are severely censured. All this forms the subject matter of chapters 26-31.
Chapter 32 stands out by itself, as an interpolation not immediately related to the discussion in hand. The careful student will note that chapter 31 is more directly continued in chapter 33.
It would appear that the author chose to include this particular chapter parenthetically, as it were, in order to give emphasis at this point to one of the cardinal teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov, which is a cornerstone of Chassidut, and which receives special attention in Chabad.24 We refer to the subject of ahavat yisrael, love for fellow Jew (Lev. 18:19). In his familiar way, our author gives this precept a mystico-ethical exposition, based on the close soul-relationship within the community of Israel, to which he alluded in his Foreword and chapter 2, and which now receives fuller treatment in this chapter. Hence, some leading Chassidim note the significance of the number of this chapter – 32 – corresponding to the Hebrew word ל”ב, “heart.”25
The drama of the inner personal conflict leads the author to an examination of man’s destiny, the meaning and purpose of life, and man’s place in the cosmic order. These problems are dealt
with in chapters 33-37. In the last of these, the author outlines his concept of the Messianic Era and the Resurrection, when the cosmic order will have attained the acme of perfection and
fulfillment as a direct result of man’s conscious effort to work towards that goal.
At this point, the author might have concluded his treatise. However, he is not content with leaving us with the impression that life is merely a prelude to after-life. There must be more to life, and to religious experience, than serving merely as a means to an end. In the next, and last, fifteen chapters of his work, the author evolves his concept of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in the here and now. In his daily life man is offered a foretaste of the after-life, and in some respects it is of a quality surpassing even the spiritual bliss of the hereafter. The author, therefore, takes up again those categories of man’s spiritual phenomena which enable him to transcend his physical limitations and to partake of the supernatural in this life. Here again the mystic is very much in evidence. The author provides new insights into the concept of kavanah (the “intention”) which must accompany every human act), which is the vehicle of transcendence (chapters 38-40). He discusses the various qualities of fear (awe) and love, and introduces also the quality of mercy, as the basic elements of this transcendency, and as innate qualities in human nature to leap over the gulf that separates the created from the Creator, and to come in direct contact with the En Sof, the Limitless (chapters 41-47).
The next two chapters (48-49) are devoted to the all-important Lurianic doctrine of tzimtzum which, in the author’s system, holds the key to both the mystery of creation and the destiny of man. Both man and the world in which he lives are two-dimensional creatures of matter and spirit. The tension that inheres in such an order can be relieved only by spiritualizing the material. Man has it in his power to achieve personal harmony and unity, by realizing his inner nature. In so doing, he becomes the instrument through which the world in which he lives also achieves fulfillment. To be a true master of the world which the Creator had entrusted in his hands, man must first be master of himself. Creation is seen as a process leading from G‑d to man; fulfillment is seen as a process leading from man to G‑d. The process leading from G‑d to man is one of materializing the spiritual; that leading from man to G‑d – one of spiritualizing the material. There is a community of interests, as it were, between the Creator and His “counterpart” on earth, a community of interests which is realizable because of a community of “nature,” since man partakes in the Divine nature (by reason of the fact that his soul in a “part” of G‑dliness) as G‑d concerns Himself with human affairs.
Man’s moral acts must be holy acts.26The good and the holy are identical; man’s duty and purpose in life is to identify himself with his Creator, through identifying his will with that of his Creator. Man is the Divine instrument “to make this world a fitting abode for the Shechinah (Divine Presence),” in which both man and G‑d can share intimately and fully, in complete harmony and union. On this mystical note the final chapters (50-53) of the treatise conclude.
Hakdamat ha-melaket (“Compiler’s Foreword”), Likutei Amarim (Tanya), Kehot Publication Society (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1958), p. 7.
See list of Tanya editions, Tanya, pp. 712.
T.B. Niddah, 30b.
See n. 2, above.
Tanya, beg. ch. 14.
Ibid., p. 727.
Parts IV and V, comprising epistles written by the author at different times and on various occasions, were incorporated by the author’s sons.
See n. 2, above. Since this date the Tanya has appeared in several thousand further editions.
The Tanya, in full or in part, has since been translated into: French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.
Kitzurim VeHaorois LeTanya, by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, ed. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, KPS (Bklyn, N.Y. 1948), p. 121.
Ibid., pp. 123, 124.
Two are by Rabbi Shmuel Gronem Esterman, first dean of the Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, founded in Lubavitch in 1897. A third, extant only in part, is believed to have been written by Rabbi Jacob Kadaner, a disciple of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s son and successor. A fourth commentary is of unknown origin. [Some of these have since been published.]
The Guide For the Perplexed, tr. M. Friedlander (London, 1942), Introduction. p. 2.
Tanya, beg. Hakdamat ha-melaket.
RSZ is said to have preached his doctrines orally for twelve years before committing them to writing. Cf. Kitzurim, op. cit., p. 136.
Ibid., pp. 137, 139.
The Zohar is mentioned in the Tanya (part I) forty-nine times; Luria – ten times; Vital and his works twenty-nine times; Maimonides (Code) five times; Nachmanides – once. Cf. “Index of Books and Persons” in Tanya, pp. 683 ff.
Even where philosophical speculation was frowned upon, Bachya’s Duties of the Heart enjoyed a unique position. The influential Rabbi Isaiah Hurwitz, for example, severely criticised in his work R. Abraham ibn Ezra, Maimonides (Guide) and Gersonides, but held the Duties of the Heart in high esteem. See Shenei Luchot ha-Berit (Amsterdam, 1698), pp. 2b; 8a; 20b; 47b; 183a; 193b.
Comp. “He looked into the Torah and created the world,” Zohar (“Rom” ed., Wilno, 1937), vol. 11, 161a; 111, 35b, etc. See also Tanchuma, at the beg., on Prov. 8:30, to the effect that the Torah was the Divine “tool” in creating the universe.
With R. Isaiah Hurwitz and all Kabbalists, RSZ considered the Jewish psychological composition in a category of its own. Judah Halevi made the special destiny of the Jewish people one of the basic doctrines of his Kuzari. In the Tanya the emphasis is on the individual Jew rather than on the Jewish people as a whole.
Berachot 7a; Rosh Hashanah 16b. See discussion of this subject in first ch. of Tanya.
Kuzari I: 25, 27ff.
See, e.g., Likutei Torah (“Rom” ed., Wilno, 1928), vol. I, Matot, pp. 85d ff.; Derech Mitzvotecha by R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, KPS (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1953), pp, 28a ff., et al.
I am indebted to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe שליט”א, for calling my attention to the subject of this chapter.