1. “All the days (of the week) are blessed from the preceding Shabbos,” especially the first three days. This year, Yud-Tes Kislev (19th of Kislev — liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment) is on Tuesday, and hence this Shabbos is the day from which Yud-Tes Kislev is blessed. The quintessence of Yud-Tes Kislev is the propagation of Chassidus, as the Rebbe Rashab writes, that the efforts to spread Chassidus began mainly after Yud-Tes Kislev. Hence this Shabbos (which blesses Yud-Tes Kislev) is associated with the idea of disseminating Chassidus.
Furthermore, the Alter Rebbe was liberated on Tuesday, and this year Yud-Tes Kislev also falls out on Tuesday. On the third day of creation (Tuesday), it is said “it was good” twice — “good for heaven and good for creatures.” This once again emphasizes the connection between Yud-Tes Kislev and the dissemination of Chassidus. Chassidus is the concept of conduct above and beyond the strict letter of the law (corresponding to the idea of the third day having “it was good” doubled); and it is also the idea of working with and influencing ‘creatures’ — “your wellsprings (of Chassidus) shall spread forth to the outside.
The dissemination of Chassidus, the concept of Yud-Tes Kislev, has a special association with the Tanya (the magnum opus of the Alter Rebbe on Chassidus), referred to by the Lubavitcher Rebbeim as the “Written Law” of Chassidus. Just as Chassidus is for all Jews, so too the Tanya is written for everyone, both those whose service is in the category of “heaven” and those of the category of “creatures.” On the front page of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that the Tanya is “based on the Scriptural text ‘But the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it’ — to explain well how it is very near...” “The thing is very near to you” refers to the spiritual service of all Jews. Even to those whose service is in the category of “creatures,” of low spiritual standing, the ‘thing is still very near.’ To those who service is more lofty (“heaven”), and consequently greater effort is demanded to rise yet higher, this extra effort is also ‘very near to you.’
The Tanya is not only the “Written Law’ of Chassidus Chabad, but of Chassidus in general; for Chassidus Chabad is Chassidus explained in a framework of comprehension and understanding. Furthermore, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidus, only spoke Torah, and did not write it down. Those books which contain his teachings were written by his disciples. The Chassidus of the Baal Shem Tov was in the form of Oral Law, not the Written Law. The Alter Rebbe however, in addition to expressing his teachings orally, also wrote the Tanya himself. He wrote it with the utmost precision and meticulousness, and it took 20 years to complete. Hence the Tanya is the written book of Chassidus, and thus is the “Written Law” of both Chassidus Chabad and Chassidus in general.
Tanya, the “Written Law” of Chassidus, is similar to the “Written Law” of Torah in general (i.e. the five books of Moshe — the Pentateuch). Our Sages said that “there is nothing that is not alluded to in the Written Torah” — all concepts of Torah, even those things in existence before the Giving of the Torah, are included in the Written Law. The Torah existed even before Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai), as for example, we find that Avraham studied Torah. The difference is that before Mattan Torah the concepts of Torah were in oral fashion, and at Mattan Torah they were given in written form.
Before Mattan Torah, there was a decree that the ‘upper’ (worlds) could not descend to the lower, and the Torah could not descend below in the form of deed — the Written Law; hence the Torah was only in oral form. When the decree was abolished (at Mattan Torah), Torah descended below in the form of deed — the Written Law. Although this was a descent for the Torah, its effect produced a greater elevation. For the Torah had to be drawn down from the loftiest spheres to be able to effect the joining of the lower to the upper.
So too with the “Written Law” of Chassidus. Before the Tanya, Chassidus in general existed in the mode of the oral Law. Through the Alter Rebbe writing the Tanya, the teachings of Chassidus now existed in the mode of the Written Law. And just as everything, including that before Mattan Torah, is included in the Written Torah, similarly, the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov that existed beforehand (the oral Law) are included in the Tanya. Although the revelation of Chassidus in written (and printed) form is a descent, it produced a greater loftiness than before — for there is a great advantage in learning from a book rather than orally; especially since its printing ensured that it would endure for all generations.
Before the Tanya was printed in its present form, it had been disseminated in the form of ‘pamphlets’ (kuntreisim). The Alter Rebbe writes in his introduction to the Tanya that the decision to publish these ‘kuntreisim’ in book form was because “the kuntreisim have been disseminated among all our faithful by means of numerous transcriptions by the hands of various scribes, (and) the multitude of transcriptions brought about an exceedingly great number of copyists’ errors.” Hence it was decided to publish them free of all errors and thoroughly checked.
If not for the copyists’ errors, the Tanya would have remained in its original form, as kuntreisim. The Alter Rebbe knew and approved of the wide dissemination of these kuntreisim, and if not for the errors, the Tanya would not have been printed. Thus we see that the ‘Written Law’ of Chassidus existed even before the printing of the Tanya in its present form.
Aside from the correction of the mistakes, the Tanya in its present form differs in other respects from the original kuntreisim. The Alter Rebbe, before giving it to be printed, checked and edited the kuntreisim, resulting is some changes from its original. This first edition of the Tanya (i.e. as written in the kuntreisim. before being edited by the Alter Rebbe) is also the “Written Law” of Chassidus, and also holds an extremely lofty position. For if not for the problem of errors in transcription, the Tanya would have remained in its first original edition (in kuntreisim form, without editing). Furthermore, comparisons between the two different editions (original and present forms) provide valuable insights and understanding in learning the Tanya.
The printing of the original kuntreisim in book form is therefore a valuable project. This has now been accomplished with great effort, and has just now been finished before this Shabbos (and therefore before Yud-Tes Kislev). The Alter Rebbe greatly wanted that the Tanya (in its present edited form) be printed before Yud-Tes Kislev (the 19th), but for various reasons it was finished only on the twentieth. Hence we see the greatness of the completion of the project to print the Tanya in its original form before Yud-Tes Kislev, and even before the Shabbos on which Yud-Tes Kislev is blessed.
Besides this distinction of Yud-Tes Kislev of this year, this year it is on a Tuesday, similar to the original Yud-Tes Kislev. In addition, Lag BaOmer this year is also on a Tuesday. Lag BaOmer is the anniversary of the passing away of Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai). Rashbi is the author of the Zohar, which is the revelation of the esoteric. This is the connection to the Alter Rebbe and Yud-Tes Kislev, when Chassidus Chabad, the revelation of the esoteric in a framework of comprehension and understanding, began in earnest.
The project to print the Tanya in its original edition was started only a short while ago. Normally, it would have been impossible to finish it before Yud-Tes Kislev. But through the greatest of effort and dedication on the part of those working on this project, it was finished. And the finished product is handsome indeed, both in its content, and its external appearance (the actual printing, binding etc.). In the short time it took, this is verily something above human limits!
There is a lesson in this for one’s G-dly service. The dissemination of Chassidus is the preparation to the future redemption. When Jews invest efforts in the dissemination of Chassidus (printing of the Tanya) in such a way, speedily and beyond normal limits, they have the right to demand that G-d bring the redemption speedily, beyond normal limits!
May it be G-d’s will that the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach come speedily, when all of us, “with our youth and our elders, our sons and our daughters,” will go out from exile.
2. Tanya is relevant to all Jews, including the original edition, and also the differences between the original and the revised (present) edition. One of the differences is found in the Introduction to Tanya, also written by the Alter Rebbe. In its present form it states “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the L-rd.” In the original edition it has only “Listen to me” without the continuation “you who pursue righteousness, who seek the L-rd.” Another difference is in Ch. 1, which starts “It has been taught (Niddah, end of Ch. 31: An oath is administered to him...” In the original version, the words ‘Niddah, end of Ch. ’ are not enclosed in brackets. Yet another difference in Ch. 1 is the continuation of the above, which in the present (revised) version states “This requires to be understood, for it contradicts the Mishnaic dictum [Avos Ch. 21 ‘And be not wicked in your own estimation.’“ In the earlier version, the reference to Avos Ch. 2 is not brought.
The explanation of these differences is as follows. The words “You who pursue righteousness, who seek the L-rd” (found only in the second edition), refer to the general fulfillment of mitzvos (“pursue righteousness”) and prayer and Torah study (“seek the L-rd”). The earlier, first version of the Tanya reflects and corresponds to the first phase of a person’s service, that of simple acceptance of the yoke of heaven. Therefore it states simply “Listen to me” and leaves out “pursue righteousness and seek the L-rd.” For in the simple acceptance of the yoke of Heaven (“Listen to me”) there is no division as yet into the three branches of service, whether fulfillment of mitzvos (“pursue righteousness”), Torah study or prayer (“seek the L-rd”). It is a pure submission of will to G-d.
The second, edited version of the Tanya reflects and corresponds to a loftier level of service (after the beginning service of the original version). Simple acceptance does not now suffice, but all three branches of service must now be emphasized, each in its own unique way. Hence, in the second version, it states “pursue righteousness and seek the L-rd,” reflecting the three branches of Torah, prayer, and mitzvos.
This difference between the two editions of the Tanya (simple acceptance of the yoke of heaven and more advanced service) explains the differences found in the 1stlst chapter. In the beginning phase of service, simple submission of will, it is impossible to differentiate between a reference and the actual thoughts, to be able to say that the thoughts, which need to be comprehended and understood, are the main thing, while the reference is secondary. At the beginning of one’s service, exemplified by the first edition of the Tanya, no such differences can be made — the reference is part of the entire thing (not secondary). Hence the reference “Niddah, end of Ch. 3,” is not in brackets. But in the loftier service exemplified by the second edition of Tanya, where the service is not just that of simple acceptance but of comprehension and understanding, such differences between the actual thoughts (the main thing) and the reference (secondary) can and are made. Hence the reference is enclosed within brackets to show it is secondary.
Likewise with the reference to “Avos Ch. 2”. The reference to Avos indicates that it refers to something associated with Mili d’Chassidusa — words of piety [Pirkei Avos is not Halachah, juridical analyses, but moral teachings]. When one is at the beginning stage of service (the first edition of Tanya), there are no differences between a mitzvah, Halachah, or ‘words of piety.’ Everything is accepted with simple submission, and is fulfilled with self-sacrifice. Hence in the first edition the reference to ‘Avos Ch. 2’ is omitted.
In the loftier service exemplified by the second edition, one must recognize the difference between one thing and another — that there are differences between Torah and ‘words of piety.’ Hence the reference to ‘Avos Ch. 2’ is included.
Although the Tanya in general is associated with words of piety, there are differing degrees within it. As we see from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim, who, while requiring involvement in all things (of Torah), laid different stresses on different things. Similarly, each of the Rebbeim emphasized a different thing. The Mitteler Rebbe for example, emphasized and required of his Chassidim that they talk of the highest concepts in Chassidus. The Alter Rebbe’s stress was laid on bringing back Jews to their religion. In our case, in Tanya itself, there self, are differing degrees, and those of ‘words1words of piety’ are different from others. The loftier service requires that these differences be recognized and understood — and hence included in the second edition of the Tanya.
3. Rashi is the commentator par excellence on Scripture, and if there is something unclear in Scripture, he will always comment on it. In this week’s parshah, Vayishlach, there is something that seems to be extremely puzzling and yet Rashi gives no explanation. In Bereishis Ch. 32, Scripture describes Yaakov’s preparation to meet his brother Esav, and tells of Yaakov ferrying his family over the Yabok river. It states (32:23): “He (Yaakov) rose up in that night, and took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of Yabok.”
Previously, in parshas Vayeitze (31:17), Rashi explained that Yaakov, unlike Esav, set his sons before his wives — “He put the males before the females. Esav, however, put the females before the males, as it is stated, ‘And Esav took his wives and his sons’ etc.” Why then does Rashi not make some comment to explain why in this case he put the females before the males — “his two wives and his two handmaids and his eleven sons?”
The answer lies in the fact that this all happened during the night — “He rose up in that night.” Night is a time of danger, unsuitable for travel. Yaakov however, since he had to flee, had no choice but to move his family during the night, and not wait until morning. Since night is a dangerous time, Yaakov could not first take across his children, and leave them alone on the other side. First of all he had to take across his wives, adults; for then, when he would afterwards take across his children, they would not be alone, but would have their mothers ready and waiting for them. [See Sicha of Shabbos Parshas Vayeitze, 5742 pp. 10-13 for further clarification.]
- (Back to text) Trans. Note: The Ramah was one of the foremost codifiers of Jewish Law. Unlike R. Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Code of Law), who rendered his decisions mainly according to Sefardic custom, the Ramah, in his appendage to the Shulchan Aruch, brings down all Ashkenazic customs. His decisions are binding on all Ashkenazic Jewry. However, even Sefardic Jews are increasingly following the Ramah in those things in which his decisions are more strict than R. Yosef Karo’s.