Tuesday, December 20, 2005

LESSONS IN TANYA: Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Kislev 20, 5766 * December 21, 2005


Today's Lesson:

Likutei Amarim
Compiler's Foreword

[As we have seen from the title page, the Alter Rebbe perceives himself as a mere compiler rather than as an author.]

Being a letter sent to all Anash - [members of our fellowship, i.e., the chassidim], may [G-d] our Stronghold bless and guard them.(1)

To you [worthy] men, do I call. Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek G-d, and may the Almighty listen to you, both great [in spiritual stature] and small, all Anash in our land and in nearby countries: may each in his own place achieve peace and eternal life. Amen. May this be His Will.

It is well known that all Anash are wont to say that hearing words of moral guidance [from a teacher addressing his student individually and directly] is not the same as seeing and reading [such guidance] in books, [which are impersonal and addressed to the reading audience at large. The spoken word will have far greater effect than the written word, for two reasons. The first:]

For the reader, [who gains such instruction in books], will read it after his own manner and mind, and [will absorb the written message] according to his mental grasp and comprehension at that particular time.

Hence, if his intellect and mind are confused and wander about in darkness in [ideas pertaining to the service of G-d] he will find it difficult to see the beneficial light hidden in books, although this light be pleasant to the eyes and therapeutic for the soul.

[In the case of personal guidance, on the other hand, the mentor can ensure that his message is understood fully and correctly. The Alter Rebbe now points out a second disadvantage in written advice. By its very nature its ability to inspire even the understanding reader is restricted to a specific audience. A book does not allow for the subjective differences between one reader's character and another's. It will, of necessity, leave some of its readership untouched.

The Alter Rebbe next distinguishes between two categories of inspirational books. In those books belonging to the first category this problem is more obvious and acute; in those of the second category, less so.

The first category embraces those books that argue for pious conduct on grounds of human intellect. These will surely not affect all readers equally; owing to the diversity of mind and temperament among readers, what profoundly inspires one reader, will leave another indifferent.

The second category comprises those works founded on the teachings of our Sages. It would seem at first glance that in such books the problem of subjective differences between readers would be irrelevant. Since they are based on Torah, which is pertinent to every Jew without exception, surely every Jew could be guided and inspired by them.

The Alter Rebbe points out, however, that not every Jew is privileged to find his place in Torah and to derive the instruction applicable to him as an individual. Thus the problem still obtains, though to a lesser degree.]

Aside from this [aforementioned possibility that the reader's intellectual shortcomings may prevent him from perceiving the light concealed in the holy books, there is yet another difficulty]:

Those books on piety founded on human intelligence surely do not affect all people equally, for not all intellects and minds are alike, and the intellect of one man is not affected and aroused by that which affects and arouses the intellect of another.

As our Sages have said, in reference to the blessing of "He who is wise in secrets" [ordained by the Sages to be recited] on [witnessing a gathering of] 600,000 Jews, (2) [whereby we praise G-d's omniscience in knowing the secrets of them all]: "For their minds [i.e., thoughts, opinions and feelings] are all different from one another."(3)

So too does Ramban of blessed memory [explain the reason for the blessing] in his Milchamot,(4) elaborating on the comment of Sifrei on the verse(5) describing Joshua as "a man in whom there is spirit;"

[Sifrei explains] "that he was able to meet the spirit of every man." (6)

But even those works of mussar whose foundation is in the peaks of holiness, [meaning that they are founded on] the Midrashim of our Sages "in whom the spirit of G-d speaks, and His word is on their tongues," (7) - [even in the case of such works the aforementioned problem obtains.

For although] "Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one," and all 600,000 general souls of Israel, and the individual souls that are their offshoots, (8) down to even the [soul-]spark residing within the most worthless and least estimable members of our people, the Children of Israel, are all bound up with the Torah and the Torah is what binds them to G-d, as is known from the holy Zohar,(9) [and since the Torah does contain what is pertinent to every Jew, those works founded on the Torah ought to appeal to every Jewish reader,]- yet this is [said] in a general way for the Jewish people as a whole.

[This statement of the Zohar speaks of the bond between Jewry in general with the Torah in its entirety. It does not refer to a particular Jew seeking individual instruction in a specific area in the Torah.]

It is true that the Torah lends itself to interpretation by the rule of "general principles and specific applications," and these applications may be further broken down to even more specific details, to apply to each individual soul in Israel rooted in the Torah.

[Thus the Torah contains not only general instruction for the nation as a whole, but also specific instruction for each individual. Therefore, despite subjective differences between people, every Jew could theoretically find in such works instruction pertinent to his circumstances.]

Yet, not every man is privileged to recognize his specific place in the Torah, [so that he may know how to derive specific guidance from it].

Even in the [Torah-]laws governing things forbidden and permissible which have been (10) "revealed to us and to our children [equally]" [for despite the differences between generations, the law applies equally to all, complete objectivity prevailing] -, even in these laws we witness arguments from one extreme to the other between tannaim and amoraim, [with one tanna, for instance, declaring perfectly permissible that which another tanna rules absolutely forbidden.]

Yet (11) "these as well as those are the words of the living G-d." [In this phrase the words "living G-d appear in the plural form (12) (Elo-kim)], because [the diversity of opinions in the Halachah stems from plurality in] the source of life of the souls of Israel - [within the "living G-d" (i.e., within G-d as He is the source of life) - Elokim Chaim.

The souls, and hence also their source, so to speak, are] divided into three general categories: right, left and center, representing kindness (Chesed), severity (Gevurah)... [and beauty (Tiferet)].

Those souls which are rooted in the attribute of kindness tend to be lenient in their halachic decisions, being inclined toward kindness, [which dictates that the object be declared permissible and thus capable of being sanctified if used for a sacred purpose], and so on, [with the attribute of severity dictating stringency in halachic decisions, and the attribute of beauty mediating], as is known.

[In his Iggeret HaKodesh, the Alter Rebbe applies this principle to the legal arguments between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel. The School of Shammai was usually stringent, because their spiritual source was the attribute of severity; the school of Hillel usually lenient because of their source in the attribute of kindness. In certain decisions, however, their positions were reversed. For the realm of holiness is governed by the principle of mutual incorporation (hitkalelut), with kindness containing elements of severity and vice versa.

Now if one's individual spiritual tendencies affect the way he views the Torah even in the area of the Halachah, which is intrinsically objective], surely, how much more so, [will subjective differences play a role] in "matters hidden to G-d Almighty," namely, to one's awe and love of G-d, which are [subjective by their very nature, for they express themselves] in the mind and heart of each person according to his own measure (his shiur), according to his heart's estimation (hash-ara), and according to the "gate" (sha-ar) that he makes in his heart, [to permit his intellectual understanding (of G-dliness) to pervade his heart and generate within him a love and awe of G-d],

as the Zohar (13) comments on the verse, "Her husband is known by the gates..." (14).

[The Zohar interprets the "husband" of this verse as a reference to G-d, Who is the "husband" of the community of Israel. We "know" and attach ourselves to Him "by the she'arim," which the Zohar interprets in the sense of shaar (gate), shiur (measure), and hash'arah (estimation), as explained above. At any rate, we see that being inspired in the love and fear of G-d is intrinsically subjective.

To return to the thread of our earlier argument: If even in the objective halachah we find differences of opinion arising from the variety in human nature, we will surely find a variety of response to inspirational literature. The chassidic saying quoted above, that "seeing" (in books - even Torah books) "is not the same as hearing" (inspiration from a teacher), seems quite justified.

How then could the Alter Rebbe now propose to offer the Tanya to his followers as a substitute for the personal guidance that he had been giving them until this time?

In answer the Alter Rebbe states that the Tanya is addressed to his chassidim, with whom he has a long-standing relationship, and whose specific needs for guidance are known to him from their personal audiences with him. They will therefore find the advice provided in the Tanya relevant to their individual needs.

Chassidim would add that this includes all those who study the Tanya: the Alter Rebbe knew them all and addressed himself to each one's needs in the service of G-d, as though they had spoken to him in private audience. As the Rebbe Rashab phrased it, (15) "To study the Tanya is to converse with the Alter Rebbe]."


1. The abbreviation may also represent:"May our Stronghold and
Redeemer preserve them," or some similar expression. Compare the
phrase (in the morning prayer): "Stronghold of Israel, arise to the
aid of Israel..." It is possible that the Alter Rebbe wrote the
words in abbreviation to allow for a variety of interpretations of
the blessing.(Comment of the Rebbe.)
2. The reading in the text is Shishim Ribu - "sixty ten-thousands,"
corresponding to the number of adult male Israelites in the Exodus
from Egypt (Shmot 12:37; Bamidbar 11:21).
3. Berachot 58a.
4. Commenting on Alfasi's omission of this passage in the Gemara.
5. Bamidbar 27:18.
6. Rashi, too (ibid.), cites the interpretation that "he could meet
the spirit of every man," yet the Alter Rebbe quotes it from
Ramban. This may be because Ramban suggests the possibility that
a great sage may be the equivalent of, and incorporate within
himself, the minds of 600,000. (Ramban accordingly explains why, as
the Gemara relates, Rabbi Chananya the son of Rabbi Icka recited
the blessing of "he who is wise in secrets" when he met Rav Papa
and Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua.) However, recognizing such
a sage requires a discerning mind on the part of the observer, and
for this reason Ramban rules in practice that one should recite the
blessing only when he actually sees 600,000 people. We see from
Ramban, at any rate, that the alternative possibility theoretically
exists. The chassidim, who "know" and "recognize" the Alter Rebbe
(as he says of them later), know him to be such a sage "who can
meet the spirit of every man;" for inasmuch as his was a
"comprehensive soul" (Neshama Klalit), he contained within himself
the spirit of every one of them.
7. Paraphrase of II Shmuel 23:2.
8. See Tanya, ch. 37.
9. III, p. 73b.
10. Based on the verse (Devarim 29:28):"The hidden things are for G-d
Al-mighty, and the revealed things are for us and our children..."
11. Eruvin 13b.
12. Elokim Chayim rather than El-oka Chai.
13. P. 103a,b.
14. Mishlei 31:23.
15. Torat Shalom p. 56.


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