There are a limited number of defining moments in Jewish history when extraordinary individuals were able to weave and formulate the length, breadth and depth of Jewish Thought into a single contemplative, systematic and comprehensive entity. One of the most significant of those moments within the last millennium was the work of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a town near Poland. Among his followers, the Rabbi was also known as the "Old Rebbe" (Admor HaZaken) and he is customarily described as the spiritual grandson of Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov. He founded Chabad Hasidism two hundred years ago and was one of the leaders of Czarist Russia's Jewish community at that time. His extraordinary genius is apparent in his writings. He possessed a great thirst for knowledge, with an immense command of the Torah and was proficient in many other areas as well.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of Hasidism in this past generation, once said that the Baal HaTanya had attained such a high level of spirituality that, had he lived in the days of the Tannaim (the Rabbinic sages whose views were recorded in the Mishnah), he would have been great among them. And if he had lived in the days of the Prophets, he would have been a great prophet.
The Admor HaZaken contributed greatly to Jewish philosophy with his most significant works, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Tanya, which summarize the core of the most diverse aspects of Jewish contemplation. As the author himself attested, the Tanya, published in 1797, constitutes a collection of practical tools, solutions and instructions designed to help the reader attain mental balance while coping with life's difficulties and internal crises. The book contains advice that the Baal HaTanya offered over the years to those who turned to him. These pieces of advice were woven into a systematic and well organized philosophy based on four levels of interpretation known as "PaRDeS" - Peshat ("simple" the direct meaning), Remez ("hint" the symbolic meaning beyond just the literal sense), Derash ("seek" comparative meaning as given through similar )occurrences), Sod ("secret" the mystical meaning as given through inspiration or revelation) — which draws expertly from the entire range of existing Jewish Thought. It is
said that the Book of Tanya holds answers to all the questions that human beings ,contemplate, the most fundamental of which is "who is Man and what is his role in the universe".
The Tanya has been translated into 11 languages thus far and over 5500 editions have been printed! The Tanya is published wherever possible, as instructed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and as part of the concept of spreading he inner wellsprings of the Torah throughout he world. Thus for example, it has appeared in Egypt, Iran and Lebanon.
The writings of the Admor HaZaken changed he way in which hundreds of thousands of people around the world perceived life after studying the Tanya. This is the fulfillment of the Baal Shem Tov's vision of bringing forth the Messiah by spreading the inner wellsprings of he Torah, which include a deep knowledge of he human soul and discovery of the Creator's reality.
Dr. Yechiel Harari
Lecturer, Sapir Academic College and author of a series of books on the Advice of the Tanya