A portrait of the Alter Rebbe made up of the the entire text of the Tanya in miniature writing on the backdrop of the title page of the first print edition

A Great G-d in a Small Book

The Tanya presents a system that empowers each person to use his own G-d given powers to overcome temptations and obstacles by evoking positive thoughts and feelings, building up a healthy spiritual life from the core • The Story of the Tanya In honor of the 275th birthday of its author – Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

You’re sitting on the couch one afternoon minding your own business, when you happen to notice that your right thumb is itchy. Actually your entire hand is itchy. Or more like, your whole arm is riddled with strange red bumps that vaguely remind you of Aunt Sara’s strawberry ices. Just melted. And very itchy. You fingers lead you directly to Doctor Google who prescribes an ointment that you immediately request Mister A. Mazon to deliver pronto. You try it. It works and your skin looks great. A few weeks pass and as the memories of Aunt Sara return; you sigh and book an appointment with a Dermatologist. Your spots now have an official name and you now officially have to go on a diet. Chances are the next time you’ll think of your dear aunt will be at the next family Simcha.

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An ointment versus a long term remedy is the comparison the Ba’al Shem Tov gave to describe the teachings he began which later became known as Chassidus.

“Mussar books are like ointments, empowering one to deal with particular spiritual illnesses by treating them with Chazal’s specific directives. This works to stabilize the situation but it is only temporary.

“Mussar Sefarim are like ointments, empowering one to deal with particular spiritual illnesses such as anger and arrogance, by treating them with Chazal’s specific directives. This ‘first aid treatment’ works to stabilize the situation but it is only temporary, with the Yetzer Harah lurking slyly nearby ready to attack again.

Chassidus, in contrast, treats the core of the problem and allows for a long-term treatment that will dismantle the Yetzer Harah’s negative effects, thus allowing one to excel in his Avodas Hashem and not constantly remain on the defense line.”

This being the case, that Chassidus is long-term treatment for spiritual illnesses, the Rebbes must have then been the doctors and the Tanya is the ‘do-it-yourself’ manual.

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The author of this manual, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was the youngest student of the great Maggid of Mezerich. Only he had the mental and spiritual capacity to master the Maggid’s teachings completely, the other disciples ascending into spiritual ecstasy somewhere before they reached the end. As R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said: “We all ate from one dish, but he took the cream”.

Tanya speaks to the critical mind with its philosophical discussions, it speaks to the man of emotion with its moving real-life descriptions of man’s inner struggle and it speaks to the practical person with down to earth advice how to be a little better today than yesterday.

Yet he didn’t eat the cream alone! He eventually gathered students and became a Rebbe to many thousands of Chassidim from all over Lithuania, White Russia and the Ukraine and even from far Romania, who flocked to him for advice on their Avodas Hashem. He scooped out advice generously, with a unique flavor that came to be known as Chabad (a spiritual system that believes in the ability of human intellect to understand G-dliness and use it to deepen and strengthen the natural Jewish Emunah and affect our emotions as well.

His system was one that empowers each person to use his own G-d given powers to overcome temptations and obstacles by evoking positive thoughts and feelings, thus transforming oneself and building up a healthy spiritual life from the core. The Rebbe’s role is to direct the Jew and supply him with the tools to do it himself.

As the movement grew in rapid numbers and Rabbi Schneur Zalman couldn’t spend all the time answering in person, he chose to implement his teachings in book form, which he called “Sefer Shel Beinonim”. This volume, small in size yet monumental with its messages, known as “Tanya” (which is the first word of the book) “includes all the answers to all the questions in Avodas Hashem” and encouraged the older and more experienced Chassidim to direct the youth in how to implement the book’s ideas in their own life.

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He put his heart and soul into its compilation and before writing an additional letter he reviewed all what he had written prior!

R’ Schneur Zalman invested twenty years into authoring the Tanya. He put his heart and soul into its compilation and before writing an additional letter he reviewed all what he had written prior! At times he spent weeks contemplating the addition or deduction of a single”ו”!

It is one of those incredible “one size fits all” books. Or better said it’s a book that has many sizes built into it: “Tanya is like the Chumash: both a simple man can understand something of it, and still a scholar can never reach the great depths incorporated into it.”

It is written for “those who I know and I’m acquainted with” who posed their questions to the author. As explained in Kabbalistic sources, there are certain Tzadikkim, great Jewish leaders, who possess a “general Neshama” which includes the souls of all the Jewish people. Thus Chassidic tradition has it, that R’ Schneur Zalman, as an unquestionable Tzaddik and leader, tailored the book for every person who will learn from it!

The messages of the book are for any Jew regardless of his affiliation. It is based on the pasuk “כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאוד בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו”, “The matter [of a wholesome performance of the Torah and mitzvos] is within your reach to do it with your mouth and with your heart”. These ideas just help us understand ourselves, by explaining to us who we really are and how we can be so much better, if we only want to and are ready to invest the effort.

Tanya speaks to the critical mind with its philosophical discussions, it speaks to the man of emotion with its moving real-life descriptions of man’s inner struggle, and it speaks to the practical person with down to earth advice how to be a little better today than yesterday. Tanya believes that each person is a philosopher, a poet and a doer, because we all have minds, we all have hearts and we all have the power to say and do a world of good.

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“Tanya is the K’tores and remedy for all spiritual calamities of the time before Mashiach’s arrival” 

R’ Zushe of Anipoli said that “we will march to greet Moshiach with the Tanya.” Over 200 years has passed since the Tanya was first published, but it remains a classic studied by thousands of Jews from all walks of life, from the most observant and committed Jews to even Jews who are on the margin of Jewish affiliation and observance.

Its message becomes more relevant every day that passes, because the challenges we face in today’s day and age have only one answer – the teachings and ways of Chassidus, i.e., the empowerment to see the world eye to eye with its Creator. The world is not an obstacle to be avoided, but as garden that must be weeded and refined because it is in essence a beautiful place.

R’ Yehuda Leib Hakohen, one of the author’s colleagues from whom he requested a Haskama, said that “Tanya is the K’tores and remedy for all spiritual calamities of the time before Mashiach’s arrival.”

Now more than ever, it becomes ever so obvious that Chassidus indeed is not intended for Chassidim alone.